Fiat 124 Spider Review

Andrew Brady

Written by

Andrew Brady

Fiat 124 Spider
Fiat 124 Spider

1/10

1 / 10

00/10
heycar rating
"Meet the Italian Mazda MX-5"
  • Launched: 2016
  • Convertible
  • Petrol

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Quick overview

Pros

  • Italian styling harks back to the classic Fiat 124 Sport Spider
  • Japanese build quality provides some reassurance
  • Abarth version is one of the best takes on the MX-5 recipe

Cons

  • Not as focused or precise as the Mazda MX-5
  • Inconsistent power delivery from the turbocharged engine
  • Interior is near-enough lifted straight from the MX-5

Overall verdict

On the inside

Driving

Cost to run

Prices and Specs

Overall verdict

"Although the standard 124 Spider isn’t as focused or sharp as the Mazda MX-5, Fiat should be applauded for creating something with a different flavour. If the MX-5 is wasabi, the 124 Spider is gelato. For added sauce, we’d recommend the Abarth."

2022 Fiat 124 Spider Front

There’s a hint of ‘Tenacious D’ to the Fiat 124 Spider. That’s because it’s a tribute to the greatest affordable sports car in the world.


Although it wears a distinctly Italian suit, the 124 Spider shares much in common with the Mazda MX-5 and is – or rather, was – built in the same factory in Japan. We say ‘was’, because the 124 Spider has been discontinued in some markets and is likely to be removed from the others very soon.


First seen at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show, this roadster takes inspiration from the Fiat 124 Sport Spider of 1966. Its launch in 2016 coincided with the 50th anniversary of the original car, with Fiat producing a limited edition Anniversary special to mark the occasion.


In a world of SUVs and crossovers, the Fiat 124 Spider is, figuratively and literally, a breath of fresh air. Small and affordable sports cars are a dying breed, so we must cherish every opportunity we get to try a new one.


As its styling would suggest, the 124 Spider is far more than a facsimile of the Mazda MX-5. The softer, arguably more elegant, styling is matched by a marginally softer driving experience, along with a subtly different interior. The clever use of materials makes the cabin appear slightly bespoke, even though a great deal of it is lifted from the MX-5.


Up front, power is sourced from a 1.4-litre MultiAir petrol engine delivering 140PS. That might not seem like a lot, but thanks to the car’s low weight and the fitment of a turbocharger, the 124 Spider offers plenty of real-world poke.


For added bite, you can also buy an Abarth version, which uses the same 1.4 turbo engine but with power cranked up to 170PS. It might be our favourite version of the Mazda MX-5, especially when you factor in the mechanical upgrades and trick exhaust system.


In standard guise, the 124 Spider offers nine-tenths of the precision and focus of the MX-5, but with a softer and more comfortable ride. It also boasts a satisfyingly short-throw gearbox, although an automatic transmission is available if you want to be even more laid-back.


Predictably, practically isn’t a strong point, but you get marginally more boot space than in the MX-5 and there’s enough capacity for a long weekend somewhere exotic. Might we suggest a trip to the Italian lakes?


Thanks to its short production life, exclusivity is almost guaranteed, with some of the earliest examples now available for the price of a budget city car. Even the hardcore Abarth costs less than an entry-level Ford Fiesta to buy second-hand.


What are you waiting for? The Fiat 124 Spider offers the reliability and reassurance of a Japanese car with the flair and elegance of something Italian. Read on to discover why you need to find room for this enjoyable sports car.

Is the Fiat 124 Spider right for you?

Everybody should own a two-seater sports car at some point in their life. Whether it’s before the pitter patter of tiny feet or as a weekend toy to offset the tedium of the family SUV, driving a topless sports car is a rewarding and enriching experience.


The Fiat 124 Spider is one of the best of the breed. It’s based on the brilliant Mazda MX-5, sharing an interior and platform with its Japanese sibling, but Fiat has done enough to create a sports car that’s dripping in Italian flair.


Only you can decide if there’s room in your life for a two-seat sports car with limited practicality, but the combination of affordable prices and low running costs means there should be nothing stopping you. This incy wincy Spider will crawl under your skin and make your journey to work a more pleasurable experience.

What’s the best Fiat 124 Spider model/engine to choose?

The 124 Spider comes in two distinct flavours: Fiat and Abarth. Both are powered by the same 1.4-litre turbocharged MultiAir engine, but while the Fiat offers a healthy 140PS, the Abarth delivers a punchy 170PS.


