2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth Review

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2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

Hypes: Just The HP Injection the Miata Needed
Gripes: Give it a Glovebox

As the Mazda MX-5 Miata nears its 30th birthday, certain eternal verities about the diminutive roadster from Japan are unlikely to change. At the top of the list is the Miata engine, which has displaced 2.0 liter for many years now and produces 155hp and 148lb.-ft. of torque from four 500cc cylinders. The second reliable conclusion you can make about this classic sports car is that it is built to an affordable price, with buy-in as low as $26,000. There’s unquestionably a lot of fun to be had for that money, but also plenty of room for improvement in the overall package. For example, the Miata suffers from poor seats, cheap interior appointments, and styling that has become somewhat passé.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

But along comes a Spider – a Fiat revision of the Miata called the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth. This numerical designation harks back to the lithe Fiat 124 that was sold in the 1970s and 1980s in North America during Fiat’s first ultimately unsuccessful tenure in the USA. Through several iterations, that original 124 served as a legitimate alternative to the British built MGB and Triumph TR4 that were also sold back then. But since Fiat bought Chrysler several years ago, the Italian company has used Chrysler’s American connections to field an alluring line of small sedans like the Fiat 500c. For 2017, in a joint endeavor with Mazda, they have installed a turbocharged motor in the Miata’s engine bay, revamped the car’s styling from stem to stern, and upgraded the seats and other interior appointments.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

Since the new Fiat 124 is an Italian take on the Miata, you can call it the Fiata. Or you can just call it the tastiest new flavor of Italian ice. To my eyes, the 124 Spider does wonders for the familiar and bulbous contours of the Miata. Instead of the Mazda’s gaping grill and narrow headlight slits, the Fiat version offers smaller, separate upper and lower grill openings surrounded by large, faired in headlight nacelles. Nicely detailed fog light surrounds, and full hood fluting further distance the looks of the 124 from the Miata. At the rear, the Fiat sports a oversize brake and tail lights, and a squared-off butt augmented by a ground effect lower valance housing twin chrome tail pipes. Fiat stylists also added ground effect rocker panel skirting between the wheels that makes the 124 look lower than the Miata. As whip cream on the Spumoni, our test 124 included optional “Red Brembo 4 wheel disc performance brakes” for an extra $1,495. These definitive stoppers peek out from behind the 124′s 7×17″ Gun Metallic Aluminum Wheels which are standard issue, and mount exceptionally sticky Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires (205/45R17).

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

Although Fiat has actually decreased the size of the engine from the Miata’s 2.0 liters to just 1.4 liters, the for cylinder Fiat makes more horsepower than the Miata (164hp to 155hp) and way more torque (184lb.-ft. vs. 148lb.-ft.). The Fiat weighs just 115lbs, more than the Miata (2,450lbs. versus Miata’s 2,335lbs). Since most of your driving time in the Fiat will be spent at or below the 4000rpm torque peak of the Multi-Air Turbo, the 124 will always feel exponentially quicker in all driving situations. To take full advantage of its power spread over the MX-5, the 124 Spider Abarth we drove comes standard with a front strut tower brace, a limited slip differential, a Sport Mode selector, and performance tuned suspension featuring premium Bilstein shock absorbers. You can buy a Miata with limited slip and uprated shocks, but no Miata has heated seats as comfortable or supportive as the twin buckets in the Fiat. This alone constitutes a most substantial upgrade over the Japanese MX-5. There’s more butt and back padding in the Fiat, and the seats look better as well thanks to vertical pleating and extra detailed contrasting seam stitching. Nothing Fiat can do to the Miata, however, will give you more storage room inside the 124′s tight cockpit. Frustratingly, there’s no proper glovebox, nor any practical drink holder. You’re forced to use a snap-in beverage clamp which sits behind you on the transmission tunnel and is all but impossible to reach while underway. Likewise, a pair of tiny storage cubbies are hidden and inaccessible behind your elbows. And the radio selector is mounted on the central tunnel in a position guaranteed to inadvertently change channels s almost every time you make a shift.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

Despite inheritance of these minor Miata shortcoming, the Fiat 124 Spider is a better all around package than the Mazda upon which it is based because it’s simply got more grunt at every stage of the game. For the Spider Abarth, the starting price is a modest $28,185, or about $2,200 more expensive than a base Miata. The 124 Spider Abarth is more than worth the difference because its motor, suspension and interior move this formerly primitive sports car up into an entirely new class of performance and comfort.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

  • Engine: 1.4 liter inline 4 MultiAir turbo
  • Horsepower: 164hp
  • Torque: 184lb.-ft.
  • Fuel Consumption: 26MPG City/35MPG Highway
  • Price as Tested: $34,680
  • Star Rating: 10 out of 10 Stars

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