2019 Fiat 124 Spider - On A Street Or On A Track Review By Larry Nutson
2019 Fiat 124 Spider
On the street and on the track
By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel
The folks at Fiat whetted my whistle a bit with a week’s time behind the wheel of a 124 Spider. This tied in with an invite to attend the 1-day Fiat Track Experience at Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois under the tutelage of the pros at Skip Barber Racing School.
My street driving certainly provided plenty of time to get reacquainted with the Spider and learn the cars ins and outs. This wasn’t my first drive in the Spider but lots of seat time helps refresh the memory.
Fiat has upped the game for 2019 across the entire brand. The 124 Spider continues to be offered in Classica, Lusso and Abarth models. Powering the Spider is a 160-HP 1.4-liter turbo. Abarth models get a little boost to 164-HP. Power drives the rear wheels through a 6-speed manual or an optional 6-speed automatic.
Priced to start at $24,995 with the Classica model, a new custom center-stripe in either double rally stripe or retro stripe is now offered for $295 on this trim. The Lusso ups things a bit at $27,795 with bigger wheels, leather seats and bright trim on the A-pillar header and roll-bar cover as well as chrome dual-tip exhausts.
The sportier 124 Spider Abarth sits at the top, priced at $29,920. With Bilstein sport suspension, limited slip differential, front strut tower bar, sport-mode selector, the 124 is track ready. Options include Brembo brakes and Recaro seats.
New for the Abarth for 2019 is a Record Monza Exhaust ($995) that uses a spring-loaded diversion valve to modify exhaust flow for more “Abarth Growl.” There’s also a new Veleno (“poison” in English and symbolic of the Abarth scorpion) Appearance Group ($495) with red exterior mirror caps, red lower fascia lip and red front tow hook as well as Abarth-branded carpeted floor mats and a bright foot rest.
My road driving in the 124 Spider was in a 2018 Classica trim which is basically the same as the 2019. The two-seat cockpit is well appointed and makes for comfortable around town or road trip driving. The trunk is smallish and the best way to make full use of the space is to pack duffels although a roll-aboard suitcase does fit.
The 160-horse engine is nicely responsive and the 6-speed manual on my Classica was smooth shifting. Probably the EPA test-cycle fuel economy ratings don’t garner too much interest when talking sports cars. However, they are in the range of 25-26 city and 35-36 highway. Handling is a joy with the 54/46 weight distribution. The rear end kicks out nicely on hard corners but is easily controllable.
The soft top can be put down or up with a one-hand operation and is fairly decently insulated so that highway noise is not too disturbing. Convertible owners buy a convertible for one primary reason and that is top-down driving, so top function is critical.
At the tail end of my week with the Spider I headed off to Autobahn Country Club. We would be driving the 124 Spider Abarth as well as the 2-door 500 Abarth on the track road course, in an autocross and on the skid pad. The Skip Barber team led by long-time racer Terry Earwood coached us a bit in the classroom and then we suited up, put on our helmets and hit the track.
On Autobahn's 1.5-mile North road course, driving in lead-follow behind a Skip Barber instructor we were as fast as the slowest car. And, no one was slow. We switched between the Spider Abarth and the 500 Abarth honing track techniques and upping our corner speeds.
There’s an expected handling difference between the rear-wheel drive 124 and the front-wheel drive 500. The 124 Spider Abarth was the faster car around the circuit, but the venerable Cinquecento - 500 Abarth is truly a lot of fun.
Following a mid-day break the afternoon had us running an autocross circuit where you need to remind yourself that slower and smooth is better than too fast and jerky. We also drove a wet skid pad in the 124 Spider with our right-seat driving coach pushing us to increase speed and then yanking the handbrake and leaving us to recover from the oversteer skid.
As an added bonus, Fiat put us in the passenger seat for hot-lap ride-alongs in a 124 Spider Abarth Rally. This is a turn-key rally car you can buy from Fiat for a mere $120,000. The engine is a 300-HP 1.8-Liter mated to a 6-speed sequential transmission. Set up for rallying and jumps the Abarth Rally uses Kevlar and carbon fiber components and weighs 1000Kg (2200 lbs.). A new class record was set in the Mt. Washington Hill Climb by the 124 Spider Abarth Rally.
At the end of the day we all were a bit fatigued from the continuous driving. But one thing was for sure, Fiat’s cars are very fun and enjoyable to drive whether it be on the open road or on a track.
© 2018 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy
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