Whisper this, but the Abarth 124 Spider is one of the best versions of the Mazda MX-5 we’ve ever driven. While that might upset the MX-5 purists, we’re standing by our wild claim. Its Abarth Record Monza exhaust delivers a rich and evocative soundtrack for your aural pleasure.


Not that we’d rule out the standard Fiat 124 Spider. It’s less hardcore than the Abarth and a more soft-focus take on the Mazda MX-5. Either way, the Fiat is more exclusive than the Mazda, especially in the UK, where only 3,000 or so were sold during its short life.

What other cars are similar to the Fiat 124 Spider?

The most obvious rival is the Mazda MX-5. The 124 Spider was actually built alongside the MX-5 at Mazda’s Hiroshima plant in Japan. However, while production of the MX-5 is still in full flow, the Fiat is on borrowed time.


We’d also place the Toyota GT86 and Subaru BRZ in a similar playground as the 124 Spider, although these Japanese tearaways offer strictly tin-top thrills. Beyond that, you’re looking at the likes of the more expensive Porsche 718 Boxster or Alpine A110.

Comfort and design

"Fiat can say grazie to Mazda for nailing the basics. Thanks to the company’s experience in making the world’s most popular sports car, the low-slung driving position is spot on, while the seats are supportive yet comfortable."

2022 Fiat 124 Spider Interior

It’s not perfect. If you can see eye-to-eye with the likes of Uma Thurman and Vince Vaughn, you might

struggle to crowbar yourself into the 124 Spider. The seats don’t slide back very far, while the steering

wheel adjusts for height but not reach. Roof up, headroom is restricted. Roof down, you’ll be peering

over the top of a windscreen like that meme of George Clooney from the movie The Descendants.


Although the cabin will be familiar to anyone who has driven an MX-5, Fiat has used soft-touch materials

and coloured accents to make it feel as tailored as an Italian suit. Some models boast an upholstered

lower dashboard and instrument cluster hood, as well as piano black dashboard accents.

Spec the tobacco leather to give the 124 Spider a rich and opulent feel than you won’t find on the Mazda

MX-5.

It looks and feels ready for a tour of the Italian lakes with your significant other by your side.

Predictably, the Abarth 124 Spider ups the ante with Abarth racing seats, a steering wheel with red

detailing, a racing tachometer, plus swathes of Alcantara on the instrument panel cover, handbrake and

gear stick gaiter, lower dashboard and armrest.


The Fiat is the latte, the Abarth is the espresso. Either way, you’ll get a kick from the 124 Spider.

Quality and finish

Italian cars don’t have the best reputation for quality and finish, but the Fiat 124 Spider is a little different.

Because it shares many components with the MX-5 – a car it is built alongside in Japan – the build

quality is excellent.


Everything in the cabin feels well screwed together, with the key touch points delivering a feeling of

quality. Subtle details like stitching on the leather seats and the soft-touch plastics used on the

dashboard cement the impression that the interior is built to last. Sure, some plastics in the lower half of the cabin feel a little low-rent, but this is true of many other cars and needs to be viewed in the context of price.


A word about the hood, which can be opened or closed in a matter of seconds. Sure, it lacks the theatre

of an electrically operated roof, but this means there’s less to go wrong. Besides, what’s wrong with a

little manual labour from time to time?


For the best feeling of quality, upgrade from Classica to Lusso or Lusso Plus trim. The leather seats feel

more opulent than the fabric versions, while a raft of cosmetic upgrades help deliver a greater sense of

occasion.

Infotainment

If the Fiat 124 Spider has a weak link, it’s the infotainment system. Entry-level cars come with a basic

three-inch display radio with Bluetooth, plus USB and Aux sockets. Other models get a Mazda-sourced

seven-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth, wi-fi connectivity, two USB ports and Aux.


The system can be controlled via a rotary dial positioned between the seats, but can feel a little

dimwitted, especially in map mode. It’s also worth noting that although it’s possible to upgrade to the

seven-inch display on the entry-level 124 Spider, this doesn’t include navigation.


The seven-inch infotainment system is standard on the Abarth 124 Spider, as is the Bose audio upgrade.

It comprises a seven-channel amplifier and nine speakers, four of which are embedded in the headrests.

It’s a great system, although the soundtrack from the exhaust could be all the entertainment you need.

Fortunately, the Bose set-up is available as an option on the Lusso Plus. It was also part of the

equipment on the Fiat 124 Spider S-Design special edition, which packs just about all the equipment you

could ever need.

Space and practicality

A two-seat sports car is never going to win a practicality test. You’ll need to be quite inventive with

packing if you’re off on holiday in a 124 Spider. Frankly, anything beyond a long weekend will be a

struggle.


