What's the best way to make an Italian roadster? Build it in Hiroshima, Japan. That may sound like a joke, but that's exactly what's going on with the new 2017 Fiat 124. Colloquially known as the Fiata, the 124 Spider is built on the architecture of the Mazda MX-5 Miata, which debuted last year and was one of our finalists for the Motor Authority Best Car to Buy award.
We've driven the Miata and we loved it. This week, we got the chance to get behind the wheel of an Italian take on a Japanese roadster, and we learned some of the differences between the two during our drive. Here they are.
It has its own Italian design
The most obvious difference is in looks. The Fiat shares no body panels with the Mazda. It's a modern take on the 124 roadster sold from 1966 to 1985. The nose features headlamps with an eyelid signature and a honeycomb-pattern grille that is set higher than the Miata's scowling maw. Depressions in the hood mimic, in reverse, the powerdome bulges of the vintage 124, and a pronounced character line starts at the front wheel, flows over the door handle, and resolves into the top of the rear fender line. Fiat says the rear end has a swallow's tail look. It is certainly longer than the Miata's and the design emphasizes width, while the Miata is more rounded. The overall effect isn't quite as butch as the Miata, but it has more than a few nods to the original 124 Spider and it is more coherent in person than in pictures.
Fiat 124 Spider OverhangsEnlarge Photo
The 124 and Miata use the same platform and have the same 90.9-inch wheelbase, but the design of the 124 makes it five inches longer overall. All of that extra length is in the front and rear overhangs, and most of it is at the back.
It has a bigger trunk
The 124's extra length gives it more trunk space. Trunk volume is 4.94 cubic feet compared to 4.59 cubic feet for the Miata. It's not much, but when your trunk is that small, every little bit helps.
The Fiat 124 weighs in at 2,436 pounds, 104 more than the Miata. The car's extra length accounts for some of that weight, as do extra sound deadening materials, richer interior materials, and the turbocharger.
It's a bit slower
Mazda uses its SkyActiv 2.0-liter 4-cylinder in the Miata. It makes 155 horsepower and 148pound-feet of torque. It's a small, unexceptional engine, but in the 2,332-pound Miata, it can vault the car from 0 to 60 mph in a sprightly 6.0 seconds. The Fiat 124 uses the 1.4-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder from the Fiat 500 Abarth, 500X, 500L, Dodge Dart, and Jeep Renegade. It produces 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. While the numbers are higher, it isn't as strong as Miata's engine in the real world. Zero to 60 mph arrives in 6.8 seconds, and there is a hint of turbo lag, especially with the automatic transmission.
It's nicer inside
Fiat paid more attention to interior quality than Mazda did. Where the Mazda gets hard plastics on the door and dash tops, Fiat has soft-touch materials. The shifter designs are more involved, and the hood over the instrument panel is wrapped instead of bare plastic.
Fiat further enhanced the 124's refinement by taking more steps to block noise. The 124 has an acoustic windshield, a dash panel insulator, polyurethane-backed carpeting, glass-wool tunnel insulation, trunk area and rear floor insulation treatments, a rear wheelhouse mudguard, and a thicker rear window.
It's slightly more expensive to start
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider starts at $25,990 for the base Classica model, while the 2016 Miata Sport model starts at $25,750. Of course, Mazda could decide to raise prices for 2017, which could make the Miata a bit more expensive. It should be noted, however, that both the Miata Grand Touring and Club models, are more expensive than their Fiat Lusso and Abarth counterparts. For its part, Fiat boasts that the 124 is the most affordable turbocharged roadster available today.