It is 124 Spider week here on CRD!
Carl Malek got the joy of hooning the Abarth 124 around Monticello, New York while we were flinging the 124 Lusso around Charleston, SC.
Both cars are absolute heroes. Is any 124 Spider one of those rare cars that you’d love to drive 1000 miles at the drop of a hat?
Yes, yes it is.
His Abarth slid in with pricing in the mid-30s, while our midspec model with automatic transmission kissed 32k out the door with a few options.
For these prices, there is nothing else on the road that will bring so much childish delight to any driver.
We have a sweet HD drive video around some twisty State Park roads, plus 70 photos to make our case: You Need the 124 Spider.
It is that amazing to drive, and quite unique in appeal versus its Mazda MX-5 sibling.
Let’s find out how in the standard headers of Exterior, Interior, Performance and Pricing.
You probably think you know this car. You know it has Miata bones and are expecting a similar visual in the flesh.
In fact, not a panel is shared between the two and the Fiat looks far more expensive. Proportions for the Fiat become slightly more formal: a longer nose clip and squared-off shoulders all around make quite the upscale impression. Where the Mazda is all shrink-wrapped and slashes for eyes, the 124 Spider has more of a face. Its wide rectangular central grille makes a chic first impression — especially with the sharp and sharky leading edge of the hood extending out far into the wind. A unique mesh honeycomb effect lines this whole functional intake, as well as the lower breather and the foglamp shrouds. The combination is definitely not the old ‘smiley’ school of car design. The 124 Spider is definitely scowling at the world in a sexy and modern way.
Dark inner headlamp optics are mean, and contrast with the projector halogens for low and highbeams. The triangular, 3D lamp bezel under the lamp glass is just decorative on most 124 Spiders, unfortunately. The key option you need to get them? A $3700 Tech pack that honestly brings a number of much-liked upgrades along with a glowing LED triangle of DRL. Things like 9-speaker audio and cornering LEDs for the main lampss.
As our Lusso stands with its Bianco Perla optional paintwork, it runs standard yellow-ish lights for the DRL and fogs. Not a big deal for some shoppers, and you can fully disable the DRLs in the car’s touchscreen menu.
Back to the exterior design. As we move rearward, the 124 Spider is obscenely rear-drive in its stance. The hood seems impossibly long, with rising bullet fenders and a sunken, power-streaked hood visible from all sides. Driver seat included!
And certainly standing over the car — it is quite low in the flesh! In the best possible way, of course.
The flanks have a fresh-feeling sill extension in matching body color, plus chopped lower rear doors for great visual punch. A subtle but classy swage-line runs up the sides of the car before spiking upward right ahead of the door handles.
This rising beltline then wraps a boxy and wide-looking trunk. Those shoulders definitely say “rear-drive” and “Italian” pretty loudly. It is a hot machine from all sides, but especially from the back.
The twin rectangles of brake light are LED powered, with their halo of red light pushed out to the absolute edge of the rear fenders. A relocated license plate bracket is now on the trunk face (versus down below in the MX-5), and twin exhaust pipes are standard equipment for all trims. The Abarth bumps this to quad trumpets in back, plus some aggressive rear fender vents absent on this Lusso model.
We also wear a more traditional, yet still deeply sexy and premium, multispoke 12-inch alloys in liquid silver.
A final design element we love on the Fiat, and what is quite unique versus the MX-5? The MOPAR-branded windshield glass is wrapped in a very sexy brushed alloy, versus gloss black in the MX-5 and Abarth 124.
In all, the style is a solid 9/10 for us. We snapped pics of the car beside a $70k BMW Z4 and the same-priced MX-5 — and loved how wide and pricey the Fiat looks beside its arch rivals/besties.
If cars have three sections, lets call them the ‘exterior,’ powertrain and cabin.
Fiat completely changed outside of the 124 Spider, and also swapped out its engine for a turbo four.
