Home » You Can Buy A Modern Italian Sports Car That Won’t Bankrupt You For The Price Of A Mitsubishi Mirage

You Can Buy A Modern Italian Sports Car That Won’t Bankrupt You For The Price Of A Mitsubishi Mirage

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If I were to say “Italian sports car,” your imagination might spark to life with daydreams of dashing along the riviera, wind in the hair, not a care in the world. Mind you, these cars also conjure up images of five-figure repair bills, which is why modern Italian mechanical stallions are pretty much just for the wealthy few, even second-hand. However, there’s one exception — The Fiat 124 Spider.

This small, two-seat convertible sold from model years 2017 through 2020 looks all-Italian at first glance, comes with a rorty, beloved turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but comes from mixed origins that help stack the deck on reliability.

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Best of all, they’re reasonably priced on the second-hand market, to the point where you can pick one up in sporty Abarth trim for less than a new example of America’s cheapest hatchback. Talk about an intriguing proposition, am I right?

What Are We Looking At?

Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

Here’s a fun open secret: The Fiat 124 Spider is technically the NE Miata. No, really, it was built by Mazda in Japan, carries the chassis code NE, and is largely an ND Mazda MX-5 with an NC MX-5 transmission and a Fiat engine. It does come wrapped in more traditional sheetmetal than the Mazda, with hood bumps to evoke the Lampredi twin-cam engine of the ’60s and a longer trunk lid than you’d get in an MX-5, but those largely Japanese bones are reassuring.

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Under the hood sits the 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine from the Fiat 500 Abarth, backed up by the six-speed manual gearbox from the old NC MX-5. Total output? A decent 160 horsepower, rising to 164 in the 2020 Abarth trim, and a robust 184 lb.-ft. of torque. As with many modern small-displacement turbocharged engines, tuning can extract more juice from the Italian heart of this roadster, but be careful, as greater output often comes at the expense of longevity.

However, perhaps the Fiat MultiAir engine isn’t the best part about this car. In a 2016 road test, Car And Driver noted a mismatch between engine behavior and the character the car’s trying to evoke, and I largely agree. As per the mag:

The most frustrating thing about the Fiat MultiAir engine is how unforgiving it can be when hustled. Screw up a shift or bog down in the wrong gear, and the engine loses its turbo edge and goes limp. Our top-gear 30-to-50-mph test found the engine in a hole–it took many long seconds more than the Miata did to complete that task, after which it was fully on-boost and handily outran the Mazda from 50 to 70 mph. In reality, both cars would need a downshift to zip around even the slowest traffic, but this nobody-home sensation is an aggravation that the Miata engine better resists.

However, there is no denying that especially in Abarth trim, there’s something visually fetching about the 124 Spider. It’s also nice that it uses a more robust gearbox than the early ND MX-5s, and has an extra third of a cubic-foot of luggage space. That last figure might not sound like much, but 4.9 cu.-ft. vs 4.6 cu.-ft. is a real difference.

How Expensive Are We Talking?

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The dirt-cheap economy car that is the 2024 Mitsubishi Mirage starts at $17,790 including freight, but don’t expect to pay quite that much money for this Japanese-Italian drop-top. Take this 2017 124 Spider Abarth that recently hammered on Cars & Bids for $16,250. All dark and moody in black with red accents, it has just 61,600 miles on the clock and a clean Carfax, meaning it’s basically ready to have some fun with without much in the way of worry.

Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

Likewise, this adorable little grey beast sold on Cars & Bids for $16,250 back in February, and while it did have 71,000 miles on the clock, it also came with some goodies to enhance the soundtrack. A fancy Ragazzon exhaust system should make this example sound a bit more like a Fiat 500 Abarth, while an intake from Fiat speed shop Madness should liberate some turbo noises. If that’s what you’re into, then hey, solid deal.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth 1g2 Scaled Copy

Want to go even cheaper? This 2017 124 Spider Abarth sold on Bring A Trailer in January for $14,000. When the hammer dropped, this white cabriolet had just 53,000 miles on the clock and a clean Carfax. Sure, it might be a few years old, but it’s a well-priced modern sports car that doesn’t bring up any immediate red flags.

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What Could Possibly Go Wrong With A Fiat 124 Spider?

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Weirdly for a European car, the Fiat 124 Spider has proven to be fairly reliable, although there are a few minor maintenance things to keep in mind. Firstly, the water pump seals on early examples can leak, and if you’re in there, you might as well do the water pump and timing belt since a 2017 model would be seven years old or so.

