Testing the Turbocharged Fiata in Classica Form
Japanese bones with an Italian heart. That pretty much sums up the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider, which is based on the Mazda MX-5 Miata and has since adopted a perfectly accurate nickname—Fiata. The Fiata is even built alongside the Miata at Mazda‘s Hiroshima plant in Japan, though the final product is much more than a simple badge and bumper swap. The 124 Spider is distinct from the Miata, from its styling and what’s beneath the hood.
Powering the 124 Spider is a 1.4-liter, turbocharged inline-four that’s good for 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. Our test car was paired with a six-speed manual routing power to the rear wheels. A six-speed auto is optional. On the flip side, the Miata makes do with a 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated I-4 rated at 155 hp and 148 lb-ft.
Right off the bat, it’d be easy to assume that the slightly more powerful Fiata should be quicker than the Miata. Fiata versus Miata discussions are inevitable, but we’ll attempt to hold off on comparing the two for an official comparison. (Motor Trend OnDemand subscribers will likely see the roadsters duke it out sooner than later.) Additionally, we don’t have the test numbers for a true apples-to-apples comparison. That’s because our 124 Spider Classica test car is a base model with 16-inch wheels, a standard suspension setup, and an open rear diff. And the only manual-equipped Miata we’ve tested is a Club model, which sports a number of performance upgrades, such as a limited-slip differential, stiffer suspension, and wider low-profile, 17-inch wheels. That said, the Miata Club’s Italian counterpart would be the 124 Spider Abarth. Look for a separate First Test on that one.
So with that out of the way, let’s get down to the numbers. The Fiata Classica’s best launch from 0 to 60 mph required 6.5 seconds, which is decent but not as quick as the 5.8-second jaunt we’ve recorded in a Miata Club. Again, this isn’t an equivalent comparison, but we guesstimate a non-Club Miata would only be 1 or 2 tenths of a second slower than a Club model. One culprit for the Fiata’s slower time is weight. At 2,428 pounds (1,101 kg), the Fiat and all its turbo hardware is around 130 pounds (59 kg) heavier than the Mazda. Fifty-four percent of that weight is carried up front, 2 percent more than the Miata.
Another culprit for the Fiata’s slower time? Turbo lag. It’s there. Although the Miata’s NA engine is eager right off the line, the Fiata’s mill doesn’t really come to life until a whole 3,500 to 4,000 rpm later. This is apparent in the 124’s 0-to-30-mph (48-km/h) time of 2.3 seconds versus 1.8 seconds for the Miata Club. And although the Fiat’s turbo is spooling through most of the quarter mile, its 14.9-second run falls short of the Mazda’s run of 14.5 seconds.
Out on the figure-eight course, the test crew noted a tad of understeer at corner entry. However, once power is reapplied, the Fiat is more than eager to let its tail loose. Brakes slightly lost effectiveness toward the tail end of testing, but pedal feel remained solid.
While drift action on a wide-open track is all fun and games, it’s a different story on canyon roads where traction control usually stays on. Exiting corners with the Fiat requires extra finesse with the gas pedal—otherwise, the turbo comes on too strong, the skinny 195-width tires lose their grip, traction control dials back the power, and you start yearning for the Miata’s predictable power delivery. Fiat tuned the 124’s suspension to eliminate some of the Miata’s characteristic body roll, and it’s evident. Fling the Fiata into a corner, and it remains noticeably flatter than the Mazda. But much of what makes the Miata so fun to toss through the twisties is the combination of its exaggerated body lean and its ability to maintain a reasonable amount of grip and speed. That playfulness is missing with the Fiata.
Where the Fiat excels, however, is out on the highway. The engine is spinning in the strong part of its powerband, which makes passing and darting through traffic a breeze. The ride is relatively smooth at freeway speeds, where the tiny roadster does an admirable job of canceling out bumps and road imperfections. The Fiat is quieter than the Mazda, too, thanks to a number of sound-deadening additions, such as the acoustic glass and extra insulation for the soft top. Also absent is any trace of an exhaust note—you’ll have to opt for the sporty Abarth version for fun and rowdy exhaust noises.
The performance numbers are interesting, but buyers obsessing over such things are better suited for the Abarth. With the Classica, satisfaction comes from cruising in a reasonably priced roadster with the top down at an easy breezy pace.
|2017 Fiat 124 Spider (Classica)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$27,285|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible|
|ENGINE||1.4L/160-hp/184-lb-ft turbo SOHC 16-valve I-4|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||2,428 lb (54/46%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||159.6 x 68.5 x 48.5 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||14.9 sec @ 93.2 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||113 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.4 sec @ 0.67 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||26/35/30 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||130/96 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.66 lb/mile|