The Fiat 124 is a two-seat convertible offering rear-wheel drive and a manual-folding top with glass rear window. It's based on the Mazda MX-5, but sports unique suspension tuning, engine and interior and exterior styling. Besides the MX-5, competitors include BMW 2-Series, MINI 2-door and the Volkswagen Beetle. Changes for 2018 are limited to minor trim revisions and the addition of the Red Top model, which adds a red convertible top, 17-inch wheels, navigation and Bose audio system.
Trim levels include the Classica, Lusso and performance-themed Abarth. Prices start as low as $24,995 and climb to $28,295 on the Abarth. Power comes from a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine that makes 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The engine mates to either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission.
With a curb weight of just 2,450 pounds, the Fiat 124's turbocharged four provides ample acceleration. The 0-60 MPG time comes in at 6.3 seconds, just a tick behind the MX-5. Passing response is also quite good, provided you get the engine into its powerband. Unfortunately, the engine doesn't rev freely and sounds downright agricultural at times. Thankfully, the 6-speed manual is a joy to shift. The automatic, more a curiosity in a car like this, isn't all that bad either.
The Fiat 124's EPA numbers of 28 MPG city and 35 MPG highway are great and are easily matched in routine suburban driving. Unfortunately, the 124's engine requires premium-grade fuel for best performance. Though the gas tank is a smallish 11.9 gallons, thanks to the engine's miserly highway rating of 35, driving range is likely about 345 miles.
Like the Mazda MX-5 on which it is based, the 124 is a tiny car with a very short 91-inch wheelbase. Couple that with a firm suspension and you have a recipe for a very busy ride. Thankfully, that's not completely the case with the 124, as the somewhat-compliant suspension is soft enough to provide at least a little impact absorption. Badly broken roads are a pain (literally) and the Abarth model might be too stiffly sprung for Chicago altogether.
On the flipside, the 124 is a joy to toss around. It's firm and responsive steering seems directly connected to the road, providing instant course corrections. Brakes offer good stopping power and a perfect pedal feel. The firm suspension keeps the tires on the road and there's almost no body lean. The only thing holding the 124 back from being a true track car are it's modestly sized tires.
Inside, the 124 tries to be a bit more upscale than the MX-5. That's mostly the case, although recent upgrades to the Mazda bring the two pretty close. Like the MX-5, the 124 cockpit is extremely driver focused with large conventional analog gauges and traditional dials for the climate control. The audio system is controlled by a jog dial (although you can touch the display screen when the vehicle is not moving). The steering wheel does offer tilt but no telescope.
The seats are extremely firm with loads of support. There's essentially no padding, making them very firm. Those taller than 6-foot-2 need not apply as there's just not enough reward travel or head room to provide enough space. That said, it's also difficult to get in and out because of the low build and high side sill. Outward visibility is somewhat blocked to the rear three-quarters. Top operation is quite easy as it can be raised or lowered from inside the vehicle. When down, the top sits nicely into a shallow behind the seatbacks.
With just 5 cubic feet of trunk space, you won't be taking the 124 on many cross-country adventures, but there's room enough for a weekend's worth of gear. Other than a few bins behind the seats, there's little room inside for small item storage.
Bottom Line - Thank goodness companies like Fiat and Mazda have the guts to build a car like the 124. It's about as much fun as you can have on wheels for $25K these days. A few minor suggestions to make the car more appealing to all might be a more intuitive touch-screen interface for the infotainment system and about three more inches of rearward seat travel. Also, if Fiat could offer the 2.0-liter engine from the Alfa Romeo Giulia ....