“A lady. A lovely, sensual, responsive Italian lady.”

That’s how Car and Driver magazine described the Fiat 124 after its debut in the 1960s.

The sentiment’s no doubt sexist by today’s standards, but heck, it was the ’60s. And there was a point to the seductive words: Not all sports cars have to be hard-edged.

This one had all the mechanicals and quickness and a sporty suspension but also a more refined interior and quieter ride.

After a nearly 40-year absence (the classic endured till 1978, then buzzed around till ’85 as the Fiat 2000), the Fiat 124 Spider has returned in the form of a 2017 model. But this time the Italian lady has a factory live-in friend, the Mazda Miata.

Mazda, you see, manufactures the 124 alongside the Miata at its Hiroshima, Japan, plant and provides many of its underpinnings.


But the 124 (base price: $27,495; as tested, $33,635) retains the shape and body creases of its legendary Pininfarina design, and its engine is actually prebuilt and shipped from a Fiat plant in Italy. So its Fiat DNA is alive and well.

It also is 5 inches longer, has more upscale materials inside and boasts a noticeably quieter ride than the Miata. Acoustic glass and headliner help keep noise to a conversation-friendly level.

In contrast to Mazda’s naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine, the Spider gets a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine that puts out 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque (4 more horses ride along with the Abarth version).

Shifting the standard manual tranny in this little bug-eyed roadster is a blast thanks to its tight six-speed shift box. A six-speed automatic is optional on all trims and, while it ticks smoothly, it can be a little sluggish to respond.

On the road, the rear-wheel-drive 124 is quick and nimble. Corners are taken confidently thanks to precision steering and Fiat’s own suspension components. Bumps and dips are gobbled up around town, too.

The highway ride is comfortable for a roadster, and an EPA-estimated 36 mpg makes it even more tempting to take out on a road trip (25 mpg around town).


Flipping down the soft top, which has a glass rear window, is easy-breezy. It takes less than a minute and can be done without leaving the driver’s seat. Just unlatch at the top and toss it behind you.

Put the top up and taller folks will find the Spider’s cabin a little cramped. Roadsters typically are like airplane cockpits for those over 6 feet tall: They must carefully squeeze in each of the body parts. Same deal here, with limited headroom, legroom and elbow room.

Likewise, weekend jaunts will require thoughtful packing with a mere 4.9 cubic feet of trunk space available.

But the interior has a nice look and feel, with soft-touch materials surrounding the instrument panel and leather-wrapped steering wheel. There are piano-black accents throughout. A 7-inch touchscreen (optional on the base model) is bright and clear, and its menu’s easy to navigate. A nine-speaker Bose sound system is available.

Three trim levels are offered. It starts with the base Classica, which gets 16-inch alloys, push-button start and a tiny 3-inch touchscreen. The Lusso adds 17-wheel wheels, fog lights, leather seats and a tech package with rear-view camera and bigger touchscreen.

For the racing-inspired, there’s the top-line Abarth: quad exhaust tips, limited-slip rear differential, adjustable driving modes and Brembo high-performance brakes, plus some sporty interior accents like simulated suede seats.

Fiat even includes racing-school instruction in Arizona to every Abarth buyer willing to make the trip.

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