The boot offers a miserly 140 litres of luggage capacity, which is precisely half the space you’ll find in the

back of a Mazda 2 supermini. On the plus side, the 124 Spider holds 10 litres more than the Mazda MX-

5. Every litre counts, right?


An optional aluminum boot lid carrier kit offers an additional 10kg of luggage capacity, but costs a

whopping £1,000. It does look the business, mind, with or without your fine Italian luggage strapped to

the back.


Up front, you won’t find a traditional glovebox. Instead, you get a small lockable compartment behind the

seats. You’ll also find a pair of movable cupholders, which can be mounted on the transmission tunnel.

Alternatively, one can be fitted to the right of the passenger’s right leg. If you’re feeling flush, black gloss

cupholders (£200) or silver satin cupholders (£180) are available from the accessories catalogue.


We suggest that your money would be better spent on a shelf net for the lockable luggage compartment.

You can also order a cargo net for the boot, which could be useful when you’re carrying home bottles of

Italian red from Tesco. Every little helps.


So, the 124 Spider isn’t the last word in practicality, but if you want space, buy a Fiat Tipo estate. Or rent

a van.


We should also mention the GT version of the Abarth 124 Spider. It features a detachable carbon fibre

hard-top for the closest you can get to a Mazda MX-5 RF (which has an electric folding hard-top). It

weighs just 16kg and boasts a glass rear window with a defrost function. For all-weather fun, the GT

could be just the ticket.

Handling and ride quality

"The Fiat 124 Spider driving experience is subtly different to that of the Mazda MX-5. This is a good thing, because the world didn’t need an identikit version of the MX-5 wearing a Fiat badge."

2022 Fiat 124 Spider Driving

In reality, it offers around 90 percent of the precision of the Mazda MX-5, with greater ride comfort than

its Japanese sibling. We doubt you’ll miss that last 10 percent.


Besides, if you want a hardcore version of the 124 Spider, buy the Abarth model, which is every bit as

good as the MX-5. Unlike the standard version, the Abarth 124 Spider gains a limited-slip differential,

which translates to greater agility in corners.


There’s also a Sport button for improved throttle response, meatier steering and a less intrusive traction

control system. Throw into the mix a strut brace and you’ve got the recipe for the most focused 124

Spider you can buy.


It’s not perfect. Neither version offers tremendously communicative steering, which is one of the MX-5’s

hallmarks. The 124 Spider also errs on the side of understeer, which isn’t something you can say about

the Mazda.


To repeat a point we made earlier, it’s a different animal. The 124 Spider is a slightly softer version of the

MX-5, which makes it better suited to Britain’s pockmarked roads. It’s also the one you’d want to take on

a cross-continental road trip – and not just because of that extra 10kg of luggage capacity. Don’t forget

your toothbrush.


Besides, you will have fun in the 124 Spider. You’d have to be going some to notice the subtle nuances

between Fiat and Mazda – and life is too short to worry about such things.


Having said that, the Abarth brings a terrific soundtrack to the party, which gives it the edge over the MX-

5 for us. Sorry to be a party-pooper, Mazda fans.

Engines and gearboxes

While the Mazda MX-5 offers a choice of two non-turbocharged engines, you’re limited to a 1.4-litre

turbocharged MultiAir unit in the Fiat 124 Spider. Without wishing to sound like a broken record, this

means the Fiat offers a different take on the formula perfected by Mazda.


Drive an MX-5 and you’ll be rewarded for exploring the upper reaches of the rev counter, with the 1.5

and 2.0-litre engines thriving on being taken by the scruff of the neck.


Things are different in the Fiat, with the 1.4 turbo creating a highly individual vibe. In truth, it’s a bit of a

mixed bag.


The power delivery is a little inconsistent, with a momentary lag replaced by a surge of power as the

turbo spools up. It runs out of puff at the top end, at the point where the MX-5 starts to sing a happy tune.


It’s not all bad news. The throttle response is excellent, especially in the Abarth, which also adds a fruity

soundtrack to the trifle. Without the aural delight, the MultiAir can sound a little flat.


The six-speed manual gearbox is a joy to use, with a stubby gear lever accompanied by a wonderfully

short-throw shift. Quite why you’d want to ruin things by ordering the automatic transmission is anyone’s

guess, but the slush ’box does seem to suit the relaxed nature of the 124 Spider.


As for the performance figures, the Fiat will complete the 0-62mph sprint in 7.5 seconds, with the Abarth

getting there in 6.8 seconds. Top speeds are 134mph for the Fiat and 144mph for the Abarth. In both

cases, the automatic transmission blunts performance.

