I didn’t think they would actually let me do it.
Full Disclosure: Fiat wanted me to drive one of their cars so badly that they sent me an email that contained the words, “If you drive one of our cars we will award you with a complicated electronic certificate type object which in the end results in more money than you previously had which you can then spend on things poor people need.” Requiring no more convincing, I picked the worst day at an unfavorable time to go bother a salesperson, because reasons.
Boy am I lucky. Automakers keep contacting me to go to dealers and drive their cars, and pay me for it. Then I write a review of the experience on for you Oppos to enjoy. It is like I am a real auto journalist, but I might get better compensation.
The Fiat 124, a small convertible not seen on American shores since the 1980s. Whenever people saw a Fiat convertible, they would think, “Well isn’t that a cute little thing” as well as “Boy that is an awful lot of smoke.” So did Fiat revive their cute little convertible? Did they make a competent Miata fighter?
Well we are not going to find out the answer to the second question because I have not driven a Miata. This review will follow the same format as I used for my past 2 reviews. It is a very simplistic subjective rating system that goes as follows:
0 - Boy that escalated quickly, I mean that is awful
1 - I don’t like it
2 - It’s ok (Neutral)
3 - I like it.
4 - Excellent
There are 13 subject areas in this review so it will be out of 52 points.
Please note that I am not a professional auto reviewer or journalist (unless automakers see this and want to pay me to write things about their cars). I only tweet Doug DeMuro to suggest that his next car be a train locomotive, and he blew me off describing that idea was “really stupid.” Some say that I have an unusual taste in cars (Vauxhall Vectras aren’t that bad). This review is subjective and your feelings may be different.
The 124 Spyder, Fiat’s answer to the question, “Can we build a car that is not shaped like an egg, or a bloated egg, or a bloated lifted egg?” The 124 is a spunky convertible meant to balance the refined Italian design with enough guts to make it a capable weekend warrior. A reinvention of the classic convertible, the 124 presents a potentially fun platform and could establish itself as a modern Fiat staple.
The Fiat 124 is offered in 3 basic trim levels, Classica, Lusso, and Abarth (coming by fall I was told). Each trim comes with the option of a manual or an automatic transmission. The dealer I went to only had automatics available, but this didn’t diminish much from the overall driving experience. The trim I drove was a Classica with the optional touch screen infotainment navigation system. Lucky for me, it was a beautiful day, perfect to drive with the top down.
Here are some basic data regarding the Fiat 124 Classica
Engine: 1.4L Turbocharged 4-Cylinder, 160HP
Transmission: 6-speed Automatic Transmission, with manual mode
Setting: Suburban shopping district/Interstate
Willingness of dealer to let young poor person drive a 2 seater roadster: Surprisingly Willing
Overall Test Drive Experience:
The hospitality of the staff at the Fiat dealer was exceptional, albeit a bit confusing because the showroom was full of Volvos. Unlike when I drove the Pacifica, the sales person had no questions regarding why I wanted to drive a 124, the answer is pretty obvious. Upon explaining Fiat’s desire to pay me and giving them ample of opportunity to throw me out, they didn’t, and there was much rejoicing.
I can safely say that this trip slots right in between the Fiesta ST and Pacifica trip as far as driving excitement. Being an automatic, I didn’t have to worry about ripping the drivetrain in half and driving on higher speed multi-lane roads and interstates allowed me to stretch some stuff.
Exterior - 4
The Fiat 124 looks fantastic. It is a great mix of classic Italian design with modern touches. All areas of the car either look really good, or very neutral and safe. There are really no areas that look awful.
Interior - 4
The interior is very nice. The Classica edition comes with “cloth” seats which are plush and comfortable. There is just enough shoulder and thigh bolstering to hold you in, but it does not hug you like the Ford ST Recaros. Going around corners the bolstering held you in just enough to keep you in the chair, but you weren’t rigid. This also greatly helps when trying to look around the car for things like semis. The Lusso edition comes with leather heated seats, which to me doesn’t seem like you gain much especially because this is a fair weather car.
