FIAT 124 Spider


Debut: 2016
Maker: FIAT
Predecessor: Barchetta



 Published on 14 Jun 2016 All rights reserved. 


About 3 years ago, Mazda signed a surprising contract with Fiat Chrysler, offering its jewel of the crown, MX-5, as the basis for a new Alfa Romeo Spider. Mazda needs the additional sales volume to make the MX-5 project profitable and keep the factory busy once the initial interests for its own car fades out. Fiat Chrysler, on the other hand, needs a halo car – more relevant to its target customers than the low-volume 4C – to fuel the revival plan of Alfa. However, the Italian changed their minds just as quick as sports car goes. It was soon decided that the car to wear the Fiat badge, accompanied with a higher performance derivative with Abarth logo. As United States will be its biggest market, what else could be better than reusing the historic name 124 Spider? Yes, 124 Spider was very popular in the America during the 1960s and 70s. As many as 3-quarters of the 200,000 units were sold there. While Alfa Spider was movie star, it was the 124 Spider that sold in huge volume, cementing the popularity of Italian roadsters. Ironically, it was the first Mazda MX-5 that finally took over the market left by the 124 Spider.

Make no mistake, the 124 Spider is built in Hiroshima together with MX-5 using mostly the same underpinnings, but it is not a simple badge-engineering. Fiat offered its own engine and retuned its chassis to inject a different character. It also redid the exterior styling comprehensively by its Centro Stile in Turin. Yes, it is supposed to offer the best of both worlds: Italian styling and Japanese build quality! Bravo!



Unfortunately, the result is wide of the mark. Perhaps it tries too hard to resemble the original 124 Spider, the new car looks too retro to be inspiring. While the Mazda is sleek and sharp, the Fiat is dull and odd. If it resembled the perfect proportion of the original classic, it would have been called a beauty perhaps. Unfortunately, the guys at Centro Stile forgot that the MX-5 platform has a front-mid-engined layout. The unusually long distance between its front axle and cockpit can be packaged in style only with exaggerating curves – see the classic Ferrari 250GTO, Toyota 2000GT or modern TVRs. Any attempts to use straight lines and flat surfaces to cover the long engine compartment would result in disastrous effect. Consequently, the new 124 Spider has a bonnet appearing to be endless long, plain and dull. The cockpit looks too rearward and the windscreen looks too upright, even though it is actually the same as the Mazda's. Apart from wrong proportion, the design details are no better. Those characterless taillights have no coherence with the organic headlights. And the trunk lid looks as if added as an afterthought! Some said the car looks better in the real world than in photos, but most agree that it is not a beautiful sports car.

On the plus side, the interior is quite successful, because 95 percent of it is carried over from the Mazda, which is not surprising because interior is always expensive to engineer. It succeeds the Mazda’s good ergonomics, a snug but not cramped environment, good seats, an excellent manual hood and up-to-date infotainment system. If anything, it is even better finished. For example, some of the cheap plastics have been replaced with soft-touch ones, and some are covered with expensive-looking leather trims. The restyle door panels also look more matured than the body-colored ones in Mazda. Fiat also specified a laminated windscreen, more sound deadening materials and a thicker fabric roof to cut noise level in the cabin. You can have normal conversion with your passenger when travelling at 80 mph on highway. Try this on the Mazda! At the back, the longer tail of Fiat affords a 10-liter larger luggage space.



Sheet metal aside, the chassis is basically identical to MX-5. It is made of mainly high-strength steel and a few aluminum parts – such as parts of crash structure, subframe, bulkhead, bonnet and boot lid. The longer front and rear overhangs necessitated by the restyling adds 140 mm to the overall length. In addition to a heavier (iron-block & turbocharged) engine and the aforementioned insulation enhancement, the whole car carries an extra 50-75 kg, depending on which MX-5 model you compare with. That said, 1050 kg is still pretty lightweight for a roadster.

Power comes from Fiat’s 1.4 Multiair turbo, which is shipped from Italy to Japan to mate with the rest of the car. This motor is good for 170 hp in Alfa Romeo Giulietta from the very beginning, but Fiat deliberately detuned it to 140 hp in this application (170 hp tune is reserved for Abarth version, see below). Still, with a maximum torque of 177 lbft available from 2500 rpm, it gives a very different character compared with Mazda’s high-revving Skyactiv-G engines. While the latter begs you to rev it beyond 7000 rpm, the Multiair turbo is content to spend its whole life at the mid-range. It offers plenty of torque hence flexibility once you have overcome its turbo lag, which is quite noticeable below 2500 rpm. This means, if you keep it above 2500 rpm, it offers an easier, quieter and more laid-back driving experience. In other words, it suits older, lazier drivers. Young drivers would always prefer the Mazda’s quick throttle response, linear delivery and livelier character, as well as the opportunity to use its slick-shifting gearbox to the full. The Fiat is no slower in the real world though. It takes 7 seconds to go from rest to 60 mph, faster than the 1.5-liter MX-5 actually. US version has a more powerful, 160 hp / 184 lbft tune (same as the US-market 500 Abarth) thus it is about as quick as the 2.0-liter Mazda. However, its power tail off quickly beyond 5500 rpm, thus you had better to upshift early. Such reluctance to rev is especially disappointing for an Italian roadster – luckily it happens to be a Fiat instead of Alfa! The too-quiet sound of the Multiair turbo is also too matured to this kind of cars.



