By on June 10, 2016

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth, Image: FCA

If you weren’t in on the secret, much of this morning’s presentation at the Park Hyatt Aviara would have made no sense. A series of four FCA personnel stood up to talk about the new 124 Spider, which was behind them to stage right. On stage left was a pristine Euro-bumpered 124 Sport Spider from the late ’60. Each of them talked about “what’s changed on the car.”

“It’s five inches longer, with all-new exterior sheetmetal,” one presenter said. “It’s got an aluminum panel in the folding roof, and thicker rear glass,” another noted. “The suspension tuning is completely different,” stated yet another. I could see the confusion on the faces of some of the older auto journos from the newspapers. It’s five inches longer than the original 124? It’s got thicker rear glass? The suspension is different? Well, duh, right? For more than an hour, Fiat’s marketing, styling and engineering personnel talked about “what’s changed on the car.”

There was the word that never escaped anybody’s lips, not a single time. Even when I raised my hand to ask “how the weight compares,” I couldn’t quite bring myself to say the word. But we can say it here on TTAC: Miata. The new Fiat 124 Spider is based on the ND-generation Mazda Miata, the car that your humble author drove in Spain a year and a half ago and which has been quite justifiably hailed as the finest small roadster of this century. The 124 Spider is assembled right next to the Miata in Japan, with a “J” VIN. The primary difference: where the Miata has a 2.0-liter Skyactiv normally-aspirated four-cylinder, the 124 has the turbo 1.4-liter MultiAir four-banger from the Fiat 500 Abarth, built in Italy and shipped to Mazda’s assembly line.

Fiat would prefer that we didn’t mention the Miata. But, as we’ll see, the 124 Spider need not fear any comparisons with its store-branded sibling. Quite the contrary, in fact.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 1968 Fiat 124 Spider, Image: FCA

As fate would have it, two weeks ago I had the chance to put about 400 miles on a fully-loaded Miata as part of a piece I’m doing for R&T next month. It was my first chance to drive a 2.0-liter, U.S.-spec ND Miata and I have to say that I was utterly stunned by just how close the little Mazda comes to perfection. Everything about that Miata is in perfect balance. The chassis, the engine, and the control weighting — all but impossible to improve upon.

What a relief, therefore, to see that Fiat didn’t even try to improve on it. Instead, they took that central, perfected character of the Miata and shattered it, creating three great cars from one perfect one. I’ll explain. You see, all Miatas are basically the same. Sure, you can get a few different trim levels, but that’s all they are — different option packages that sit very lightly on a single essential character. If you don’t like the MX-5 Club, you won’t like the Grand Touring, and vice versa.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso, Image: FCA

With the 124, on the other hand, the three available trim levels each represent a fundamental change in the car’s mission. Start with Classica, the $25,990 base model. I started my morning by driving a grey six-speed manual Classica through about 40 miles of San Diego canyon roads. It’s much quieter than the Miata, even top down, and it rides very softly. The interior, however, is essentially identical to what you get in a base Miata, right down to the three metal-finish knobs that control the climate control. Grip from the 16-inch tire package is modest, and the suspension floats a bit when you encounter sharp dips or rises in the road.

I’m a veteran of many miles and years in the original Fiat Spiders. This Classica is the truest to those relatively modest roadsters, built as cheaply as possible by sullen union labor with cheap steel and massively aromatic vinyl. There was nothing luxurious or even exotic about the first 124 Spider. It’s best to think of it as an Italian take on the Karmann Ghia, throwing a stunning body on prosaic underpinnings and a twin-cam head on the same engine that took much of Italy to work every day.

The stellar unity of the Miata is missing from the Classica. It doesn’t handle quite as well as I’d like and the MultiAir, like most modern turbo motors, would rather you skip the last thousand revs in favor of a short-shift strategy that rides the meat of the torque curve. The net effect is to undermine that jinba ittai just a bit. It doesn’t feel as special as the car from which it’s derived. As an actual, practical daily driver, however, it’s miles ahead. The NVH improvements reduce driver fatigue, and the turbo engine makes keeping up with traffic effortless. I would recommend the Classica over the Miata for anybody who doesn’t have an active racing license.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Interior, Image: FCA

That goes double, even triple, for the Lusso, which adds leather upholstery and the ability to add a wide variety of optional extras for just under twenty-nine grand. The Lusso that I drove had an automatic transmission. LJK Setright famously said that the turbo engine and the torque-converter automatic transmission were perfect partners, because “one will be at work when the other is not.” I suspect that the vast majority of Spiders in this country will be automatic Lussos — and you know what? It’s an absolutely brilliant car. I was prepared to despise it, but 30 miles behind the wheel was enough to make me a believer. The Aisin-sourced automatic is direct and beautifully programmed, keeping the turbo on the boil and catapulting the Lusso forward with real authority. With the top up, I found myself going very fast without really planning to.

