Gone Too Soon: Fiat 124 Spider
Fiat has discontinued the 124 Spider after a mere four years on the market, despite claims it wasn't losing money on the car, even at its low sales numbers.
Here's why I think the 124 has been killed off too soon.
Although I've always considered its design a less than successful reinterpretation of Tom Tjaarda's 1960s masterpiece, I feel I owe the little Fiat roadster a bit of an apology.
As a die-hard MX-5 fanboy and former owner of a 2017 model, I wouldn't like to see a world without the little Japanese roadster, and the agreement with then-FCA signed in 2012 helped make a viable business case for the current MX-5 to be made in the first place. Moreover, there's a lot to like about the 124, as I've seen for myself while driving one back to back with my MX-5 in 2019.
While the Mazda MX5 thrives on revs and momentum, the Fiat pulls away on a wave of torque at half the revolutions the Mazda would require
My Mazda was equipped with a willing, sweet-sounding 1.5 liters naturally aspirated engine. And I have to say that switching to the Fiat left me very impressed, as I found that the two cars felt remarkably different behind the wheel, despite their shared underpinnings.
As you can imagine, that was mostly due to the Fiat's 1.4 liters turbocharged lump, which has a similar power rating to the Mazda but gives the 124 a very distinct personality.
While the Mazda MX5 thrives on revs and momentum, the Fiat pulls away on a wave of torque at half the revolutions the Mazda would require. I don't know whether the Fiat is actually faster than the Mazda, but it felt like it to me.
The Fiat's meatier engine also affects how the car's rear end behaves while exiting a tight corner, though. It doesn't take much to make the Fiat's rear wheels spin and its driver grin, while the Mazda would require much more ham-fisted throttle inputs to waste the same amount of rubber.
a genuine and desirable alternative to the MX-5, despite their common base
Not many people know that the Fiat also has a different gearbox than the Mazda. The gearbox is a beefier unit that uses the casing from the MX5's previous generation, but with internals specific to the 124. It's still very much a pleasure to operate; it just feels slightly notchier in action.
Fiat also tweaked the electric power steering's setting, and as a consequence, the 124's helm also feels that bit beefier, heavier than the Mazda. Whether one likes that or not is just a matter of taste, of course.
In short, the 124, to me, felt like a genuine and desirable alternative to the MX-5, despite their common base. And one I'd quite happily own, despite the fact I'm still not 100% sold on its looks and probably never will be.
So much so that it's a real pity it didn't quite sell as well as its sister.
It seems people are only willing to give Fiat a chance if the car in question is a 500. The company seems to think the same, too, given it has decided to pull the plug on the 124's revival after just four years on the market.
Nevertheless, I think the world definitely needs more small roadsters, rather than fewer.