Such a maturity is consistent with its handling. Fiat retuned its springs, dampers and anti-roll bars to give the car more resistance to body roll, unlike Mazda which deliberately lets a lot of old-fashioned body roll to enrich driver feedback. It is still a relatively soft setup compared with the usual German machines though. Its steering is tuned heavier, calmer on turn-in and requires less correction when cruising on highway. On the flipside, this means the car is not quite as enthusiastic to change direction as the Mazda. The inherent chassis balance remains good, but it is more difficult to oversteer on throttle. At the limit, the lack of LSD hurts its cornering prowess a little, so you cannot drive it as hard as a properly equipped MX-5 in tight corners. Ride comfort also suffers a little as a result of the stiffer suspension. Sharp low-speed bumps could catch it out and result in some noticeable body shudders. Overall, the chassis setup might please less committed drivers. 

With a sibling as vibrant as Mazda MX-5, Fiat is wise to adopt a different strategy. It made the 124 Spider a more matured roadster – quieter, better finished, more practical and more effortless to drive, yet with the fine underpinnings of MX-5 it is never boring to drive. Well, the 1.4 Multiair engine is a little bit let down, as it is more suitable to small family cars than a sports car. The retro exterior design is also quite disappointing. Still, it is different enough to attract different kind of customers. It is a win-win partnership between Fiat and Mazda.
Verdict: 
 Published on 14 Jun 2016
All rights reserved. 
Abarth 124 Spider


While the regular 124 Spider is deliberately made civilized to avoid direct clash with Mazda, the Abarth version is serious enough to give Mazda a good fight. Its engine remains that 1.4 Multiair, but it is in the full 170 hp tune*, enabling 0-60 mph to be accomplished in 6.5 seconds and claiming a top speed of 144 mph (the latter is probably too optimistic to me though). It gets a mechanical LSD as standard, as well as sportier Bilstein dampers (like Mazda), stiffer springs / anti-roll bars, lower ride height, Brembo front brakes, grippier tires and a louder quad-exhaust system. The chassis is reinforced with a front tower brace. Outside, its aluminum bonnet and trunk lid are painted matt black to resemble the original Abarth 124 rally car. Whether you like its styling is a matter of taste.

* US version of the car gets only 4 extra horsepower from the base 160 hp thanks to the freer flowing exhaust. It seems that Fiat wants to save certification cost, thus all its US-market 1.4 Multiair engines are rated the same.

The interior is suitably upgraded with Alcantara trims and more supportive, part-leather part-Alcantara seats. It looks and feels more delicious than the top MX-5. However, at £30K the Abarth 124 Spider is also a lot more expensive. In fact, it has elevated into a class above, facing stronger opponents like Lotus Elise and Audi TT Roadster.




On the road, the turbo engine still displays more lag than desired at lower revs, but up the pace to 3000 rpm and it feels noticeably stronger than either the base engine or Mazda’s naturally aspirated 2-liter, thanks to 184 pound-foot of torque. It is also more eager to visit the 6500 rpm redline than the 140 hp version. Meanwhile, the quad-exhaust emits a loud, sporty growl. It sounds quite exciting. The short-throw gearchange and accurate clutch work perfectly with the engine. The LSD offers good traction for the car to attack tight corners. The extra heft of the retuned steering is precise and reassuring. The stiffer chassis and reduced body roll give you more confidence to maneuver. Undoubtedly, this is a more serious machine than the Mazda, which is more about feel and balance. However, it is not overly firm like Audi TT. In fact, more like Lotus Elise, the suspension damping is supple enough to deal with mountain roads, while it lets enough roll to make you feel connected to the car. The balance is just as great as MX-5. No, perhaps even better. With added mid-range thrust, you can drift the car more readily than its chassis donor. Its tail breaks away progressively, so you can manage the drift in slow motion. From this view point, it sets a new standard for an affordable, practical roadster. More interesting to drive than Audi TT, let alone the numb BMW Z4 or Mercedes SLC.



Unlike Lotus Elise, the Abarth Spider fails to transform its excellent road manner to race tracks. There is simply too much roll and softness in its suspension to keep you from extracting the most from its chassis, which is admittedly not rigid enough for the task. The MX-5 chassis was designed for lightweight in the first place, so it was not supposed to take on too much power or track abuse. Some people, like those in Evo, do not understand this thus keep complaining both the Abarth and Mazda. However, use the car purely on road, especially an unknown mountain road, you can have huge fun.
Verdict:
Specifications





Year
Layout
Chassis
Body
Length / width / height
Wheelbase
Engine
Capacity
Valve gears
Induction
Other engine features
Max power

Max torque

Transmission
Suspension layout

Suspension features
Tires
Kerb weight
Top speed
0-60 mph (sec)

0-100 mph (sec)
Fiat 124 Spider
2016
Front-engined, RWD
Steel monocoque
Steel + aluminum
4054 / 1740 / 1233 mm
2310 mm
Inline-4
1368 cc
SOHC 16 valves, VVT+VVL
Turbo
-
140 hp / 5000 rpm (EU)
160 hp / 5500 rpm (US)
177 lbft / 2250 rpm (EU)
184 lbft / 2500 rpm (US)
6-spd manual (6-spd auto)
F: double-wishbones
R: multi-link
-
205/45R17
1050 kg
EU: 133 mph (c)
EU: 7.1 (c)
US: 6.8 (c) / 6.3* (6.8*)
US: 16.9* (19.1*)
Abarth 124 Spider
2016
Front-engined, RWD
Steel monocoque
Steel + aluminum
4054 / 1740 / 1233 mm
2310 mm
Inline-4
1368 cc
SOHC 16 valves, VVT+VVL
Turbo
-
170 hp / 5000 rpm (EU)
164 hp / 5500 rpm (US)
184 lbft / 2500 rpm

6-speed manual
F: double-wishbones
R: multi-link
-
205/45WR17
1060 kg
EU: 144 mph (c)
EU: 6.5 (c)
US: 6.8 (c) / 6.7*
US: 18.8*






























Performance tested by: *C&D





AutoZine Rating

124 Spider


Abarth



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