I’ve never had any affection at all for auto-transmission Miatas, but the 124 Lusso is simply a great car. It’s quiet, it’s comfortable, and it is absolutely no hassle to drive. The nearest competitor with the same virtues would have to be the Mercedes SLK250, which costs nearly twice as much. It’s not the 124 that I’d choose for myself, but there’s very little to criticize about it. Incidentally, the first one hundred and twenty-four Spiders to be delivered to this country will be special electric-blue Lussos with a Prima Edizione equipment package. They’ll be $35,995 and I’d imagine that they are all spoken for already.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider, Image: © 2016 Jack Baruth/The Truth About Cars

As good as the Classica and Lusso are, I’d still personally take a Miata Club or Grand Touring for my own garage. The 124 Abarth, on the other hand … oh man. Just look at it. That flat-black hood and trunk, the Brembo calipers, the scorpion badging. It’s aggressive in a way that no factory Miata has ever been. Fiat set up an autocross course at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego specifically to show the Abarth off. They said that we could have “unlimited runs.” After my ninth run, it was suggested to me that I take a break. Like, a long break.

Without that suggestion, I’d have driven that course for another hour. Maybe two. The Abarth is just brilliant. The MultiAir is uncorked a bit by a quad-pipe exhaust that supposedly raises horsepower to 164. There’s an Abarth-branded aftermarket exhaust available as well that makes the Fiat sound like a miniature Ferrari 488. I recommend it. Try to forgive me for saying “1.6 liter” during the cooldown lap in the video, by the way!

20160609_132126

The six-speed manual transmission, sourced from the NC-generation Miata, has shorter, sharper throws than the new-gen box in the ND. It’s absolutely confidence inspiring. The chassis, as well, is beyond reproach, allowing the tail to be thrown and caught in third gear with reckless abandon. The front end has all the grip that’s missing in the Classica and the stiffer suspension removes both the float and the mild fore-and-aft pitch that affects the Classica, the Lusso, and the Miata itself.

The Classica departs from the Miata formula to add everyday usability; the Lusso leaves it to provide grand-touring comfort. The Abarth is like a tuner Miata; low, angry, quick to respond. Speaking of tuning: there are shops that are getting 230 horsepower out of the 500 Abarth for a couple grand. The Abarth starts at $30,540. Expect to see them in Friday-night street-race lots across the country next year, snorting and popping and hissing under exaggerated boost pressure. There’s something amusing about the fact that the Miata is finally available in a variant that will command the respect of young men; all they had to do was put a snail on the thing and roll hardware-store paint on the hood. I absolutely adore it.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth, Image: FCA

The best way to understand the 124 Spider is this: it’s a four-wheeled Bimota. Some of you will recognize Bimota as the Italian motorcycle manufacturer that wraps Italian chassis and styling around proven Japanese engines. In the ’80s, when Suzuki and Yamaha were putting killer powerhouse inline-fours in rather dodgy perimeter frames, the Bimotas were unstoppable. The problem with them was that all of the Italian stuff, particularly the wiring, was subject to variable quality control.

This Fiat should offer the same bulletproof engineering and assembly quality that makes Miatas such great long-term ownership propositions, but it also has Italian styling and a powertrain that simply speaks with more authority than the relatively anodyne Skyactiv 2.0-liter in the Mazda-branded car. There’s no price penalty, and the weight penalty of about 100 pounds is well worth it for anybody who values peace and quiet on the freeway. I won’t say that it’s a better car than the Miata; I don’t think it is. But it hits some very specific marks in a way that its sibling cannot.

Casual roadster fans will love the automatic Lusso. The Classica is arguably better value than the base MX-5. And that Abarth? It’s enough to make you forget that word that we weren’t supposed to say in today’s media briefing.

Disclosure: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles paid for travel, lodging, and provided food and drink for the purpose of this review.

[Images: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, © 2016 Jack Baruth/The Truth About Cars]

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111 Comments on “2017 Fiat 124 Spider Review – Shhh, Don’t Say Its Name...”


  • avatar
    frozenman

    So Mazda offers a 2.0 for the North American market instead of a 1.5T to placate their customers taste for a little more power, LMFAO! Japanese intransigence at its finest, see also FRS and BRZ for further evidence of collective stupidity.

    • 0 avatar
      djsyndrome

      The 2.0 was readily available; developing a 1.5T from scratch for one of their lowest volume cars makes no financial sense. Same reason the FR-S/BRZ got a hopped up version of the Impreza engine instead of something unique.

