Fiat 124 Spider: Classic sports car with modern quality
Of all the Fiats ever sold in America, the 124 Spider was by far the most successful. From the late 1960s through 1985, Americans got used to seeing the Fiat along with other small European sports cars like the MGB, Triumph Spitfire, and the Alfa-Romeo Spider. The original 124 was a delightful car. They were peppy rather than fast, handled very well, and never failed to put a smile on your face. Full disclosure: I own a vintage Fiat 124 Spider and I love it.
Fiat brought back the 124 name and the iconic body style in 2017. The new sports car is co-produced with Mazda on that brand's successful MX-5 Miata platform. The Fiat version of the car uses a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine and its own suspension tuning, but the bones of the car are Japanese.
The result is a sports car that offers everything that Americans loved about the original 124 Spider, now built on a sturdy and reliable chassis. The basic 1.4-liter engine delivers 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. The optional Abarth performance model boosts horsepower to 164, but torque remains the same. You can get the 124 with your choice of a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. It's still peppy rather than powerful, but if you are looking for that classic European sports car performance, the 124 has it.
Inside, the 124 is spacious for its size, and comfortable. You get a convertible top that is nearly effortless to use, plus all the modern conveniences like cruise control and air conditioning. The trunk is big enough to be useful for a weekly grocery run or a weekend at the coast.
The 124 is available in four trim levels, all starting under $30,000. The base Classica trim comes with cloth seats, but you still get a nice 7-inch display infotainment system. The Urbana edition gives you larger 17-inch wheels. The real upgrade comes with the Lusso (Italian for Luxury) edition, with heated leather seats. Finally, the Abarth performance edition boosts engine power and dramatically upgrades the handling with a Bilstein sport suspension, sway bars, chassis reinforcement, and a limited slip rear axle. A Brembo brake kit and Recaro seats are optional on the Abarth trim.
On the road or on the race track, the Fiat 124 is a pure joy to drive. The little 1.4-liter engine loves to rev, and that's where you find the power. I drove both the automatic and the manual shift versions. While the automatic is a good unit, if you want to get the full measure of performance and fun from the 124, choose the manual gearbox.
If you're dreaming of a sports car this year, you really should drive the Fiat 124 Spider before you make a decision.
2020 Fiat 124 Spider
Base price: $25,390
Price as tested: $29,390
Type: Sports car
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (160 hp, 184 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 6-speed manual or automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 26/35
Overall length: 159.6 inches
Curb weight: 2,436 pounds
Final assembly: Hiroshima, Japan
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