2017 Fiat 124 Spider Is U.S. News & World Report’s Best Sports Car for the Money
The Best Sports Car for the Money in 2017 is the Fiat 124 Spider, which replaces the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata for the honor. Mazda and Fiat jointly developed the two roadsters, and Mazda builds the 124 alongside the Miata. They share basic structural and chassis components, the top mechanism, and most of the interior as well, but have different styling and use different engines.
The U.S. News & World Report Best Car for the Money award is determined by calculating which vehicle has the best combination of quality and value in its class. Read on to learn more about the Fiat 124 Spider.
Why the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Won: Quality
Reviewers praised the 124 Spider’s turbocharged engine because it offers lots of torque for around-town acceleration, better than that found in the Mazda Miata. It also has nicer standard interior materials, and some reviewers also preferred its looks and slightly softer ride than the Miata, which is now our second rated sports car. Of course, reviewers’ favorite feature of the 124 Spider is its convertible top. Not only does it let the sun shine in on beautiful days, but it is a cinch to throw over your shoulder when you get off the highway, or to pull back up at a stoplight if the rain starts drizzling or the sunburn starts to get too bad.
Reviews also raved that the 124 Spider’s consistently athletic handling moves whether you’re tackling California’s coastal Highway One or just navigating around your neighborhood. The Fiat’s tiny turbocharged engine feels eager both around town and on the highway, though there is some turbo lag.
It’s easy to get the 124 Spider with all the latest technology, including Bluetooth connectivity and streaming audio, and a 7-inch touch screen with a control knob on the console, just like several high-end German convertibles.
Why the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Won: Value
The Fiat 124 beats out all other sports cars when it comes to value, because it scores slightly higher in our ratings than the Miata and rolls out of the showroom for a couple of thousand dollars less than the Miata, on average. In fact, the Fiat 124 Spider is the cheapest sports car you can buy. Yet it gets higher ratings from reviewers than any other sports car, except for the Chevrolet Camaro.
Fun in the corners makes up for any lack of power, and it’s even fun to wring the most out of this little engine. With one of the nicest interiors in the class, among the best performance, and the lowest cost, it’s easy to see why the Fiat 124 Spider is the best value for a sports car.
Value is calculated by combining a vehicle's five-year total cost of ownership from Vincentric, LLC and the average price paid for the vehicle at the time the awards are tabulated, as calculated by TrueCar.com.
The Fiat 124 Spider isn’t the fastest sports car on the market; in fact, it’s less powerful than its Miata twin. It uses a much smaller engine than the Miata, but makes up for its smaller size with a turbocharger from the Fiat 500 Abarth. The Abarth version of the 124 Spider makes 164 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque with its 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. That makes it feel punchier around town, and yet delivers quieter and more relaxed power. The turbocharger takes a split second before it responds, but then the power ramps up quickly and will rarely leave you wanting more.
Reviewers almost all recommended sticking with the manual transmission, because it makes the car feel more fun and responsive, though the automatic works well.
Some sports cars are all about power, blasting off the line with brutal acceleration and shooting from one spot to another faster than other cars, and doing these things over and over again. That’s not the Fiat 124 Spider. The 124 is all about finesse, dancing on pointe like a star partner on “Dancing With the Stars,” as if you’re a celebrity hoping to win the mirror ball trophy. Its responsive steering goads you to be a more attentive and responsive driver and to enjoy the dance.
Interior: Space and Comfort
As long as you fit, the 124 Spider’s seats will support you comfortably all day long and never wear thin. Six-footers fit OK, but anybody taller will wish they had more room to slide the seat back. Unlike other roadsters, there is plenty of elbow room, and the manually operated tilting steering column helps drivers of all shapes and sizes find a comfortable driving position.
Interior: Features and Technology
The base Fiat Spider, the Classica, is pretty basic inside, with a simple non-touchscreen radio and Bluetooth phone connection. It does have power windows and locks. The Technology Package adds the touch-screen radio with Bluetooth audio streaming and a backup camera.
The Lusso trim is the middle of the lineup. It adds leather seats, keyless entry, push-button start, bigger alloy wheels, automatic headlights, rain sensing wipers, and fog lights. Lusso buyers can add the Safety and Comfort Collection, which includes blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-path detection, and an auto-diming interior mirror. The Premium Collection adds swiveling adaptive headlights, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, and a nine-speaker Bose stereo system.
The top-of-the-line Abarth adds a few horsepower, leather seats with fabric inserts, upgraded shocks for even better handling, a limited slip differential, paddle shifters on cars with the automatic transmission, and a sport mode selector.
Safety: Crash Tests
Convertible buyers are not ones to quibble over safety. If safety were their priority, they wouldn’t have bought a convertible, right? And that’s a good thing when it comes to the Fiat 124 Spider. It’s not that it’s an unsafe car, per se, but neither the government nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has conducted crash tests on it. (Like buyers, neither agency prioritizes convertibles in crash tests.) That means that buyers don’t really have any idea how well it performs in crash tests. They may not care, as they’re bopping along with the top down, soaking up the sun.
Like most convertibles, the 124 Spider has only the most basic safety equipment. It has front air bags, which are required by law, and it also has seat-mounted side air bags (which aren’t.) It has no airbags that protect occupants’ heads in a side crash. It does offer blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, but no forward collision warning, automatic braking, or lane keep assist is available. Better keep your eyes on the road while you’re enjoying the sunshine!
Other Cars to Consider
The best alternative to the Fiat 124 Spider is its twin-under-the-skin, the Mazda Miata. The Miata has a bigger engine with no turbocharger. It still has plenty of power, but enjoys working harder and feels less relaxed. It gets slightly better gas mileage in the city but falls a little short on the highway.
If you want a little more room and a little more power and are willing to trade away a little eagerness in handling to get them, you could also consider a Ford Mustang convertible. It has all the classic lines of the original, and always feels light on its feet yet comfortable and relaxed. It’s up to date with Ford’s latest Sync 3 infotainment system, and offers basic forward collision warning – the only convertible that does. The V8 powered Mustang GT bellows out an impressive 435 horsepower and maybe more importantly warbles menacingly at stoplights. A modern, efficient EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder is also available, although the 300 horsepower from the base V6 should be plenty for most buyers.
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