      You can either get these cars with an engine that’s on the shelf or not get them at all. Vote with your wallet next time and you might get something better.

      • 0 avatar

        FR-S Could’ve used the 2.5l from the Camry. The H4 contributes nothing except tepid performance.

        • 0 avatar
          sirwired

          You can’t exactly drop an I4 in a Subaru, all of which are designed for flat engines. If it had a regular I4, it would have been a Toyota.

          • 0 avatar

            Its also RWD-only, making it not a Subaru.

            Not to go off on a tangent, but that is another reason why the co-development with Subaru was more an impediment than a benefit.

          • 0 avatar
            djsyndrome

            “Its also RWD-only, making it not a Subaru.”

            This argument is old and tired. Subaru can build whatever they want; only their marketing department has to worry about it.

            Both Toyota and Subaru have said repeatedly that this car wouldn’t exist without the other’s input. You want to know why Toyota didn’t build it themselves? Look at the millions of people that bought SUVs instead of keeping the Supra and Celica going.

        • 0 avatar
          AKADriver

          It directly contributes the low hoodline and low center of gravity, and indirectly allows it to exist in the first place since it re-uses so much engineering from Subaru’s AWD platforms. You could make an argument for Subaru’s FB25 (which would be a direct-fit replacement for the FA20).

      • 0 avatar
        frozenman

        Maybe they should have called up Honda to ask how they manage to justify the cost of producing a 1.5L and a 1.5T? No, they are too busy screwing around with rotory and diesel that get them no market results here. A 1.5T would also be a better marketable option for the 3/6 model as well as cx-3 and cx-5 and would give customers easy tuning options for their cars. Zoom Zoom Mazda is a seriously hapless company.

        • 0 avatar
          mike978

          Hapless? Is that why F with this car and Toyota with the iA are taking stock Mazda’s and making a few changes?
          You question the diesel. They have a successful diesel that sells in the EU, it is needed for market share, which if I am not mistaken is the same or greater than Honda’s market share. How is that hapless?

        • 0 avatar
          AKADriver

          People are already making over 190 wheel horsepower from the ND Miata naturally aspirated. Mazda has never had a problem with their enthusiast customers having an upgrade path.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      No.

      Mazda provides a 1.5L naturally aspirated engine for other markets and the more powerful 2.0 for North America, which is good enough for sub-6-second 0-60.

      Fiat offers their 1.4L turbo engine in their version of the car, both in North America and abroad.

    • 0 avatar
      carlisimo

      Some of us prefer giving up some power for more responsiveness – and we’re the ones who’ve bought Miatas in the past.

      As good as the Fiat is, it won’t have the throttle response that existing Miata owners want, and people focused more on power numbers have better options in this price range. There’s a group in between that will like the Fiat, and I’m glad there’s now a car for them.

    • 0 avatar
      ihatereadingthis

      Yes continue your whining because Mazda is definitely caring about what some anonymous tool thinks.

  • avatar

    To me, the 124 looks like a Miata with a fuzzy-styled front and rear end pasted on to it. Why go for the derivative if you can have the true original? Hate the Abarth version’s double twin-exhaust, as if it needs to make up for something. FCA should have used the Miata to come up with a Alfa duetto spider. The two have a much closer resemblance.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      “FCA should have used the Miata to come up with a Alfa duetto spider”

      no. the Miata is ugly with that stupid “Mazda grin,” and a beaked Alfa would be even uglier.

      • 0 avatar
        mike978

        The “Mazda grin” went away when they shifted to the Kodo design language. No-one who is serious calls the current Mazda line up ugly. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but ugly it surely isn’t.
        I am not a huge fan of the Fiat 124 headlights but I accept different design appeals to different people.

    • 0 avatar
      Carzzi

      To me the 124’s front end looks like it could pass off as a Dart roadster in all but badging, especially in the headlight LED treatment: they should’ve made the accent perfectly circular, while retaining the rest of the headlamp’s shape. It would’ve looked like a faired-in resurrection of the original 124 Spider’s headlamp nacelle.

  • avatar
    JimZ

    ” I would recommend the Classica over the Miata for anybody who doesn’t have an active racing license.”

    So, pretty much everybody then.

    • 0 avatar
      carguy

      I find that notion somewhat misguided but not too uncommon from people that have said active racing licenses. At parties you can’t get them to shut up about it.

  • avatar
    bobman

    Nice car, getting some good reviews. Hopefully it will bring some sales to the Fiat dealerships.

  • avatar
    LS1Fan

    In before “OMG not better then Miata becauz Track Day Bro!” posts.

    A soft, relatively affordable and comfy roadster that looks cool and is easy to drive in traffic will sell very well here.

    Most folks don’t commute to work on roads that look anything like an autocross course.