Secondly, coil-on-plug units can fail prematurely, but those are an easy DIY. Oh, and a weak diverter valve may result in lumpy power delivery, but a nice aftermarket GFB one costs less than $150 and is a driveway DIY. Otherwise, the mechanicals seem relatively alright, with no widespread reports of catastrophic failure or anything like that.

Should I Buy A Fiat 124 Spider?

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Let’s get the obvious question out the way first: Why not just buy an MX-5? Not only is it slightly quicker than the 124 Spider, it features a linear powerband, is more reliable, and its production volume means there are more spares available on the second-hand market. Slap on a set of Xidas and your favorite tires, and get ready to experience the simplest modern open-topped sports car on the market.

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However, if you’re already in love with this thing, it probably won’t steer you too wrong, and its pricing is quite competitive. This is a modern Italian sports car for the rest of us, and for some of us, that’s a big win.

(Photo credits: Cars & Bids)

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TooMuchWombat
TooMuchWombat
27 days ago

I daily an ND2 RF but I’ve always liked the Italian suit the Fiata wears. The ND2 is the better car, but if I had been looking for a soft top, I would have happily taken an Abarth Fiata for slightly worse driving experience all other things equal.

Italian cars are just so damn charming (even if this is a Japanese car in an Italian suit).

Roadsters are good. Please make more.

Anxious John
Anxious John
27 days ago

I guess I’ll just go fuck myself because I think I’m the only person who really likes how these look.

Livinglavidadidas
Livinglavidadidas
27 days ago
Reply to  Anxious John

I think these look great. I teeter back and forth on whether or not I like it more than the ND

Gilbert Wham
Gilbert Wham
27 days ago
Reply to  Anxious John

You are not alone; I think they’re fine looking cars.

Myk El
Myk El
26 days ago
Reply to  Anxious John

I prefer them visually to the Mazda. A roadster in the desert with my skin is a horrid idea, but if I were going to have one, it’d be the Fiata.

Dottie
Dottie
28 days ago

Been dailying a Fiata for 6 years now (found one used with under 800 miles in the middle of nowhere) and it’s been plenty of fun and reasonably practical. Installing a trunk rack has been a wonderful addition for those times where every square inch of the trunk and passenger seat is filled to the brim with stuff.

Geo Metro Mike
Geo Metro Mike
28 days ago

Saw Richard Hammond drive one of these a few years back. I wanted to see one in person but the dealership only had autos. My head exploded that day.

No Kids, Just Bikes
No Kids, Just Bikes
28 days ago

Do people like the looks better *just* because it is Italian? I never got it. I think the ND Miata looks sharp with the added benefit of never ever having to think about FIAT mechanicals. I guess they’re cheap now, though. In my area there is only one ND Miata for sale, and it is 10k more than the 4 Abarth Fiatas available.

Goblin
Goblin
28 days ago

The ND Miata’s design is to this thing what an original is to an autotuned remix. You recognize the original in the remix just enough to be hurt.

The ND Miata is beautiful. This thing is far from.

I have the feeling Fiat’s designers were not happy to make this, and it shows. While I still won’t trust a Fiat to not throw hilarious electrical gremlins in my face (my Tipo’s windshield wipers once decided they wanted to go down rather than up, and persisted in trying) – Fiat usually knows how to design decently looking cars, or pure cuteness made car, if the 500 is any example.

Last edited 28 days ago by Goblin
AlfaWhiz
AlfaWhiz
28 days ago

Cool car and I’m glad it exists, but I don’t love the way it looks. I can’t exactly place it, but something seems off.

Goblin
Goblin
28 days ago
Reply to  AlfaWhiz

Bulbous eyes on a snout that was designed for slanted ones, is a start. And it’s all downhill from that already low point.

AceRimmer
AceRimmer
28 days ago
Reply to  AlfaWhiz

It’s the overhangs. Way too long. Miata is neat and tidy in comparison.

Goblin
Goblin
28 days ago

It’s not a Fiat, it’s a Miata made worse (which makes it an excellent Fiat, if one wants a glass half full).

Take a Miata, make it ugly, put a worse engine in it, carry on.
Not as bad as an Arna, but still.

However, IF they are WAY less expensive than matching Miatas, and IF the original Miata powertrain can be swapped in after whatever oddity is currently in, we might become friends.

Last edited 28 days ago by Goblin
Marques Dean
Marques Dean
29 days ago

If you can find them a few 124s can be picked up for a song and a dance ($15K to $20K) nowadays. I just checked AutoTrader.com and there were 6 available nationwide with a manual. 1 made its way all the way to Honolulu,Hawaii! At least 2 were Classicas and there were at least 3 Abarths IIRC. If I could get ahold of one I’d buy one to complement my 500 Abarth.

Last edited 29 days ago by Marques Dean
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