By on September 18, 2017

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth gray front quarter

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

1.4-liter turbocharged inline-four, SOHC (164 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm; 184 lb-ft @ 2,500 rpm)

Six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive

26 city / 35 highway / 30 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

9.0 city / 6.7 highway / 7.0 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

27.4 mpg [8.6 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price:$29,190 (U.S) / $39,890 (Canada)

As Tested: $30,685 (U.S) / $41,985 (Canada)

U.S. prices include $995 freight charge. Canadian prices include $1795 freight and $100 A/C charge.

I suppose it’s a bit like buying a car, but at once more limiting and liberating. Anytime I take the keys of a press vehicle, I must sign a long legal form agreeing, basically, not to be too stupid while driving someone else’s car. Invariably, near the top of the form is a serious restriction – that no one other than the person who signs the form is to drive the car.

I find this somewhat limiting. I understand the reasons, but occasionally some input from others can help evaluate the car. Thankfully, I found a loophole while driving the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth – I asked my 23-year-old self to drive the turbocharged roadster, alongside the current 38-year-old edition.

At twenty-three, I didn’t have kids. I had a mortgage on a starter condo with my eventual wife, but the full weight of life’s burdens were not yet bearing down upon me. So Young Chris decided not to wait until middle age, and he bought a sports car.

That’s why this discussion between Young Chris and Old Chris is an enlightening look at the modern Italian sports car, by way of Hiroshima.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth rear quarter

Young Chris: Those patches of gray in your beard seem to perfectly match the Grigio Argento paint on the 124 Spider Abarth, old man. It’s an interesting choice for a mid-life crisis. Most guys go for bright red on their last grasp at their youth.

Old Chris: Kid, a mid-life crisis sports-car purchase is limited to those who are trying to capture a youth that they never had – the guy who immediately bought something sensible to drive right out of college. You bought an old Miata at 23.

YC: Fair enough.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth front quarter

OC: Indeed, I got plenty of seemingly-knowing looks from other, ahem, mature gentlemen during the week behind the wheel of the Fiat. An older neighbor walked across the street and chatted about the Spider he restored decades ago. A young neighbor similarly wandered by and drooled over the droptop.

YC: All guys, you say. How about the ladies?

OC: The wife (she was your fiancée, you should know her) enjoyed a brief ride. The daughters each rode with me for a long early morning cruise on the twisty backroads of eastern Ohio. Otherwise, no attention from the fairer sex was paid to either myself or the Fiat.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth rear

YC: You talk about the drive as if it was torture. I loved rowing through the gears when carving corners in the Hocking Hills. I found that the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth was well balanced at the limit, only transitioning to mild oversteer on corner exit.

OC: “ the limit?” You didn’t take it on the track, you imbecile. I know you’re trying to sound like some hack journalist, but you have no idea what the limit is. Except for one corner, you kept the traction control on – mercifully. Your old Miata has but 116 horsepower – 164 in the Fiat, combined with 184 lb-ft of torque and a bit of turbo lag can get your inexperienced ass in serious trouble if you were truly “at the limit.”

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth front

And, no, driving the Spider wasn’t an ordeal. However, on the longish freeway drive to and from the excellent forest roads, the car does show its true nature as a sports car in the wrong way. A short wheelbase makes the typical awful Ohio freeway less than pleasant.

I did note that the air conditioning struggled to keep the interior cool with the top up on very hot days. Once over 90° Farenheit, the black soft top soaked up the heat, and the HVAC couldn’t keep up. It’s an easy fix, however – drop top, and drive quickly.

The seats are quite comfortable, but have just a bit too much padding, putting my head right into the soft top when it’s raised.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth seats

YC: Just do what I did on our old Miata – carve foam out of the seat bottom to lower your butt.

OC: Can’t do that on a press car, kid. Not something you should do on a new car that’s still under warranty, especially when the car is fitted with heated seats. Speaking of which, you should add heating coils to those old chairs in your old Miata.