    Bravo to Fiat .

  • avatar
    wristtwist

    God DAMNIT Jack. I was all set to get a Club without the BBS package for a daily driver that will never (or rarely) see the track but would see plenty of canyon runs. I’d even accepted the noise bump (though I daily a `speed 3 today, it’s not that much quieter. I’ve owned a long list of modded hondas, so NVH isn’t the biggest deal, except i’m getting older and slower, et. ad. nau.)

    And then you had to go and love this little Italian job. (Would you say love?) I’m betting the Miata RF will start somewhere around the Abarth will, which was going to be my hope for a slightly quieter car. But boy do I want a FR roadster.

    As an… athletically used daily driver, which is better? Club w/o the brembo/bbs (I’d probably get the Wilwood Powerlite upgrade from FlyingMiata and maybe some TE-37s) or an Abarth? I tend to keep my cars until they die, and despite living with one now, I’m not sold on the long term reliability of turbos (I only have 70k on mine now.) I do know I push hard enough on abandoned roads to enjoy the use of an LSD, but a solid 90% of my driving is to work or on the superslab to visit friends.

    To be quite honest, I kept my R&T subscription because you (and Sam) have continued to write for the mag. When ya’ll lost Peter as a regular contributor, it really made me go back and evaluate why I was subscribing to ALL of the car rags. I’ve just kept R&T, I’ve even jettisoned the motorcycle mags too. I tend to trust your assessment of cars I’ll never get my hands on. I’ve tested the base and club levels of the Miata, and while I trust my judgement on those, I’ll never have the racing experience that your seat time has rendered unto you.

    Anyway, thanks a lot you jerk. Now I have to go and reconsider what I want, something that take me years (insert just ask my ex joke here) to do sometimes.

    Jerk. /s

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Abarth for sure.

      It’s just better at getting though daily traffic.

      • 0 avatar
        wristtwist

        Is it better than the 228i? I just read your piece on Monday with some interest, as I’ve always moaned about how fat modern cars are getting (which is one of the reasons why I like the Miata so much.) I settled on the Miata because 99% of the time I’m alone in the car, so I really don’t need much space (though I’m about the same size as you.)

        Anyway, thanks for the response, I really enjoy reading most of your writing, and I still use your Hype and Hypertrophy article in conjunction with your Incel article as required reading for any discussion of modern social male interaction among my friends.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      @wristtwist – if you’re worried about long term reliability, FCA has some great extended warranties available I and my parents have (between us) two Fiat 500s (parents 500c and I have an Abarth) and parents have a T&C, and have available lifetime unlimited mileage bumper to bumper warranties available, which we got. Thus far, the cars have been reliable. My parents have over 120k on their 500C and my Abarth is up to 54k miles and racking them up at 2k per month.

  • avatar
    Driver8

    Interesting that they went with the NC’s Aisin for turbo duty. Some 2.0 NDs are eating their 2nd gears, suggesting that they were tailored for lighter 1.5 duty. Speaking of, what was your preference Jack, 1.5 or 2.0? Revs vs torque and the extra 100# of curb?

    Is the 124’s quieter demeanor related to the snail stuffed up the exhaust or did they basically Dynamat the bejeezus out of it?

    Personally, I find the Fiata’s styling busy and overdone in the style of 80s/90s Japanese ‘shogun’ body kits.

    Unrelated: the view over the ND hood evokes a POV bikini shot.

    One ND tuner has already hit 180whp with a header/exhaust/tune. Horsepower wars, ho!

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I’m not buying that kind of hp gain on a normally-aspirated engine unless they uncorked the rev limiter and pushed the power band higher. stock it’s rated at 155 hp at the flywheel; assuming normal losses that’s about 130 or so rwhp. A header and tune aren’t going to add 50 hp.

      • 0 avatar
        Driver8

        http://www.good-win-racing.com/Mazda-Performance-Part/61-1980.html
        I suppose one can believe it or not until independent dynos surface.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        Stock NDs are putting down as much as 145WHP depending on the dyno.

        Plus bear in mind the Skyactiv 2.0 has like 13:1 compression, and if I recall correctly runs on regular (at least in the Mazda3 I drove). I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the stock tune to be completely neutered to make that happen. So there’s room there. Stock headers are designed to cost and to pre-heat the cat super quickly so there’s room there too. I think with cams and revs this thing could put down 200WHP no problem.

        I see the appeal of the Spider but I live essentially at sea level and will take response & low weight over boost every time. This looks like a winner though. I just hope Mazda and Fiat find enough buyers.

