|Positives: Light and nimble, quick and fun, seriously good top-down experience for the money, generous trunk space for a small roadster.|
|Negatives: Low-speed power could be better, not much in terms cabin storage, some people won't care for the styling.|
|Bottom Line: People who want a modern, affordable roadster that isn't the Mazda Miata will love the Fiat 124 Spider. It's built on the Miata framework and shares all of that car's good attributes. It also comes with more trunk space and some revised interior pieces as well as all new exterior panels. It drives wonderfully, and the engine is powerful and sounds nice. Get this car if you like the styling and want a roadster that drives great. If you don't like how it looks, go with the Miata.|
The good people at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles let us borrow a Fiat 124 Spider Classica for a few days. We drove it all over Chicagoland to find out what this car is really all about. Here are our impressions.
We expected the 124 Spider to feel like the Miata and it does for the most part. There are some subtle differences. The 124 Spiderâ€™s hood is longer and flatter and the steering seems just the slightest bit more muted than its Mazda counterpart. That might not seem like much, but you feel less like youâ€™re one with the car, which is important for a small, sporty roadster. Driving the Fiat, it's hard to completely forget about the car and just really enjoy the drive in the moment. That being said, itâ€™s still twenty times more fun in the corners than most cars, it sounds good (the Abarth version sounds even better) and the hood is actually nice to look at out the windshield.
Thereâ€™s something kind of old-school about seeing the hood out in front of you while you're driving. So many vehicles today have a hood that slopes away at an angle that doesnâ€™t really let you get a sense of it from inside the car. The 124 Spiderâ€™s flatter hood is right there for you to see and is a constant reminder of what you're driving. In some ways it adds to the experience, in others it takes away from being in the moment.
Ride Quality: With the low seat height, sporty suspension and relatively short wheelbase the car certainly doesnâ€™t feel like itâ€™s riding on pillows, but itâ€™s not an unpleasant ride by any means. Steer clear of any large bumps, though, as the little roadster doesnâ€™t like them. Luckily, this is easy to do thanks to the nimbleness of the car.
Acceleration: At low RPMs, the engine is a little sluggish. If you get into higher RPMs, it has no trouble shooting you forward with gusto.
Braking: The brakes are powerful and progressive. They bring the car to a halt without issue.
Steering: Steering is tight and responsive although it didnâ€™t feel quite as good as the Miataâ€™s. Still, there are few cars out there that can match it.
Handling: Thereâ€™s very little body roll. In the corners, the car seems to have plenty of weight up front, which makes it grip fantastically, but itâ€™s not wildly playful. It is confidence inspiring, and itâ€™s easy to have oodles of fun in this car.
In a car thatâ€™s supposed to be all about driving, technology is less important. That doesnâ€™t mean the 124 Spider is completely void of it. The car comes with an AM/FM radio (we know not high tech) thatâ€™s Bluetooth enabled and has some voice commands. Aside from that, thereâ€™s remote keyless entry, a 12-volt auxiliary power outlet, an auxiliary outlet and a USB outlet.
If you feel you need more tech, thereâ€™s the option to jump to the 7-inch infotainment system with voice-activated navigation and plenty of features. We didnâ€™t have many qualms with the basic system, but a few more features would have been nice.
Infotainment System: The infotainment system in our tester was little more than a radio with Bluetooth. The 3-inch display was minuscule and showed only the most important information. The system functions smoothly although certain controls can be confusing.
Controls: There arenâ€™t many controls in the base model of the 124 Spider. Whatâ€™s there, is right up by the 3-inch screen or on the steering wheel. Despite the number of buttons being low, it took us a little while to get used to the system. Once you know what youâ€™re doing, itâ€™s very easy to use.
Bluetooth Pairing: The process for pairing a new device via Bluetooth isnâ€™t intuitive, but once weâ€™d paired the phone, we had no issues.
Voice Call Quality: Call quality wasnâ€™t terrible. However, voices did sound a little far off. The 4-speaker sound system could be the culprit and not the Bluetooth connection.
Fiat tried to do two very difficult things with the styling: make the 124 Spider somewhat resemble the old Fiat roadster while still adhering to modern safety restrictions, and make a car that looks good and different from the Miata. Due to the fact that the new Miata is one of the better-looking cars on the road, and the old 124 Spider is one of the best-looking cars ever made, Fiat had a tall order to fill. The talented designers tried their best to mimic the old while making a new car thatâ€™s iconic and interesting, but we have to say the car comes up short. Itâ€™s not elegant like the old 124 Spider and not nearly as sexy as the new Miata. Itâ€™s not uglyâ€”the rear end and profile view of it are niceâ€”but it certainly doesnâ€™t make us yearn for it the way we do for some roadsters.