The dash and center console were made up of decent materials, mostly leather covered plastic. The architecture of the driver’s area was very nice and both occupants fit in like a glove. I am a fairly tall person and I could slip into the drivers compartment easily. I also fit into the car very well and had no issues with the windscreen being in my line of sight. There was a little bit of compromise with the top up, but once the roof was removed, the problem was remedied. All interior buttons, nobs, and switches were within to reach and easily usable. I especially liked the placement of the radio controls on the center console. That is a brilliant design note.
My only complaints about the interior was that the infotainment screen used the Mercedes approach of “Let’s duct tape a small iPad to the dash and call it good.” This is just a personal pet peeve of mine, but see the infotainment section for more on that. My only other complaint was that there was an awful lot of sun glare on the gauges and screen which made them difficult to read sometimes. Again this falls more into the Gauges section, but I thought I would mention it up here.
Acceleration - 3
For being a small roadster, the acceleration surprised me a bit. Now to be fair, I only had a small opportunity to test acceleration, but that stomping on the gas showed me a lot. The elephant in the room is the turbo lag. There is a substantial amount of turbo lag with this car, and once it kicked in, I was not thrown back into my seat, especially compared to the 500 Abarth. The Abarth left me giggling like a girl with its rocket acceleration and brappy exhaust note. I do hope the 124 Abarth brings the same experience.
However, analyzing this through the eyes of a weekend cruiser, the acceleration is adequate. It is enough to put a little grin on your face as you cruise down 2 lane roads, but it won’t turn too many heads. More importantly, you will most likely not get into trouble on a curvy and/or wet road.
Braking - 2
Honestly, the brakes are surprisingly normal. It didn’t feel like it had performance brakes nor did it feel like it had terrible brakes. Would they be enough to work for you if you decided to track day the car, absolutely, but you definitely need to be aware that they are normal car brakes and take care of them accordingly on track.
Ride - 4
The ride of the 124 is surprisingly good. It is soft enough for you to drive leisurely on city streets, but once you begin to push it in a corner the suspension tightens and gives you a sporty experience. Is it the most cushy ride, no. If you are looking for that, look at Buick, Lincoln, etc., but for a small touring convertible, it is very good.
Handling - 4
As I mentioned in the previous section the suspension is quite good. The chassis is nice when cruising, but when you jam the throttle on a tight off ramp curve, the car hunkers down and holds itself in line. The steering was a little mushy for a sports performance driving (or what your significant other would call, “When you drive like an asshole.” But it is comfortable for cruising. I really wish I had some round-a-bouts on my drive so I could have hammered it around them.
Gearbox - 3
I wish I could have tried a manual. I imagine it would have been very fun and may have this section to a 4.
However, the automatic transmission is not bad. The auto is slightly above a normal car transmission in that it mostly likes typical driving, but will play a bit when you want to hoon. Some of the other automatic transmissions with manual modes in the Fiat/Chrysler lineup are atrocious (I am looking at you Jeep Cherokee). For 95% of the people that buy this car, the automatic transmission will be more than adequate.
The transmission does have a manual mode, and it is very lenient to your selection. When I set off from an intersection, I was able to rev up over 5000 rpm and the computer showed no signs of intervention. Response from shifter inputs were pretty quick, but it could be improved. Thankfully, there wasn’t a significant lag between gear changes. For most people, it will add just enough fun for when you want to tear up some corners.
Audio/Toys - 3
The Fiat 124 sports a good amount of features, but it also isn’t too overly techy. The one I tested came with the optional touchscreen radio and navigation system, Bluetooth calling, and a couple USB ports for charging. The 124 features keyless entry and push button start, but keeps a traditional manual top. There is just enough tech to be modern, but does not surround you with technical features. It is a good balance, and I like the simplicity.