        • 0 avatar
          JimZ

          they can run 13:1 compression thanks to DI. the fuel vaporizes in-cylinder which cools the fuel:air charge as it’s being compressed, which staves off pre-ignition/detonation. a tune isn’t going to change that; it’s all due to the mechanical characteristics of the engine. all a tune can do on a normally aspirated engine is futz with the ignition timing and cam phasing (if the engine has it.) That’ll move the power band around a bit, but not much else.

          looking at Driver8’s link, I’d wager almost all of those gains are due to the exhaust upgrades. picking up 40 whp means a massive increase in airflow. the stock exhaust must be really restrictive.

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            DI, higher octane and retarded ignition timing all serve to do the same things- avoid knock. Lower octane = retarded ignition compared to higher octane. Making that jump (if the cams have the dynamic compression to do so, which dual VVT would probably enable) would require advancing ignition which would come from a tune.

            No need to believe me though, there are folks seeing independently dyno’d ~20WHP from tunes on 2.0L Mazda 3s. So like I said there is plenty of headroom in the ND’s engine.

          • 0 avatar
            t0ast

            Considering how the NA tuning of the NC went, I think the numbers are believable. A tune alone on the NC is good for 10-15 HP (not to mention removing a silly throttle restriction on the first 2 gears) and combined with quality exhaust hardware lands you around +30 HP total.

            Just for fun, here’s a picture of the crappy OEM header from the NC where it quickly and sharply chokes down into the primary cat:

            http://imgur.com/nGQ24cB

            As for the ND, Mazda still seems to be pulling punches all the way back to the muffler, like forcing gas through a small perforated section and then 1.25″ exits:

            http://www.mazdatalkforum.com/download/file.php?id=3223&t=1

            Between the DI, higher compression, and (probably) just as many if not more emissions/driveability restrictions in the ND’s SkyActiv motor / stock tune to be uncorked, I could easily see modifications on it piling on another 10 HP beyond what could previously be gained from the NC’s MZR.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      Call me shallow, but I’d take the 2.0. The 1.5 is great for Europe but in the land of the 6.2 Denali it’s better to have the extra shove.

  • avatar
    shaker

    I liked the new Miata’s curves, stance, etc. — but the squinty headlights and anodyne rear seemed to detract from the overall looks.

    Well, problem solved – this car is SWEET LOOKIN’

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    This is Mazda at its most brilliant (incredible engineering in an everyday reliable, affordable “exotic” hardtop/softop two seater).

    Even “it must be assembled in Japan from Japanese fabricated parts” fans will rejoice.

    And now, there really are four variants on this theme, with real, measurable, differences between them, two with Italian flair in terms of styling and attitude (but keeping most of the Miata reliability).

    Me? I’d take a Fiat 124 Sheath, *if I could*, for the exterior styling and extra noise/personality, essentially, but really wish I could get upwards of 160 *whp* horsepower in a normally aspirated, manual gearbox version of it, as I’m very resistant to FI.

    As it stands now, I’d grin and bear the FI Abarth, as it can eat crackers in my bed despite my aversion to FI. It’s just too sexy and I can see myself really growing deeply fond of it.

    • 0 avatar
      JimZ

      I don’t get the continued distrust of turbocharging/forced induction. Almost everything you’ve bought (including the car/truck you own) was brought to you by some of the millions of trucks out there, all which have at least one turbocharger underhood.

      • 0 avatar
        sportyaccordy

        Just another thing to break and get between me and the car. Don’t get me wrong- I enjoyed the hell out of the Golf TSI rental I had a while back. Best way to describe it was effortless. Problem is I want my daily driver to be engaging, at least as long as my commute is fun and low stress.

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          re: “Just another thing to break”

          That’s what they used to say about power windows and fuel injection, back when I was half my current height.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            They were right about power windows up until about 2006.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            ajla,

            On which cars? My experience is that power window motors will still be working just fine when a car is sent to the junk yard.

            You occasionally see regulator issues, but those were much more frequent with crank windows. Lately, I’ve seen a few door modules that misbehaved on Honda (high power draw), post-’06.

          • 0 avatar
            ajla

            I’ve had to deal with window *motor* failures on an Alero (2x), Grand Am, Grand Prix (2x), Bonneville (2x), Impala, Reatta, and Silhouette. Throw in power window regulator failures and the list gets much worse.

          • 0 avatar
            heavy handle

            ajla,

            It sounds more like GM problem than a power window problem. Those cars probably all used the same part.

          • 0 avatar
            sportyaccordy

            Up until very recently companies like BMW & VWAG were still struggling with basic things like window regulators and cooling systems. Plus a turbo is a wear item. Eventually the bearings are going to go. I’m OK with an added wear item if it brings me some kind of benefit (i.e. MT clutch = a more engaging driving experience)… I could do a turbo for something like the family CUV or whatever but not my engagement machines.

