How to make a Miata slightly softer
Last year, I had the chance to spend a week in a Fiat 124 Spider Abarth. While I found it to offer improved handling and a somewhat nicer interior over the Mazda MX-5 Miata it is based on, there were a few items that kept me from saying it was better - mainly the turbo engine and exterior design. A couple of months ago, I found myself in another 124 Spider. This time, it was the Lusso which drops a fair amount of the aggression from the Abarth, along with providing a softer suspension tune. Would this model be able to change my tune?
- The Lusso is the polar opposite to the Abarth I drove last year in terms of looks. It is toned down with the removal of the aggressive bumpers and quad-tip exhausts. The end result is a much cleaner look. I just wished Fiat could have done more to the rear end as it still looks a bit out of place with the rest of the design.
- This particular Lusso is the Red Top Edition which as the name suggests has a red soft-top. I will admit this does add a touch of personality and helps the 124 Spider stand out.
- Not much has changed with the interior since our last review. Getting in and out is still a bit tough due to the low ride height and anyone over six-feet will feel quite cramped. The overall design is the same as the MX-5 Miata, with slight differences to the steering wheel and instrument cluster to make it slightly more Fiat-ish. Material quality is slightly higher than the Mazda, with more soft-touch materials.
- One issue I did discover in this go-around is the location of the 12-volt outlet. It is mounted deep in the passenger footwell, almost near the engine firewall. Finding it was not a pleasant experience as I needed to pull out my phone to act as a flashlight to find the stupid thing.
- Power comes from the turbocharged 1.4L MultiAir four-cylinder. Compared to the Abarth, the Lusso loses four horsepower. This is due to a more restrictive exhaust. My tester came with the optional six-speed automatic.
- I wish that I could say Fiat solved the engine issued I mentioned in the previous review, but they have not. The turbo engine still feels laggy on the low-end of the rpm band. Plus, the automatic transmission is tuned to quickly upshift to improve fuel economy. This leaves you without any turbo boost when you want it. I keep thinking that the six-speed manual would be slightly better as it would me control when it is time to shift, allowing the engine to be fully exploited.
- One trait that sets the 124 Spider apart from its Miata brethren is the suspension tuning. Fiat decided to go with a softer tune on most models - the Abarth is the exception as it gets a stiffer suspension setup. The difference is noticeable as the 124 Spider provides a slightly smoother ride than the Miata. This softening doesn’t change the handling dynamics of the Spider. It still darts into turns with minimal body roll and fast steering.
- The Lusso Red Top Edition sits as the flagship of the 2018 124 Spider lineup with a base price of $31,440. This comes equipped with a number of options such backup camera, Bose audio system, navigation, and heated seats as standard equipment. With destination, this vehicle comes to an as-tested price of $32,435.
- The Lusso model may be the sweet spot in the 124 Spider lineup as it offers a slightly smoother ride and improved interior. But Fiat still needs to address the performance of the turbo-four. It is a great alternative to the MX-5 Miata, but not better.
Disclaimer: Fiat Provided the 124 Spider, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Model: 124 Spider
Engine: 1.4L MultiAir SOHC 16-Valve Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Six-Speed Automatic, Rear-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 160 @ 5,500
Torque @ RPM: 184 @ 3,200
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 25/36/29
Curb Weight: 2,476 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Hiroshima, Japan
Base Price: $27,595
As Tested Price: $32,435 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge)
Red Top Edition Package 22T - $2,495.00
Red Top Edition Package 2DT - $1,350.00