2018 Fiat 124 Spider Classica
Class: Sporty/Performance Car
Miles Driven: 236
Fuel Used: 9.0 gallons
Real-world fuel economy: 26.2 mpg
Driving mix: 55% city, 45% highway
|CG Report Card|
|Big & Tall comfort ratings are for front seats only. "Big" rating based on male tester weighing approximately 350 pounds, "Tall" rating based on 6'6"-tall male tester.|
|Room and Comfort||C|
|Power and Performance||B+|
|Fit and Finish||A-|
|Report-card grades are derived from a consensus of test-driver evaluations. All grades are versus other vehicles in the same class. Value grade is for specific trim level evaluated, and may not reflect Consumer Guide's impressions of the entire model lineup.|
|Big & Tall Comfort|
EPA-estimated fuel economy: 26/35/30 (city, highway, combined)
Base price: $24,995 (not including $995 destination charge)
Options on test car: Customer Preferred Package 21D ($1395)
Price as tested: $27,385
The great: Handling, shift action, fuel economy
The Good: Acceleration, easy-to-use manual convertible top
The not so good: Control layout, highway tire noise, interior and cargo storage space
More 124 price and availability information
It’s worth noting up front that the Fiat 124 Spider is based on the Mazda MX-5 Miata, but it sports completely different sheetmetal (not a single body panel is shared) and a different engine. The former carries many design elements of the original Fiat 124 Spiders of the ’60s and ’70s, giving it a decidedly “retro” look as opposed to the more futuristic swoops and curves of the Miata; it also gives the 124 just a bit more trunk space. And the second replaces the Miata’s 155-horsepower 2.0-liter four with a 160-horsepower 1.4-liter turbo (164 horsepower in the sport-themed Abarth model) that also offers decidedly more torque: 184 lb-ft compared to the Miata’s 148.
Most of the rest is carried over, however, including some elements that might be considered shortcomings. The seats share their structure with those of the Miata — essentially fabric stretched between frame rails, somewhat like a lawn chair — and they not only lack lumbar support, but aren’t really adjustable for height (though the cushion is adjustable for tilt). That, and the fact the steering wheel only tilts and doesn’t telescope means some folks aren’t going to find an ideal driving position. And the low-set seats make it awkward for all but the small and nimble to get in and out.
Last year, we had the opportunity to test a base Classica and a mid-level Lusso. This year, we tested sort of a cross between the two.
The Classica comes with an infotainment system hosting a 3-inch dashboard screen that’s essentially self-contained. Standard on the Lusso (and top-line Abarth) and optional on the Classica is a system that combines a 7-inch screen with console-mounted Commander control and volume knobs — along with satellite radio, voice command, and an integrated app suite — and that’s the system that was on the tested Classica with the $1395 Customer Preferred Package.
But it’s not necessarily a package all customers would prefer.
We’ve never been fans of the Commander control system, which is straight from Mazda — and also found in the MX-5 Miata. While most of the included features are appreciated, we have never much cared for the Commander’s logistics and control layout.
Commander control uses a center-console knob (with adjacent volume knob) that allows you to navigate around the 7-inch dashboard screen through lateral, rotation, and pressing motions. While the screen also has “touch” capability, it’s only active when the car isn’t moving, so while underway, you’re forced to use the Commander, and we haven’t found it to be as intuitive as the best.
But those elements aside, the Fiat 124 Spider — like the Miata — is a joy to drive. Steering and handling are “right on” sporty, the platform seems very solid over bumps, and the manual shift lever snicks nicely from gear to gear. With the 124’s turbocharged engine, hitting the gas at low engine speeds results in a bit of “turbo lag” before the boost kicks in and shoots you forward, something that may be perceived as adding to the sporting feel.
Cockpit storage is pitifully meager, while the trunk — which is a bit larger than that of the Miata — is adequate for a light-packing couple on a weekend trip. And perhaps best of all, the manual top is quick and fairly easy to put up or down, and with some practice and arm strength, can be done while remaining seated — a really appreciated asset. Furthermore, there’s impressively little wind noise or buffeting with the top down, though one of our testers complained of noticeable tire noise at highway speeds. Note that the Miata now offers a version called the RF that features a retractable hardtop, something that isn’t available on the 124 Spider.
If your primary goal is “wind in your hair” motoring, there are relatively few contenders in the sub-$30,000 price range of the Miata and 124 Spider. Among them are the Fiat 500 Cabrio, Mini Cooper Convertible, and Volkswagen Beetle Convertible — all “tight” 4-seaters — while the venerable Chevrolet Camaro convertible and Ford Mustang convertible start in the low-to-mid $30,000 range.
Some critics deride the Fiat 124 Spider as being simply a “facelifted” Miata, and that’s really not fair. True, the bones and guts are largely the same, but the skin and heart are unique, and that’s enough in our book to make them decidedly different cars.
Check out our Sporty/Performance Car Best Buys