What it is: The 124 Spider is Fiat’s roadster that has been re-released in modern days on the back of the Mazda Miata. Fiat last produced the 124 Spider in the early-80s as the Fiat 124 Sport Spider. It was a simple, Italian-designed and inexpensive roadster, which is mostly true of the modern version.
Auto manufacturers occasionally will team up to save on development cost, especially on lower volume models, and Mazda and Fiat formed a joint venture to develop the 124 Spider alongside the newest Mazda Miata. I don’t know exactly how much work was done by each of the two manufacturers, but considering that the 124 Spiders are all built on Mazda’s assembly line in Japan, I think it’s safe to say the 124 Spider is mostly a re-bodied Miata.
The big difference between the two models is the engine. The 124 Spider uses the 1.4 liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine found in the Fiat 500 Abarth and the Miata uses a naturally aspirated 2.0 liter four-cylinder. The 124 Spider comes in at 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, which is a little bit above the Miata. The car feels quick, but certainly not fast. It has a 0-60 time of 6.8 seconds, which confirms my gut feeling. It is a rear-wheel drive, lightweight sports car, and it delivers on a sporty driving experience, but don’t expect any tire-shredding performance.
The design of the 124 Spider’s front-end is quite handsome and gives the car a very Italian feel. The interior is effectively identical to the Miata, which is not a bad thing. My base model featured cloth seats, but they had a premium feel to them. Leather steering wheel, power windows and locks, etc. are of course standard. The convertible top is manual, but due to its clever design, takes roughly 1.5 seconds to either raise or lower while you are sitting in the driver’s seat. A single latch near the rear-view mirror is released and then you fold the cloth top into a storage compartment immediately behind the seats. It’s a brilliant design and you won’t appreciate it unless you do it yourself. The benefit of the folding cloth top is that you still have a trunk that is unaffected by the top. It’s not large, but there is plenty of room for bags for a weekend getaway or a light grocery run.
My test model also had the optional technology group ($1,295), which includes a 7-inch display, back-up camera, and proximity key system.
Annoyingly, navigation is not included, and an additional part must be purchased from the dealer for a few hundred dollars to activate it. There is a “NAV” button that when pressed reminds you of this on the screen. The other option was a $1,350 automatic transmission. The automatic is fine, but it’s a small sports car with low horsepower. You need a manual to get everything out of it.
MPG: 25 city/36 highway
Price: $24,995 base price. $28,635 as-tested.
Upsides: Beautiful looks. Built by Mazda.
Downsides: Slow for a sports car.
Wrap-up: I want to love this car, but it’s hard with the lackadaisical power plant. Fiat sells a performance trim, called the Abarth, but it adds a whole four horsepower. FCA has a small 3.2-liter V6 with 271 horsepower. Why isn’t it in this car? The 124 Spider is still fun to drive, but probably not every day, and drivers over 6’2” need not apply.