Front: Unfortunately the front of the car reminds us of a fish. Itâ€™s so close to looking good, but it just isnâ€™t quite there. The headlights should be round, the hood a little smoother and the grille larger and more interesting.
Rear: The rear is nice, though the rear overhang is a bit long, and the taillights and trunk lid work well to carry the lines that were established down the side of the car.
Profile: The best view of the Fiat 124 Spider is from the side. The lines sweep up from the nose and back to the rear fenders in a way that is attractive and fluid. When the carâ€™s front end canâ€™t be seen, it actually looks like an Italian-designed machine.
Cabin: The cabin is simple. It features an interior that feels new but is simpler that most modern cars. It reminds you that you wonâ€™t want to mess with the infotainment system or the radio when youâ€™re in the 124 Spider because youâ€™ll be having too much fun actually driving the thing. Fiat's badge adheres to the steering wheel, the seats are cloth-wrapped but look sophisticated and inviting (there is a leather option in the higher trim levels). Overall, itâ€™s an attractive setup.
The interior feels as good as it looks. Everything is right in front of you and you feel like you belong there. The relatively smooth ride and comfy seats mean you could motor for hours without having to get out of this thing. Although there isnâ€™t much adjustment and the cabin is small, all but the tallest of drivers should be happy.
Front Seats: The 6-way manually adjusting driverâ€™s seat cups your body well and is comfortable for hours. Itâ€™s supportive and puts you nice and low, which is right where you want to be in a sporty roadster. There isn't a wild amount of leg room or hip and shoulder room. Don't expect to stretch out.
Rear Seats: None.
NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): The Fiat 124 Spider is surprisingly quiet for a soft top convertible. Fiat beefed up the glass and the soft top to make it a quieter vehicle. The car isnâ€™t whisper-quiet, but you can easily carry on a conversation.
Visibility: As you can expect rear visibility isnâ€™t the best, and because youâ€™re so low it can be hard to tell where everything is around the car. However, because the roadster is so small, itâ€™s easy to manage.
Climate: The HVAC unit in this car works great. The system is simple and easy to use and we had no issues with it whatsoever.
Neither the IIHS nor the NHTSA have crash tested the Fiat 124 Spider yet. Because itâ€™s such a small car, we wouldnâ€™t expect it to be the safest of vehicles. While there is some basic safety technology, such as airbags and stability control, the Fiat 124 Spider lacks some of the driver assistance and collision mitigation technology now available. This means that it likely wonâ€™t receive many accolades for safety.
IIHS Rating: This vehicle has not been tested.
Standard Tech: Dual-stage front, side airbags, active head restraints, enhanced accident response system, electronic stability control, speed control, ABS brakes, tire pressure warning light.
Optional Tech: None.
In a small roadster like this, storage and cargo space isnâ€™t a paramount concern. The point of this car isnâ€™t to carry a lot of stuff. Itâ€™s all about driving dynamics, sounds and sunshine. Having said that, the 124 Spider isnâ€™t completely worthless when it comes to stowing your gear. In fact, it does better than the Miata.
Storage Space: The interior doesnâ€™t give you much in terms of bins and cubbies. There is a small, lockable glove box compartment, removable cup holders, and a couple tiny trays for a phone or some spare change.
Cargo Room: The trunk of the 124 Spider provides more space than we expected. With almost 5 cubic feet of room. This sounds laughable until you realize itâ€™s more than the Miataâ€™s 4.6 cubic feet. In a roadster this small, even .4 cubic feet makes a big difference.
In a car this small with an engine of this size, you can expect pretty good fuel economy. The EPA estimates that the Fiat 124 Spider will get 25 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway. During out time with the vehicle we saw a fuel economy number between the EPA estimates for several days of mixed highway and city driving, which means the EPA is likely on the money. Drive conservatively and youâ€™re bound to hit those numbers.
Storage Space: We saw an average of 28 mpg in our test vehicle.
Cargo Room: The majority of the time driving was spent in the city with a few longer drives on the highway.
The four-speaker audio system wasnâ€™t too impressive. It got the job done and didnâ€™t sound too bad, but many people may consider upgrading to the available 9-speaker Bose surround sound system. Nine speakers in a car like this is would be like having the artist youâ€™re listening to right in the car with you. The cabin is rather small. The upgraded audio system would also come with a 7-inch touchscreen system. Thatâ€™s preferable to the tiny 3-inch display and button setup that came in our test vehicle.