Refinement and noise levels

The little Fiat feels remarkably refined, which is a credit to the Japanese factory. Although the engine can

sound a little coarse, especially when pressed hard, it’s actually part of the sports car experience.

It’s less of a problem in the Abarth, with the Record Monza exhaust doing its best to mask any noises

within a radius of a few hundred yards. Seriously, it’s like the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra setting up

next to a jobbing busker in a subway.


Things are surprisingly calm in the cabin, roof up or roof down. There’s a small amount of wind noise

with the roof retracted, but a subtle deflector between the roll hoops keeps it to a minimum, while leaving

the windows up also helps a little.

 

Much work was done to reduce wind noise and buffeting, right down to the position of the seat belt

mounting. The body was designed in such a way to deflect wind above the heads of the occupants, but if

you’re really tall, you could find that your head undoes the work put into the aerodynamics.

With the roof up, road noise is the biggest intrusion, but it’s no deal-breaker. Turn up the stereo.

Safety equipment

The Fiat 124 Spider hasn’t been crash tested by Euro NCAP, but the Mazda MX-5 was given a four-star

rating in 2015. It scored 84 percent for adult occupant protection, 80 percent for child occupant

protection, an impressive 93 percent for pedestrian safety, and 64 percent for safety assist systems.

You could expect a similar result had the 124 Spider been tested.


It packs an impressive level of safety kit, with all versions featuring front and side airbags, Isofix child

seat mounting points, roll bars, an active pedestrian safety system and a passenger airbag deactivation

switch.


The Lusso Plus also boasts rain-sensing wipers and automatic, adaptive LED headlights with washers.

There’s no spare wheel, so all versions come with a Fix&Go puncture repair kit.


A word about the hard-top on the Abarth 124 GT. It offers an 80 percent wider view compared to the soft

top, so it could be a worthy consideration if you plan a lot of winter driving. Greater visibility is a definite

safety feature.

MPG and fuel costs

"Thanks to the efficiency of a turbocharged engine, the Fiat 124 Spider offers surprisingly good fuel economy."

2022 Fiat 124 Spider Back

 All versions offer a combined 44.1mpg with a manual gearbox, dropping to 42.8mpg in the

automatic version.


CO2 emissions range from 148g/km to 153g/km, depending on the transmission.

Insurance groups and costs

Insurance groups span from 25 to 26 for the Fiat version, or 29 to 31 for the Abarth. Curiously, the 124

GT is the most expensive to insure, which is surprising given that the hard-top should be less prone to

vandalism.


To provide some context, insurance groups for the Mazda MX-5 range from 25 to 34, depending on the

version.

VED car tax

Fiat 124 Spiders registered before 31 March 2017 incur a Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) rate of £165

(manual gearbox) to £205 (automatic). 


For cars registered after 1 April 2017, there was a showroom tax of £215 for the manual and £540 for the

automatic. The cost falls to £150 per annum from year two.

How much should you be paying for a used Fiat 124 Spider?

"The earliest examples of the Fiat 124 Spider have dropped below £12,000, with this budget likely to bag you a one-owner car with up to 40,000 miles on the clock. You’ll pay a premium for Lusso or Lusso Plus models, but this will be reflected in higher residual values when it comes to moving on."

2022 Fiat 124 Spider Side

Bank on spending at least £17,000 for a fully loaded S-Design special edition, or £13,000 for a 124

Spider Anniversary.


Used Abarth models range from around £15,000 to £20,000. These are small prices to pay for a car that

will turn as many heads as something far more exotic.

Trim levels and standard equipment

The entry-level Classica model rides on 16-inch alloy wheels and gets LED rear lights, a steel double

exhaust pipe, black roll bar covers, a leather steering wheel with audio controls, a leather gear knob, a

three-inch display radio, cruise control, air conditioning, four airbags and keyless start.


Upgrading to the Lusso adds 17-inch wheels, chrome double exhaust pipe, silver roll bar covers, silver

windscreen frame, climate control, rear parking sensors, rear-view camera, fog lights, keyless entry, a

seven-inch touchscreen display and navigation.


The flagship Lusso Plus boasts a Bose audio system, LED headlights, adaptive automatic front lights

and rain-sensing wipers. Also look out for the Anniversary and S-Design special editions, which

bookended the 124 Spider’s production run.


Predictably, the Abarth versions come with a host of mechanical and cosmetic upgrades, the majority of

which aren’t available on the Fiat models.

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