Tuesday Test Drive: Fiat 124 Spider Bites!

Oh shut up, I know it’s Friday. But I drove the Fiat 124 on Monday and we weren’t allowed to release reviews until today so here it is. And you’re gonna be glad I didn’t wait until next week, because this is a car that you need to know about.

Fiat’s new 124 Spider is a car that everyone’s been excited to drive & here’s why:

  1. the original one was a great bargain & fun as hell
  2. this one shares a platform with the new MX-5 & Miata fans are dying to hate “the Fiata”

But before we get into that, let’s lay the foundation.  In the late 60s, Fiat teamed up with Pininfarina (you know that name because you see it on so many Ferraris) to make an affordable, zippy little rear wheel drive roadster that quickly became the go-to vehicle for anyone looking for driving excitement without breaking the bank.  It was sold here in the States as the 124 Spider but also the Fiat 2000 Spider. And it had an ass that just wouldn’t quit:


It was driven by all kinds of people, even ones with boobs:

1974 Fiat 124 Sport Spider (1969-1982)

And then Fiat disappeared from this country like a Hollywood actor when the lunch check comes, but now they’re back! Fresh on the heels of the 500’s success, Fiat is ready to party once again.

The challenge was simple: make a car that’s fun to drive, looks good & is different from the Miata for roughly $25k.  Well, my friends, I’m here to tell you that these boxes are all checked.  More or less..

The 124 Spider comes in a few different versions (Classica, Lusso, Abarth & the limited edition Prima Edizione Lusso). The base engine is the Miata’s 1.4L but instead of naturally aspirated, Fiat adds some turbo.  This brings the rear wheel drive goodness to 160 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque on Classica and Lusso, 164 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque on Abarth. Transmissions options include a sweet 6 speed manual or 6 speed automatic which includes paddle shifters & is surprisingly fun.


*the Classica is $24,995 & is bare bones. But that is kinda great.  It’s got fabric seats, a scrappy electronic interface and very few bells & whistles. But guess what? Who cares! Sure, if this was a luxury SUV you’d need lots of high-tech distractions from keeping you from strangling your children. But this is a 2 seater people! Your kids can’t come & you don’t them along anyway.  I spent 2 hours driving this car, talking to my co-pilot and just soaking up the goodness that is a 6 speed manual in the California sun. Who needs therapy?


*The Lusso is a bit fancier with leather seats, a more delux entertainment system, 17″ wheels and a well insulated cabin that makes its $27,495 price tag feel like a typo.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Prima Edizione Lusso

And then we have the Abarth. Now, I dunno about you, but while I love the sound of the 500 Abarth so much (I’d make it my ringtone if I could), I’ve never been wowed when I drive it. So when I saw that we were gonna drive the 124 Spider Abarth I expected 500 Abarth-like performance. But I was wrong. This thing goes– as evidenced by the auto cross cones I may or may not have demolished on the performance track.


*For $28,195, the Abarth delivers 164 hp in a bite sized morsel of driving deliciousness.  I know you’re staring at the black hood, wondering wtf, but it turns out that the original 124 Spiders sported darkened hoods to cut down on glare. Now, it just happens to be cool again and Fiat is painting them at the factory in this tradition.


Now to the part when the Miata fans cue up to attack. Is it better? Is it worse? Which one would you get?  To me, the Fiat delivers a more European driving experience and that’s my bag. The manual shifts short and tight & the steering is heavy– all elements of European handling that keep my garage packed and my pocketbook empty.  I also prefer the Fiat’s suspension which feels kinder than the Miata. But the MX-5 drives in a distinctly Japanese way– lighter shifting with more wiggle on the wheel. Both are great sports cars that make me believe in bargains again! Which one you choose will depend on which design and driving style you prefer. So calm down Miata kids, let’s just all get along…



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