By Micah Muzio
KBB Expert Rating: 9.2
Derived from Mazda’s splendid MX-5 Miata roadster, the Fiat 124 Spider exudes Italian panache thanks to a Fiat-designed turbocharged engine and a conspicuously reworked exterior. Shaped to recall the classic 124 Spider of the 1960s, the modern Spider has a friendlier aura than the hard-edged Miata. That friendliness permeates all aspects of the 124 convertible, including ride comfort, interior quality and cabin noise. The result is a joyful sports car well-suited for the kind of adventures that inspire otherwise practical car buyers to choose convertibles. Yet in the right hands Fiat’s drop-top ably out-handles much pricier cars. The Mazda MX-5 Miata, Mini Cooper Convertible and Volkswagen Beetle convertible have their strengths but for value-priced, sun-drenched Italian charism, the Fiat 124 Spider is unrivaled.
The 124 Spider convertible is undoubtedly fun but for absolutely uncompromised driving thrills, the lighter-weight Mazda MX-5 Miata endures as the gold standard. The 124’s limited leg room may be a sore point for those who stand taller than six feet.
KBB Expert Ratings
The Fiat 124 Spider is an all-new model for 2017.
Among cars, weight is the enemy of performance and fun; and yet, despite weighing roughly 100 pounds more than the svelte Mazda Miata on which it’s based, the Fiat 124...
... Spider remains utterly fulfilling to drive. Light steering efforts give the Fiat Spider a relaxed feel well-suited for enchanting jaunts over the hills and past the sea. Quicken the pace and Fiat’s roadster reveals itself as a playful dance partner. Integral to the Spider’s distinctive character is a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that produces more power than the Mazda Miata’s naturally aspirated engine. Extra power is great but the turbo’s lag-and-surge power delivery makes us pine for the precise throttle of the Miata. With the Spider’s top down, airflow around the cabin is well-controlled, ever so slightly tousling the driver’s hair. Raise the top and interior noise is hushed enough for comfortable conversations and commutes.
The manually operated soft-top can easily be dropped or raised with one hand in a matter of seconds. With such simple operation, there are zero reasons not to let the sun irradiate you if you’re in the mood.
All true driving fans love the Mazda MX-5 Miata but long drives can be fatiguing due to its loud cabin. The Fiat 124 Spider addresses those concerns with an acoustic windshield, thicker rear glass and extensive sound insulation making it the smart choice for protracted road trips.
Board the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and you’re greeted by piano-black accents, Leatherette trim and inviting leather seats…assuming you’ve selected the luxurious Lusso trim. The cloth-seat-equipped Classica trim is less lush but still a fine perch to enjoy the world as it passes by. Sporty yet tasteful the Spider’s cabin is sized like a fitted shirt, with just enough room to breathe and stretch. Top-up headroom is actually quite good, even for taller passengers, but limited legroom is a legitimate concern. And boy, it’d be lovely if the steering wheel telescoped to accommodate more varied driving positions.
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider has been meticulously sculpted to recall the classic 124 Spider of the 1960s. To achieve that look Fiat’s design team overlaid thoroughly massaged bodywork, square taillights and round headlights onto the Spider’s Mazda-derived platform, culminating in a 4-inch-longer roadster. Helping drive home the Spider’s Italian heritage are outrageously Italian paint names including Bianco Gelato (white) and Rosso Passione (red). Drivers who relish visual aggression will find plenty of it in the 124 Spider Abarth, whose unique fascias, 17-inch gunmetal wheels, and optional $1,995 black-painted hood and trunk make it look positively furious.
Nab a basic 124 Spider Classica and you’ll enjoy push-button engine start, cloth seats, 16-inch wheels, air conditioning, a 4-speaker audio system with Bluetooth, and four airbags. The Lusso trim adds 17-inch wheels, heated leather-trimmed seats, Leatherette dash trim, automatic climate control and keyless vehicle access. Despite being the raciest Spider in the lineup the Abarth trim only produces four horsepower more than the Classica and Lusso but it does include a sport suspension, limited-slip differential and charmingly aggressive exterior tweaks. Missing from all trims is a spare tire. The included tire-repair kit helps maximize trunk space.
Optional on the least expensive Classica trim is a $1,295 “Technology Collection” that adds the 7-inch infotainment screen, rearview camera and keyless vehicle access included as standard equipment on higher Spider trims. Go with the more expensive Lusso or Abarth trims and you’re free to select handy add-ons like rear parking sensors, navigation, adaptive headlights, rear cross-path detection, blind-spot warning, and a 9-speaker Bose audio system with a sub-woofer and speakers in the headrests. Reserved for Abarth buyers are optional Recaro seats shod in leather and Alcantara or high-performance Brembo brakes.
Helping differentiate the Fiat 124 Spider from its Mazda Miata sibling is its engine, a Fiat-built 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir 4-cylinder. Famous for making the Fiat 500 Abarth sound so darn angry, this is the engine’s first rear-wheel-drive application. In this context the 1.4-liter gives the Fiat a slight horsepower advantage versus the Miata but a major advantage where torque is concerned. Ushering power from the engine to the rear wheels in all trims is a standard 6-speed manual transmission or an optional $1,350 6-speed automatic. With a wonderfully short shifter and the ability to slip the clutch, enabling much quicker off-the-line acceleration than the automatic, we definitely prefer the manual gearbox.
1.4-liter turbocharged inline-4
160 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm (164 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm in Abarth)
184 lb-ft of torque @ 3,200 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 26/35 mpg (manual), 25/36 mpg (automatic)
View the Fiat 124 Spider as a fancied-up Mazda Miata and you might expect a premium price but that’s not the case. A manual-equipped Spider Classica glides in at $25,990 including destination; just $290 higher than a base Miata. Meanwhile, the $2,500-pricier Lusso trim offers leather seating at a much lower price than the Miata Grand Touring, while the performance-focused Spider Abarth slightly undercuts the similar Miata Club trim. If seating for more than two sounds like a good idea, both the Mini Cooper Convertible and Volkswagen Beetle Convertible can be had for less than $27,000. Before you buy, be sure to check the KBB Fair Purchase Price to see what others are paying for the Fiat 124 Spider in your area. It’s also worth noting that resale values for the Fiat brand have historically skewed lower than average, which could affect the 124 Spider’s long-term cost to own.