Fiat’s sporty roadster wears a classic Italian suit in a size small.
Drivers of small Italian roadsters are really making a fashion statement, and I was no exception. With my 6-foot-4-inch frame bent and folded into the tiny driver’s seat of the Fiat 124 Spider, I was wearing my knees as earrings.
This cabin is as tight as wet denim. Tall people need not apply. Everyone else will find this ironic throwback to classic Euro roadsters a blast.
I say ironic because this new “Italian” sports car is, in fact, built by Mazda on the MX-5 Miata platform. Both cars are assembled in Mazda’s Hiroshima, Japan, plant. Both share a basic architecture, suspension, 90.9-inch wheelbase and, with minor variations, interior. The Fiat, however, goes its own way in styling and power.
In a familial nod to the original Spider –– which Fiat offered stateside as the 124 Spider from 1968–78, then later as the 2000 until 1985 –– this 2017 edition wears Spider’s vintage hexagonal upper grille and “twin power dome” hood. In addition, this 21st-century 124 Spider also sports the classic roadster profile of a long hood and a short-deck, a profile made possible in part by the fact that this Fiat is 5.5 inches longer than its Mazda cousin.
Under the hood, the 124 Spider eschews Miata’s 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder in favor of a Fiat-built 160-horsepower, 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that makes a tad more horsepower and loads more torque ––184 pound-feet compared to Miata’s 148.
That said, the 124 Spider doesn’t beat Miata in acceleration because of the fact that the Italian’s turbo needs time to spool up. Once it has, you’ll want to keep it that way in order to get everything this little blown four-cylinder has to offer. Keep your right foot down to rev up the engine and you’ll greet 60 mph in about seven seconds. The engine also can be lashed to a six-speed automatic or, preferably, the six-speed manual we had.
On the road, the 124 Spider is a ball if you’re OK with cacophony. Wind, road, engine, and other exterior sounds are constant companions, making this top-up roadster about as quiet as an aluminum-can recycling factory. But that simply adds to the retro fun, as does the Spider’s point-and-shoot steering, go-cart ride, and racing-boat cornering.
Owners will appreciate the 124 Spider’s surprisingly usable trunk, which holds nearly 5 cubic feet of stuff. Storage options in the cabin are all but non-existent; you mainly get a bin in the rear bulkhead between the seatbacks.
Converting the 124 Spider from a top-up sports car to a tanning machine is easy: You flip a header latch, push the roof back and, then snap the folded top in place. To raise the roof, flip a between-the-seats release paddle, pull the top up, and secure the windshield header latch. Both operations can be done from the driver’s seat. It’s the next best thing to a power top.
The Spider is available in trims of Classica (that’s “classic” to us Yanks), Lusso (“luxury,” ditto), and Abarth (performance). The Abarth version actually adds little in performance acumen –– a sport-tuned exhaust, limited-slip differential, and four (count ‘em, four) more horsepower.
So, if you can live without upgraded infotainment, leather cabin trim, and a few other perks, you can have this fun-to-drive, hey-look-at-me roadster for less than 26 grand.
Now that’s affordable fashion.
November/December 2016 Issue
Dan Wiese is an automotive freelance writer living in St. Louis, Mo.
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