YC: Never! I’m a hardcore, old-school roadster enthusiast. I’ve driven it top down in rainstorms. I even researched putting carburetors on the Miata for a better sounding engine.

OC: I stand by my earlier imbecile comment.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth infotainment

YC: I do enjoy the modern stereo, though the click/tilt/turn knob for control wasn’t the most intuitive. The interior is small enough that a touchscreen on the dash would never be out of reach. As it sits, it looks like Mazda stuck an older iPad above the HVAC controls.

Oh, and those cupholders are a joke. Either in the passenger’s knee, or in the driver’s elbow. Neither locations are acceptable.

OC: Strangely, that infotainment system had a funky glitch during my drive. Once, while cruising on the interstate, the entire stereo shut down – the screen went blank, and everything turned off. The car was running fine. After a few minutes of confusion, the system restarted as if the ignition had restarted. It only happened once, but it was disconcerting.

YC: Yeah, that’s odd. When the stereo was silent, did you notice a buzzing noise in the car? I know I did.

OC: Yeah, anytime I was driving with the top down over 65 mph, there was a flapping noise stemming from the area immediately behind the passenger headrest. I couldn’t tell if it was a seatbelt – though it happened whether the seat was occupied or empty – or if something was loose.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth dashboard

YC: What about the styling? It’s basically a Miata with a new nose and tail, right?

OC: Certainly, that’s true – but Fiat has done a masterful job of distinguishing the 124 Spider with traditional Fiat styling cues, including the double hump on the hood, and the headlamps that resemble the old sugar scoop with a touch of modernity. While the Miata looks cheerful, the 124’s face is a bit more menacing.

YC: Mercifully, one thing not carried over from the original Fiat Spider is the propensity to rust.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth gauges

OC: Another major difference – this turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes this Italo-Japanese hybrid feel much more like an old British roadster.

YC: Hand me the keys, old man. I’m not sure it’s safe for you to drive any longer.

OC: Bear with me. The original Fiat Spider, as well as the modern Miata both have engines that perform best at higher RPMs. The turbo engine in the new 124 Spider, much like the low-revving, long-stroke engines in those MGs and Triumphs, have plenty of low-end torque, but run out of breath at the top end. While the new Fiat has a redline of 6,500 rpm, I found that shifting around 5,500 was plenty.

YC: So, how did the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth perform? You got 0-60 times, right?

OC: Eventually, I did. Getting power to the Racelogic Driftbox was a mystery at first, until I queried the internet. While a pair of USB outlets were fitted below the HVAC panel, the traditional 12v power outlet was nowhere to be found. Turns out it’s located in the passenger footwell. I had to feel around, poking fingers in dark places (quiet, kid) until I found the power port. I suppose that Fiat doesn’t want anyone lighting cigarettes (or using a radar detector) in their roadster.

After all that, the best time I was able to record was 7.2 seconds to sixty.

YC: Wow, that’s not at all quick.

OC: To be fair, I’m no professional driver. Getting clean launches is difficult (and not advised) on public roads. I hate to break it to you, kid, but you won’t earn enough to buy your own private test track by the time you’re my age.

So, I must ask, Young Chris – would you buy a new 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth?

YC: If I had the money, hell yeah. Too bad I’m like most internet enthusiasts – I’m the guy who swears he will buy a car, but only 10 years later when it’s depreciated. Mostly because I have college loans to pay.

What about you, Old Chris?

OC: Honestly, I’m not sure I could live with all of the compromises required by the Spider. The serious lack of interior storage for person and stuff alike is a major turnoff. If my commute were all third-gear backroads in a sunny Southern climate, I’d be all over this – but here in the snowy North, I can’t justify it.

It’s a brilliant drivers’ car, but it’s hard to picture this as a daily driver. As a second car, absolutely. Especially as one approaches middle age, this is a superb weekend car.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth profile

[Images: © Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]

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56 Comments on “2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth Review – A Tale of Two Drivers...”