          • 0 avatar
            sirwired

            Sportyaccordy,

            Most passenger-car turbos I believe use oil-film bearings (as opposed to ball-bearings); they just don’t wear out quickly unless you cheap-out on your oil or don’t change it as often as you should. It’s perfectly reasonable (if not guaranteed) to expect the turbo to last the life of the car it’s bolted to.

            Such a bearing won’t necessarily hold up to abuse, but for normal daily-driver duty, it’ll do just fine.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      The Italians always usher in a Renaissance! This roadster renaissance is definitely a lot more interesting than a high school world history class though.

      Indeed, the two color paint job makes the car look amazing; it appeals to the young man in me. I’m not crazy about the front view — feels like I’m seeing double-vision, which reminds me of the old man in me.

      I find myself still leaning toward the Miata GrandTouring, or maybe the RF, but I need to know more about that one.

      Great review Jack.

  • avatar
    raph

    Every once and awhile something comes along that gives me pause with Mustang addiction. This is one of those cars, just a really good looking little car. It helps I suppose that I’ve always liked the original spider.

  • avatar
    Joss

    And Mazda weren’t worried about chipped sales?

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Yes, in the US and Canada, but Fiat and Mazda have very little sales overlap in the rest of the world. They probably ran the numbers and realized that they would build and sell more cars overall with Fiat than without.

  • avatar
    Boff

    I’m so glad FCA didn’t foul this car up.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      Normally, I would say be patient. But in this case…

      The stand alone Fiat stores are all new. This may be a brilliant move for Mazda to get more of them on the road. Probably not too far of an assumption that some folks who were interested in a roadster skipped the Mazda store and went straight to BMW or Mercedes because of how the Mazda dealership looked from the outside. Perhaps they were going to buy German no matter the case the Miata made.

  • avatar

    Wow! A positive review of a FIAT! I believe this is one of the signs of the The Apocalypse. I think FCA did a magnificent job with the 124. To my eye it is much more attractive than the Miata. I think this will turn out to be a surprise hit for them, and god knows FIAT needs one. This give me hope that Mazda will be the supplier for the next gen Chrysler 200/Dodge Dart. Imagine what they can do with the Mazda6/3 as the starting point.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      +1.

      Mazda6 with some sound deadening, Pentastar V6, and Skyactiv auto transmission would be very appealing.

    • 0 avatar
      sirwired

      I’ve thought ever since Sergio said he wanted FCA to get out of the car business that Mazda was the natural choice for FCA to outsource their car needs. Certainly it’s a better choice for Mazda than selling a few ‘2’s to Toyota.

      I mean, it’s either that or Mitsubishi… it’d take years of investment for Mitsubishi to roll out a competitive lineup again.

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        “I’ve thought ever since Sergio said he wanted FCA to get out of the car business that Mazda was the natural choice for FCA to outsource their car needs. Certainly it’s a better choice for Mazda than selling a few ‘2’s to Toyota.

        I mean, it’s either that or Mitsubishi… it’d take years of investment for Mitsubishi to roll out a competitive lineup again.”

        Mazda is and always has been a relatively small automotive company (with a huge keiretsu-financial partner; which is the part 99.9% of people commenting on Mazda either don’t know about or fail to mention when commenting on Mazda) that’s heavily engineer-driven from top to bottom.

        Mazda is a much leaner and even more engineer-focused/controlled, smaller version of Honda, if anything.

        Mitsubishi, at least since the end of WWII, is almost the opposite of Mazda. It is a massive, vastly wasteful, ginormous financial/chemicals/materials/banking keiretsu-conglomerate with the financial-banking portion of it being the largest by far, having huge ties to powerful Japanese families, and being run primarily by accountants, bankers and MBAs, from top to bottom.

        Mazda is like an incredibly lean, engineer controlled, smaller version of Honda. But Mazda has a financial backer that is part of its keiretsu that is literally as deep as the Japanese Government, despite this small scale and high efficiency.

        Mitsubishi is like the Roger Smith-era GM, but on an even more massive (and wasteful, as hard as that is to believe) scale, as it has fingers in so many pies as only a large Japanese keiretsu can have access to (this type of cross-pollination and vertical scaling would be illegal in the U.S., at least as done under the umbrella of a single corporation).

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      I was dreaming of what FCA might be able to do with the Mazda6/3 throughout this review. Subtracting NVH and adding character to the engine is exactly what I want in Mazda’s sedans.

  • avatar
    slance66

    Very nice looking car. That abarth version looks fantastic indeed. I’ve never lusted for a 2 seat convertible, but this is the one I’d buy.

  • avatar
    SomeGuy

    This car looks so cool! Definitely will be on my radar when I’m ready to buy. The Abarth or nothing for me!