Sound (Engine Noise) - 2
This is another area where I was a bit disappointed, now this could be because we had a lot of traffic but... I think Fiat left a little in the table as far as exhaust note. To be fair, we do not know what the Abarth trim will present. You can hear the engine sing when you pound the throttle, but it sounds very mainstream. The exhaust chirps at high RPMs, but otherwise it is pretty subdued. There is no turbo whine at all. The benefit of this is that the engine noise will not annoy you on your routine trips to the store.
Dash/Gauges/Infotainment - 2
I had some issues with the gauges while driving. The speedometer is quite small and it takes a little bit of mental calculating to check your speed. It would be nice to have a digital speedo to back it up. Speaking of which, the 124 has 3 gauges: an analog speedometer and tachometer as well as a digital gauge showing things like fuel, oil, etc. The digital gauge was cluttered and difficult to read while glancing at the dash, but it doesn’t have much information that would be useful while driving. The biggest issue I had was with glare from the sun. Driving with the top down at about 2pm resulted in quite a bit of glare on the gauges. This also affected the radio stack making it nearly unusable. I know there are probably brightness options and other mitigation techniques available, but I did not take time to find them. This is not a deal breaker for me, but it is something just to take note.
As mentioned earlier, Fiat took the Mercedes approach of infotainment and stuck a 7 in. tablet to the top of the dash. I wish the integration of the screen was better designed into the car, but maybe they can put that in future model years.
Visibility - 4*
When you take the roof off a car, you can see a lot more. The support pillars of the car do not obstruct any sight lines to the front side or rear. They did a very nice job designing their supports. I must asterisk this because I cannot rate the visibility from when the top is up. I assume it is substantially worse.
Utility Value - 2
Let’s be honest here, this is not a utilitarian vehicle. However, it does offer quite a bit of storage space. There is plenty of room in the trunk for 2 weekend bags for a summer road trip. The design of the trunk maximizes available interior volume. The storage space inside the cabin is very sparse which you would expect for a convertible, so make sure you wear cargo pants.
Value - 3
The 124 I drove is priced at $28,635; that is a very competitive price with it’s main competitor, the Mazda Miata. Is it a fair price? I would say it is a good starting point. However, I look at this as a fun weekend car and you would have to convince me a bit more to drop nearly $30k on a part time use vehicle unless it was an actual racecar, motorcycle, or boat.
Total - 40*/52 - 76%
I hate numbers. These results put the 124 below the Pacifica. How can this be? Am I seriously trying to tell you that a minivan is superior to a little convertible? I hope not. Really these two cars are completely different, it is comparing apples to oranges. However, the numbers place the 124 1pt below the Fiesta ST. It doesn’t make the brap, brap, brap noises like the Fiesta, but given only these 2, I think I would choose the 124 over the Fiesta ST (especially the Abarth version). Deep down, I have this thought that I will look back on these articles and find out my rating system is completely useless.
I think Fiat has made a fantastic little car. It has all of the charm of the classic with the modern amenities and design which fit very well into the current car market. This car is a serious competitor to the Miata, although it doesn’t help that the 124 shares many parts with it. The 124 may not be the first choice to take to the track, but it definitely is a great street cruiser.
I really enjoyed my drive with the 124. I am grateful the nice sales people let me take it out onto the interstate for some high speed driving. I wish the traffic was a bit more sparse so I could open it up a bit more, but that’s just the way it goes. The 124 is a fun car and I would definitely consider one as a fun weekend car for trips and normal errands. I cannot see me using it as a daily driver especially in the winter. I await for them to depreciate into my price range. I am also looking forward to the Abarth 124, brap, brap.
I want to thank Overland Park Fiat and the sales staff for letting me try the 124. I also apologize for stealing your photos without asking; therefore, I must say that the photos are not my intellectual property and are being used for educational/review purposes.
If you are an automaker and want me to write things about your car, feel free to email me more bribes for driving your vehicles.