Quick Spin

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth | Drivers Notes

  • Image Credit: Greg Rasa
  • Engine
    1.4L Turbocharged Inline-Four
  • Power
    164 HP / 184 LB FT
  • Transmission
    6 Speed Manual
  • Drivetrain
    Rear Wheel Drive
  • Engine Placement
  • Curb Weight
    2,436 LBS
  • Base Price
  • As Tested Price
We spent the week with a Grigio Argento Aluminum 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth, known to many simply as the Fiata. As you may know, the 124 Spider is heavily based on the current ND Mazda Miata. In fact, both cars are built side-by-side in Hiroshima, Japan. The Miata has been a staff favorite for years, so we were interested to see how Fiat would handle the changes.

While there are a lot of shared components between the two models like styling and suspension tuning, the biggest changes are under the hood. Fiat swapped the Miata's 2.0-liter naturally aspirated inline-four for a 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-four. In Abarth trim, the 124 Spider makes 164 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, slightly more than the Miata (though that's offset by a bit of extra weight).

Associate Editor Reese Counts: I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about this car. The current Miata is nearly flawless when it comes to driving dynamics, so I was afraid Fiat's alterations would undermine what is a fundamentally good vehicle. My fears were almost immediately put to rest. While I'm still not sure I would buy one over a Miata, I can totally recommend it to less performance-minded friends.

The suspension is less firm and provides less body roll than the Miata, the latter one of my chief complaints about the Mazda. The transmission isn't as slick as the newer one in the Miata, but the turbo engine it's mated to provides plenty of character. The extra torque provides plenty of kick off the line thanks to minimal turbo lag. On paper, it's really no quicker, but around town it feels like it has a bit more grunt. In a canyon or on a track, I think I would still prefer the Miata.

The 124 Spider's looks have grown on me a lot since the reveal in 2015. Honestly, I really didn't like it at first, maybe because I was so in love with the Miata's design. Taken on its own, the 124 Spider really is a pretty thing, with plenty of touches that harken back to the old model. Most important for me, they fixed the terrible, terrible seats in the Miata with new padding and covers.

Senior Producer Eddie Sabatini: I took the 124 Abarth Spider home two days this week, and it was two days of fun. Do I like the Miata better? Yes. For my money, the MX-5 drives better, looks better, and feels better but it's not the runaway contest I thought it would be before I got behind the wheel of the 124. FCA has a truly enjoyable driver's car in this sporty little drop top.

I've already said it but I'll say it again because it bears repeating: This car is fun to drive. Off the line and up and down the gears this car put a smile on my face. As a daily driver it has plenty of crossover-passing power and it sounds great while navigating the black CUV sea.

While I was running errands, the Abarth got zero "nice cars" from parking lot lookiloos, the MX-5 got many during my time with it. Advantage Miata. You could chalk this up to timing but I chalk it up to the fact that the Miata has better lines. I'm mostly joking here of course, who cares what other people think about your car as long as you like it? And the Abarth looks good, especially with the appearance package featured on this one. The black mirrors and black wheels look great against the Grigio Argento Aluminum paint.

The one thing that had me making that thinking emoji face: The FIAT badge in the center of the steering wheel. It's an Abarth. I wanna see a scorpion.

Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale: As a major Miata fan and owner of a second generation model, I may have been the hardest person for the 124 Abarth to impress, but impress it did. The turbo engine works far better than I expected. The extra torque from the turbo engine is fun, and it nudges the driver in the back harder than the Miata's naturally aspirated engine. It gains and sheds revs faster than I expected, too, which made it easy to rev match downshifts. Still, a bit of turbo lag across the board, and slow spooling under 3,000 rpm means it isn't as joyously precise as the Miata. I also found the Abarth engine's coarse tone less enjoyable than the Mazda's.

As for the rest of the car, it's all still typical Miata, which is an excellent thing. It darts into corners without hesitation, and the chassis does an excellent job of communicating what it's up to. Mazda's solid if dated infotainment is also present, as is an excellent shifter. Of course it's not the current Miata's trans, it's actually the old one. We're a bit split on whether the Fiat or the Mazda has the better shifter. I feel that the 124 is slightly slicker through the gates, but maybe not quite as delicate and precise. Also interesting is that the Fiat has a sport button, even on the manual model. The most noticeable change to me was heavier steering, which I quite liked. I enjoy the Miata's light and airy steering but a little more heft wouldn't hurt. When it comes down to it, you can't really go wrong with either of these cars, and it will boil down to a preference for powertrain and styling. I would still pick the Miata, but I can also see why someone would get the Fiat.

Managing Editor Greg Rasa: I may be one of Reese's less-performance-minded friends. On a top-down, summer-evening cruise, the car was pleasant and fun. What I really liked: the view down the hood. The swell of the fenders, the creases, it all made the hood seem longer than it is, and the heavy steering feel made the car seem substantial. Combine all the styling cues, from the grille on back, that hint at the original Spider, and the overall look has more panache than a Miata.

Puttering along a country lane in third or fourth gear, it was easy to imagine for a fleeting moment that I was behind the wheel of a classic gentleman's roadster - an early SL, or an E Type perhaps - until a glance to the right, where the sight of a Mazda infotainment system snaps me back to the present. While tooling slowly, looking for an appropriately Old World setting to photograph a sort-of-Italian sportscar, the coarse engine note was the best part - the growling and burbling from the quad pipes bouncing off brick garden walls. Choose that, over the dependability of a Mazda engine? That's a hard call. But on a warm summer evening, this car was tempting.

As for Eddie's lack of lookiloos, this is more or less a $30K car, so it's far from exotic. The disinterest might also have had something to do with the silver paint, which I found to be drab. The black accents were nice, but a snappier color might have turned heads. Unfortunately, the choices on this car are limited. Guess I'd default to white or red.

Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore: The 124 is such a smart move for Fiat. It gives the brand a modern sports car that's accessible, attractive, and an excellent halo. I parked it curbside for the night in front of my house and just stared as I also watched my puppy run around the yard. There's no doubt, the 124 is good looking. Fiat nailed the design. In some ways, it's more distinctive than the Miata, with which it shares a platform. The Abarth is a little spicier with the sportier suspension, and I found it enjoyable and addicting to drive. It rained for much of my stint behind the wheel, but I was able to drop the top for part of my commute. That's a downright cathartic experience, as you'd expect. A lot of industry watchers were skeptical of the 124, but I think it's going to more than pull its weight for Fiat and help elevate the brand's reputation in the US market.

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