  • avatar

    I’m happy that FIAT dealers who took the jump finally get a more appealing product to sell since they were already shafted in so many other ways by FCA/

  • avatar
    Dan

    Not my kind of car but I like what Fiat did with it. They took all of the squinty, angry midget that Mazda had styled into the new Miata and put it right back in the trashcan where it belonged.

    Little things should be cheerful.

  • avatar
    pbr

    I’m digging the Abarth look more than I thought I would. Wonder if John Baucom is working his old FIAT magic on one yet …

  • avatar
    EAF

    @ TTAC – I think I’m in love!

    Who is in for a group buy? You guys enjoy discounts? Is there a hardtop available?

    Must be turbo, must have LSD, therefore must be Abarth.

    1. EAF
    2.
    3.
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    5.
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    8.
    9.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    So autocross the Miata and drive the Fiat cross country.

    Jack, your review makes me think of the 124 like a budget Maserati, a grand tourer for impressing a platinum blonde that is half your age, making a top speed run from LA to Las Vegas.

  • avatar
    ToddAtlasF1

    The 124 Sport Spider wasn’t built by sullen union labor. It was built by Pininfarina, and much that was different about it from a 124 sedan was common to Ferraris of the day. Even the twin cam engine was developed from the ohv version by Aurelio Lambredi, of Ferrari engine design fame, who also designed the base engine.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    In two words, I want, I Want and I WANT. In that order.

  • avatar
    Kato

    “quite justifiably hailed as the finest small roadster of this century”

    Better than an S2000?

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      Seemingly so.

      • 0 avatar
        Kato

        Hoping for an opinion from someone who has driven both. The Miata is 500lb lighter but down 85hp. These are both big numbers. Performance numbers for both cars are similar, both have 50/50 weight balance and EPS. One is attractively styled and the other looks like a GMO fish. Guess I’ll have to go drive the Mazda. Unlikely to trade in the AP1 however. The Fiat is considerably better looking than the Mazda, but better looks are probably not adequate compensation for swapping in the Fiat engine.

        • 0 avatar
          SP

          Well, the S2000 came out last century, so I assumed he was not directly comparing the two.

          Even though the S2000 stuck around until 2009.

        • 0 avatar
          Jack Baruth

          I’d rather have a Miata than an S2K. The extra power of the latter is all it has going for it. Might as well get a Boxster.

          • 0 avatar
            Kato

            What makes it better? They’re pretty comparable on paper. The S2K has lower cost of ownership than a Boxster of similar vintage and comparable performance. A Boxster S would be the next level (for more money).

          • 0 avatar
            DeadWeight

            I love the S2k, but it’s somewhat unforgiving for daily driver use, even by roadster standards, mainly due to a suspension that’s tuned quite aggressively for approximately 76.8% of America’s poorly maintained road surfaces.

            A Boxster literally drives like a luxury car with a much more forgiving suspension over rough road surfaces than the highly strung S2k.

          • 0 avatar
            Kato

            The Boxster is very nice. Both it and the S2000 are in the running for “finest roadster of this century” IMO. They’re both well-balanced, have great drive trains, and are considerably better looking than the ND. It must be pretty special for JB to prefer it as he has plenty of cockpit time in the others.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    An Italian car with Japanese mechanicals.

    MMMMMMMM…..me likes.

    • 0 avatar
      AKADriver

      It still has an Italian engine, which, call it stereotypical, kills the whole “better daily driver” argument for me. Fiat 500s have simply had too many random real-world reliability glitches for my comfort as someone who has been daily driving my trouble-free Mazdas for 15 years.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        AKADriver, seconded. I wish you could get one with the Japanese engine but with the extra 100# of sound deadening.

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        I’ve been driving a Fiat 500 with the base 101hp engine in it for over a year now with no engine or driveline difficulties at all. In fact, no problems across the board except for a minor issue with the sunroof. Whomever is arguing “real-world reliability glitches” is either exaggerating or doesn’t own one.

        • 0 avatar
          hubcap

          I don’t know one way or the other about the engine’s reliability. Going by the forums, there’s doesn’t seem to be any problems.

          I understand your experience is just that, but a bit longer than a year is not sufficient to make a long, or for that matter mid term reliability determination.

        • 0 avatar
          tjh8402

          Another owner chiming in here. Bought my 2013 Abarth just over a year ago with 24k miles and have put about 30k on it since. Only had one issue.