What they left almost untouched was the cabin. We’re 100-percent fine with this. Simple material changes and a new seat stitching are enough for the thick, small-bossed steering wheel to feel good. After all, Mazda did a great job with the low-rise and airy dashboard design, the minimal controls being easy, and everything falling immediately to hand. A side bonus? This Fiat 124 Spider instantly feels Tough and well-built. Everything is near-perfect, then, to fire up the engine.
Pushbutton start of the gurgling, impatient 1.4-liter turbo is a curious thing. The note is so unlike what you’re expecting from this seat — a near-silent Mazda whirrrr. It’s replaced by a living animal under the hood.
In the best ways.
Wake the creature with even 2500-RPM and another side emerges. Big turbo surge, zingy turbo ‘rrrrrrrrr’s and a barky note from over your shoulder.
The engine is alivvvvvveee!!
And you you are hooked.
The cabin is tight, of course, with adjustments needed versus a normal old car. Glovebox between seatbacks, low entry point loves its doors swung wide open, and a bulkhead behind the seats slightly limiting the recline for those over 6’3, we’d guess.
Over your head is the new ragtop. It’s mostly solid panels, interestingly, with only the hinge/bends being soft. Insulation is via an acoustic headliner, and works somewhat well.
You’ll have the top down asap, though! It is so fast. Unhook, swing it back and click it locked open. Perhaps five seconds? Just as easy coming up.
We loved this Daytona-inspired black/tan color combination. Its media integration and usability is actually very, very good. Rich 124 graphics on startup, too, which is fun.
The one thing we missed most in the cabin of the automatic 124 Spider were shift paddles. These come on the automatic Abarth but not this Lusso. One the video above, you can see it doesn’t spoil the fun. But using the shifter toggle for shifts is not as fun as on the wheel.
The auto itself?
Like the whole car, the turbo brings it to new heights.
Fiat’s extra 36 pound-feet of torque versus the Mazda is a game-changer, even as they both rock 160HP. 184 pound-feet pops this car off the line like a champ. Keep in mind, these numbers are not HUGE. But the car is so light (~2450lbs) that any added power makes its presence known. In this case, the playful Italian pops and hisses of the MultiAir Turbo.
It claws deep too — building boost and spinning the back tires???!! What?
We were shocked, and — to be frank — discovered this fact as a happy accident.
Power down low in the revband makes this auto seem fine for all times. You’ll be too obsessed with the lightweight nose and chuckable feel!
Honestly, cornering in this car makes even city traffic fairly hilarious. It is just so eager to play, with the ESC calmly intervening in a way that never spoils your fun.
The sprint pace for the 124 Spider is significantly quicker than the MX-5 automatic. We say on video above that is feels like 6.5s playing 8.1. That’s pretty real on throtte, and we had a blast taping some corners with the GoPro. Watch 10 seconds of this.
The 124 Spider is priced from $25k, with our Lusso starting a bit more at $27,495. With $1350 automatic, $595 special white paintwork, and destination, the car is $30,500. Our tester also added the $1500 Safety and Comfort Collection, which includes blind spot/cross traffic assist, rear sonar, Homelink and autodimming/heater mirrors and a security alarm.
We longed for the upgraded stereo system and must-have LED lights from the $3800 Premium Collection package. This adds all the Safety/Comfort goodies as well as Nav and satellite radio for its nine speakers and sub. The Nav can be retrofitted post-sale via a dealer-sold SD card — its touchscreen/backup camera system is already prewired for it.
The standard 4-speaker setup definitely works with the top down as fast as you dare. But mostly thanks to its seat-mounted tweeters. If you’re asking for true tunage and deep sounds, the big stereo is a solid reco.
Go drive it. The builder offers some intrguing Recaro seats and body-wrap in Abarth form…
You Need the Fiat 124 Spider!
If you haven’t enjoyed running errands lately. If you haven’t felt a lightweight tail come alive around corners. If you have not felt the wind in your hair recently.
You need this car.
We all need this car!
By replacing two of three major parts the the MX-5, the 124 Spider has come out even better than its sibling.
We adore the drive, but would envy the Abarth quite a bit.
Regardless, take your new LIFE for a spin with this 124. It really is that good.