2020 Fiat 124 Spider

By Eric Peters

December 3, 2019 6 min read

People who buy economy cars don't especially care that lots of other people are driving the same car; if anything, it's confirmation that they bought the right car.

But people who by sports cars want more than just a great car; they want to be driving a different car.

This is the Mazda Miata's curse — which flows from its excellence.

The Miata has arguably the best value for a sports car ever — and it's one of the best sports cars ever made, period.

But for exactly those reasons, almost everyone seems to have one. Which detracts from the excitement of owning one.

If you'd like to have one that almost no one else has, then have a look at this one: the Fiat 124 Spider.

It's the Miata's less-common Italian cousin.

What It Is

Mazda doesn't just sell Miatas to its many customers; it also sells a few of them to Fiat, who resells them under its own label as the 124 Spider.

But it's not just the badging that's different.

The 124 is powered by a Fiat-built, 1.4-liter, turbocharged engine and has Fiat-specific bodywork.

But the biggest difference is the driving experience, which is as different as a shot of sake versus a shot of espresso.

Prices start at $25,390 for the Classica trim with a six-speed manual transmission. A top-of-the-line Abarth — with a slight power bump, a rowdier exhaust system, limited slip differential, upgraded brakes and a firmer-riding suspension — stickers for $29,390.

What's New

A Scorpion stripe/decal package is available for the Abarth version of the Spider.

What's Good

A Miata ... but not another Miata.

Turbocharged engine makes more low-rpm torque than the Miata's nonturbocharged engine.

Abarth exhaust can drown out the sound of a straight-piped Harley.

What's Not So Good

The Miata's nonturbocharged engine makes more horsepower and revs higher.

Both cars have purse-sized trunks — and no back seats. Pack light!

Under the Hood

A car's engine is its beating heart — the thing that defines it.

The Miata's engine beats faster. The car is powered by a 2.0-liter, dual overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine that makes 181 horsepower — and has a 7,500 rpm redline.

The Spider has a 1.4-liter single overhead camshaft engine with a turbocharger that makes 160 horsepower (164 for the Abarth) on 22 pounds of boost and redlines at a more leisurely 6,250 rpm.

Both do the same job — differently. The Mazda needs to be revved higher to unleash its potential, while the Fiat's power is more accessible.

If you work the Miata, it gets to 60 mph a little sooner — in about 5.8 seconds versus 6.3 for the Italian job. But the Spider gets there without as much apparent effort, which is either a pro or a con depending on how you like your acceleration served.

Both engines send the power to the rear wheels via a standard six-speed manual transmission, with the option to choose a six-speed automatic.

Despite their very different engines — and power curves — the cousins deliver almost identical gas mileage: 26 mpg city, 35 mpg highway for the Spider (with the manual six-speed) versus 26 mpg city, 35 mpg highway for the manual-equipped Miata.

On the Road

If you like a more easygoing sports car, you may prefer the Italian take on things.

The Fiat's torque-rich (and lower rpm) turbocharged engine also works better with the optional automatic than the Mazda's nonturbocharged (and not-as-much-torque) engine, which works better with the manual.

Put another way, the Fiat is the better street car, while the Mazda is the better track-day car.

Both, however, are very economical. They deliver gas mileage that's only about 3 mpg off the pace of economy cars that aren't nearly as fun to drive — and which cost only slightly less to buy.

At the Curb

Though clearly related to the Miata, the Spider is just as clearly not a Miata.

The Fiat has a longer overall — by about 5 inches — and strikes a more relaxed pose than the tightly coiled Miata.

Both are the essence of simplicity. Lowering the top is as easy as rolling down the window, and it's just as easy to put back up. There is little to distract you from the art of driving.

This is a car that doesn't need apps to keep you entertained.

Though the Spider and Miata are two-seaters, there is a surprising amount of room for the two lucky occupants. Each has the same 43.1 inches of legroom and enough headroom to clear the heads of people as tall as 6-foot-3 without having to lower the top.

The Rest

The available 9-speaker Bose audio system is very good, but you may prefer the sounds produced by the Spider's very Italian exhaust — especially the Abarth's almost unmuffled version.

It'll make the guy on the Sportster in the next lane jealous.

The Bottom Line

The 124 is much more than a Miata in a different wrapper.

But they're also very much alike where it counts.

 View the Fiat 124 Spider this week.
View the Fiat 124 Spider this week.

Eric's new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" is available now. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.

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