      • 0 avatar
        GeneralMalaise

        +5, Vulpine… Close to 34K totally trouble-free miles in my 2012 500 Abarth. Absolutely no issues. I can’t say that about any other new car I’ve ever purchased (other than my wife’s 2013 E350 BlueTec), and I’ve owned Fords, Buicks, Pontiacs, Chryslers, Nissans, a Suzuki, Hondas, Mitsu’s and Toyotas. Pictured is my ’81 Fiat X1/9… 205K miles on it. You just have to take good care of a fine automobile.

  • avatar

    More than a dab of opposite lock at 1:05, hands moving a lot faster than the crowd waving at a Hootie concert.

  • avatar
    IAhawkeye

    I love the way these look compared to the new Miata’s.

    When are they going to finally make a roadster someone tall like me can actually fit in and drive?

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      I have a friend who is 6’5″ 260#. He just bought an SLK250 and loves it. He fits fine.

    • 0 avatar
      wristtwist

      Jack is 6’2″ and something like 225lbs? He fits fine.

    • 0 avatar
      IAhawkeye

      I’m only 6’4 200lbs but long limbed. Blessing in basketball and baseball, curse in fitting in some cars or on motorcycles. I sat in an ’04 Miata once and I fit.. kinda, there was no way I could drive it–safely at least. Bummer!

      I totally forgot the SLK even exists, haha. Can’t say I see too many around. I’ll keep that in mind though!

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        My buddy’s long-limbed too — his torso’s exactly the same size as mine (5’10″/200/barrel chest) and his inseam’s 6 inches longer than mine. He couldn’t stuff his legs into the Boxster footwell. He said the Z4 kind of worked but felt tight. It came down to the four-seat Audi A5 or the SLK, and he felt (correctly, I think) that the SLK felt more special and unique.

        Not a class of car I’d buy, but it was exactly what he was after.

  • avatar
    Messerschmitten

    Question for Jack:

    When you say the Lusso is triple “quiet,” what is your frame of reference? My tinnitus is getting the better of me these days, making a long-distance jaunt in my 2013 Fit aurally exhausting. Is the Fiat quiet by sports-car standards or by Cadillac standards?

    I mention Cadillac because I just bought a 1967 Eldorado to rebuild and use as a touring machine. The Eldo is a glorious machine but if I can get Mazda-esque reliability and Miata-esque manueverability along with Eldorado-esque Interstate ooze-ability, then I’d end my quixotic Cadillac reanimation project and head for the local Fiat factory outlet.

    Will the Lusso be easy on my damaged ears?

  • avatar
    daviel

    The original 124 is much better looking. FIAT should have tried harder on the styling.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    That photo of the two red cars really drives home what a styling triumph Pininfarina’s original 124 was, and what a dumpster fire the Miata-based 124’s styling is by comparison. I suppose some of that is bumper requirements, but the latter day Pininfarina 124 remained handsome even with shock-absorber bumpers.

    That said, I’ve driven plenty of inelegant sports cars–just get it in black, which hides all sins.

  • avatar
    nezromatron

    Thanks for the thorough review.. I guess the remaining question is BRZ or Abarth? And any word on release dates?

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Sorry but I disagree – I think the 124 is a beautiful design and a huge improvement over the Miata (which looks angry). There’s enough ‘retro’ to tie it in to 124s of the past, but the appropriate safety cage/systems to give you a fighting chance in an accident.

    Jack, you and I are of similar size – comfort was ok?

  • avatar
    redliner

    In a perfect world, The Mazda would come with the Abarth engine.

    As sweet as the Abarth engine is, there is no way I’m going to plunk down new car money for a Fiat. The Fiat will depreciate like a wet stone. It’s Mazda for me, preferably the new RF.

  • avatar
    Chicanery

    Al Cosentino would flip over on his roll bar to see the 124 being built by the Japanese. He’s lucky he’s dead, I suppose.

    I’ve loved the 124 Sport Spider since the 1980s when I brought home my first, a 1974 model that was rusty and dented all to hell. It ran poorly — fixed by simply tightening the Weber to the manifold. The hood was in the back set — a few bolts cured that. And then I had a flop-top named Ragdoll that served me well for several years. Then I moved to Seattle and the damp climate finished off the rustwork; the car was done.

    I transplanted that engine into my wife’s ’78 and as far as I know it’s still in there. Had an unheated Alquati manifold and 2 non-sequential, double-downdraft Weber 44s to put on it but for some reason never got around to doing that.

    Yeah I loved those cars. I want to love this new car, but Al keeps whispering in my ear about how Toyota lied about making more twin cams than anyone else, and Fiat had built twice as many at that date (like, 1976). Those damned Japanese! If Fiat can still put heart and soul into a car, and I can get past the Japanese writing on so many of the parts (and Al stops haunting me), I might be tempted.

    Meanwhile, I’ll drive my old C4 Vette until the wheels fall off of it or I keel over dead.

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