  • avatar

    I like the styling of the 124 more than it’s sibling Miata. If I didn’t already own a Miata I’d buy a Fiat124. But owning two the same car seems silly.

  • avatar

    Interesting you say the AC was struggling with the 90 degree heat. I find the AC in my MY16 Miata does an admirable job cooling the car with the top up in the summer heat of south FL.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Good review, and I like the “two drivers” approach!

    FWIW, the Miata and the 124 have different drivetrains, so I would expect each would offer a unique driving experience.

  • avatar

    Reading this review did permanent damage to my brain.
    Both the old and the young brain.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    “The seats are quite comfortable, but have just a bit too much padding, putting my head right into the soft top when it’s raised.

    YC: Just do what I did on our old Miata – carve foam out of the seat bottom to lower your butt.”

    Hmmm, jumping between the two at a car show, I thought Fiat had a bit more room than the Miata- some combination of the seats and door panels.

  • avatar

    “no one other than the person who signs the form is to drive the car.”

    I let my older brother drive the McLaren 570S that I had for a weekend around the subdivision where he was staying. He was in town from Israel, and if it hadn’t been for him getting me interested in cars and things mechanical and technical I probably wouldn’t have been reviewing a McLaren in the first place. It would have been wrong to not let him drive it.

  • avatar

    Wow, does this look better than the miata. Looks more substantial, no beady eyes or wanna be looking BMW rear end. In other words this the masculine version of the new miata.

  • avatar

    If I didn’t need to occasionally carry larger items or my dog around, I’d go for one of these in a heartbeat; I’ve always wanted a little roadster, just couldn’t ever justify one.

    • 0 avatar

      Now if only FCA would bring the Strada to the US with the same drivetrain as the Renegade…

    • 0 avatar

      You can carry enormous things in a roadster, you just have to have the top down and be driving solo. I brought all the lumber for rebuilding my back porch home in my Spitfire, easier to put it in the passenger footwell sticking out the back of the Spitfire than the roof of the Rover.

      • 0 avatar

        @krhodes1: I currently have a convenient open bed with real, built-in tie downs to hold that lumber in place while I’m rolling. Now if I only had the Fiat Renegade drivetrain under it; 50% more horsepower and one(manual) or four(automatic) more gears for acceleration and economy. Oh, and that AWD would be useful as well.

  • avatar

    But does it Shine? Loony Tunes Review for sure.

  • avatar

    I think the Miata looks much nicer personally. The Fiat’s headlights and grill aren’t quite proportionate to the body and look a bit cheesy. I wish they had gone even more retro with the styling.

    • 0 avatar

      Personally I disagree about the proportions of the front end; they are very reminiscent of the original while accommodating modern aerodynamic and safety needs. The appearance itself is less “cheesy” than the ridiculous ‘grin’ the Miata itself features. The Fiat looks like it means business where the Mazda… I don’t have words for how silly that looks. Sure, I’d probably own one if I had the free cash and garage to keep it in and if the Fiat didn’t exist, but between the two I would much rather have the Fiat.

  • avatar

    For about the same money I would certainly choose a certified low mileage 2013-2015 BMW Z4 or MB SLK. But the best deal for a weekend car only are the same models in the 2007-2008 range, or a 2012-13 Miata, which are all available for less than $20K with less than 50K miles.

  • avatar

    Why couldn’t they work the Fiat (or Abarth) emblem into the vertical surface of the trunklid, instead of putting it on the top? When I look at the back, I think, “Where’s the logo?” You can’t see it unless you walk right up on it.

  • avatar

    Funny thing is, now that FreedMike The Old Divorced Guy’s kids can drive, and have something to drive in, he’d be far more *more* likely to buy something like this. At some point, you have to send a signal to your family that it’s time to move along as soon as humanly possible. A two seat roadster would work splendidly.

