Here’s Why Fiat’s 124 Spider Is All About Its Turbocharged Engine
Photography by Michael Banovsky
If you asked me on the first day of ownership why I bought a 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth, I’d have answered, “The engine”. Today, more than 60,000 km (~37,300 miles) later, the reason is still, “the engine,” with its pops and burbles and way-too-much-character. The only thing that’d make it better, really, was if it was fitted to a convertible sports car—like the one Fiat just released that I’ve got keys to.
Meet the 124 Spider, our weekend getaway on four wheels.
For Kay and I, it really was a getaway: a quick 8-hours-each-way jaunt to la belle province, Québec, basically to see friends and eat great food and drive home again. So why not make the trip as interesting as possible, calling in a favor to ensure we’d at least enjoy the journey there and back?
The first observation is that we’re definitely not used to getting many stares and looks in our grigio 500 Abarth, its subcompact shape an effective cover for its exhaust note. The 124 Spider in Rosso, on the other hand, was not only a brand-new car to most observers but much lower and sleeker-looking in person than photos suggest. It’s also much quieter in person than you’d expect, which led to more than a few shrugs when we burbled by.
Based on the Mazda MX-5 Miata, its exterior skin, engine, seats, and a number of other small details are unique to the 124 Spider. There’s a sportier Abarth version available that’s fitted with a more raucous exhaust, but all versions get the engine I know and love from my car—albeit in a much more sporting chassis and oddly comfortable suspension.
Tuned more for ride quality than outright grip, it’s a welcome throwback to the days when a couple could choose a small, sporty car for these types of weekends that didn’t come equipped with kidney-punching suspension. On interesting backroads around Québec and the less boring side of Ontario, it’s a car that hides speed well, with triple digit speeds in double-digit limits a real concern as the torquey engine never seems out of breath.
Both Kay and I loved the car’s 6-speed transmission, where the final cog is set up for highway cruising and good fuel economy—for what it’s worth, we did just over 31 US mpg in mixed driving. Around town, it takes a while for the turbo, engine, and transmission to gather steam; it’s not going to be a point-and-shoot sports car like the MX-5.
Truthfully, we’d been to Montreal many times, but never in a vehicle powered by the turbocharged 1.4-litre MulitAir 4-cylinder engine that we know so well, and never in a Miata.
Like many large North American cities, it’s a place caught between decay and rebirth, with local highways and construction zones a real hazard for daily driven sports cars—to say nothing of the winter months. There are pockets of perfection, of course, which are mostly B-roads roads outside of the major cities that you’ll need a wake-up call to enjoy thoroughly.
As we learned, it’s a situation that perfectly suits the 124 Spider: it’s practical and comfortable enough to be driven year-round and fun enough for a weekend away. It’s Italian styling and an Italian heart within the highly-regarded chassis of most successful modern sports car ever.
Dare I say it’s probably the easiest and one of the least expensive ways in 2016 to Drive Tastefully, daily…with a warranty.