    Still, I’d buy the Mazda instead. I just don’t trust Fiat, and that goes triple for their engines.

    • 0 avatar

      “Still, I’d buy the Mazda instead. I just don’t trust Fiat, and that goes triple for their engines.”

      —- A pity, FM. I’ve been quite satisfied with both of my recent-model FCA products. The engine/transmission reliability has been solid and the other so-called complaints on CR and elsewhere tend to focus on inconsequentials that have nothing to do with reliability.

    • 0 avatar

      Everything on the 124 (even the transmission) is Mazda save the style and engine. It is also assembled in the Hiroshima plant, FWIW.

      The 1.4T Multiair has been around for awhile now in many applications so I’m sure you can hit up forums to see if owners are experiencing widespread issues with them.

      My biggest concern would be Fiat orphaning the continent in the next 5 years.

  • avatar

    $100 for an A/C charge???

    • 0 avatar

      No, $100 excise tax by the Canadian government for A/C passed from MFR to dealer and dealer to customer.

  • avatar

    OC: “ the limit?” You didn’t take it on the track, you imbecile.

    So true. I hate when people try to describe how their car handles when they are driving at maybe 3/10ths on the street. Even when pushed hard on the street I doubt most people get more 50% of their cars performance other then straight line speed. For example my Z feels heavy with slight oversteer on the street. On track its way more nimble but with a touch of (safe) understeer. Even in those track situation I bet only get 85% out of the car simply because I value my car and my life plus don’t have uber skills. Only pro drives get 99% out of vehicle, those get 100% win races those that get 101% wind up in the wall.

    • 0 avatar

      Long ago, I learned that when a known indifferent motorist says their new Kia or whatever “handles so great,” there is no correct response beyond a polite grunt of acknowledgement.

      All you can do is hope that they never find themselves in a situation where the accuracy of that statement is relevant.

      Side note: A friend of mine, who I honestly assumed was better than this, was recently discussing a Saturn SL2 he used to own. The following statement was made, verbatim: “I used to take that thing up to 140[MPH] like, every day.”

      No, my man, you did not.

    • 0 avatar

      When most people talk about “handling” what they’re largely referring to is the presence of body roll, the amount of on-center responsiveness, and the quickness of the steering ratio.

      • 0 avatar

        Exactly. You don’t always have to push the car to its limits in order to enjoy driving it, to notice how responsive it is, and how it compares to something else in that sense.

  • avatar

    I like the looks but when the re-badge is at this level (save the engine) I’d be driving it and thinking…

    Should have just got a Miata.

  • avatar

    FWIW, I had a 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth with that 1.4 turbo and never had any issues with it. I haven’t driven the 124 Spider, but I understand that the engine and exhaust are pretty quiet in the roadster relative to that hatchback. The engine sound was one of the selling features of the Abarth to me. It sounded awesome when accelerating but was quiet with no buffeting at freeway speeds.

    Did the engine on this car product any of that music?

    I just leased a new Alfa Giulia sedan (2.0 L Multiair Turbo). It’s lovely and quiet in a way that suits its character well, but I do wish it sang a bit more loudly. I still remember the 164 I drove years ago… what a sound from that V6!

  • avatar

    Does this car require you to push the sport button every time you start it up if you want the engine to make full power? I used to have sporadic use of a 500 Abarth C, and forgetting to push the button was a major annoyance when I remembered it as I was trying to merge with traffic and the Abarth was accelerating like something completely unsporting.

    One reason I don’t have use of the car anymore is that it was rear ended while my friend’s wife was driving it. The insurance company wanted to total it because they said it was only worth $8K with less than 20,000 miles. My friend talked them into repairing it, taking advantage of his relationship with a local body shop and using the leverage of insuring many cars, motorcycles and two businesses. I wonder what it is worth now with a branded title. This Fiat may be built in Japan, but it is still a Fiat. Residuals might not even be the word: more like residue.

  • avatar

    that last photo in this article is really sweet. kudos.

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