2017 Fiat 124 SpiderPosted on August 12th, 2016
Iconic roadster returns for millennial driving enthusiasts
By Nina Russin
Is it possible for an Italian sports car to cost less than $25,000? Remarkably enough, it is. The new Fiat 124 Spider that rolls out as a 2017 model recalls the automaker’s best selling open-air car that debuted at the 1966 Turin Auto Show.
As with the original, design inspiration came from Italy, but the underpinnings reflect a collaboration between Fiat and Mazda. Fiat incorporated chassis components from the current Mazda MX-5 Miata into its powertrain, but added its own 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged engine that delivers 164 horsepower. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual gearbox or six-speed automatic transmission.
Base price for the test car equipped with the six-speed manual is $24,995, sans the $995 destination charge. Options include an audio upgrade that adds Bluetooth streaming music, rearview camera and pearl white exterior, bringing the final MSRP to $27,880.
Test drive in Southern Arizona
This week’s test drive of Fiat’s two-seater was my second experience in the car, having driven it along California’s coastline at a media event a couple of months back. Having a week with the car is different, because it gives a person a better idea of what it would be like to live with it as an owner.
No doubt the Spider’s swoopy Italian styling is going to turn heads everywhere it goes. With its aggressive grille and wide headlamps, the Fiat 124 Spider will never get lost in a crowd. The Italian character radiates more from the exterior than inside the car, where styling carries more of the Miata influence.
Driving enthusiasts will love the short-throw shift lever that makes the Spider a hoot to drive. OEMs are essentially required to offer automatic transmission versions of any new model since that’s the bulk of the market, but having driven both, anyone with the ability to do so should go for the manual gearbox. Roadsters were born to be shifted hard and tossed around in the corners. In this writer’s opinion, that requires a clutch pedal.
Fiat’s 1.4-liter turbocharged block is one of the best engines in its stable: light and compact with plenty of power for the open road. Fuel economy averages 30 miles-per-gallon.
The suspension consists of a compact double wishbone setup in front and multi-link in the back. Stabilizer bars on both axles keep the chassis flat in the corners while an Abarth strut tower brace enhances torsional rigidity for better steering response.
Its large alloy rims and low-profile performance tires give the Spider a firm ride but most should find it comfortable. Four-wheel disc brakes stop the convertible in firm, linear fashion.
The double pinion electric power steering system feels remarkably like a traditional hydraulic setup. The Spider’s narrow diameter steering wheel gives drivers the control they need for this type of vehicle.
Visibility around the perimeter with the soft top in place is about what one might expect. There are large blind spots towards the back, despite a fairly large rear window so the optional rearview camera is highly recommended. Over-the-shoulder visibility is good: drivers should have no problems monitoring traffic in adjacent lanes on the highway.
Despite being slightly larger than the Miata it shares chassis parts with, the Spider’s interior is still quite small, with seating for two and a shelf in back of the seats to stash a purse, computer bag or small pack. Room in the trunk is similarly limited. It will hold one or two roller bags at most. While active types will love the visceral experience of driving an open-air car, this is not a vehicle to go camping with.
Designers optimized the interior’s limited space with well configured, ergonomic seats, a gauge cluster and large information display, both of which are easy to read in a variety of lighting conditions. The convertible top is easy to deploy with one hand in less than a minute.
A tilt steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a clear forward view. There are plenty of small storage cubbies for occupants to stash cell phones and drinks, making the Spider a surprisingly practical option for everyday commuting.
Keyless entry and start saves the driver from fumbling for the key fob after dark. Since occupants sit low in the car’s frame, access and egress requires a little more effort than the typical passenger sedan.
The Fiat 124 Spider comes with front and side airbags, active head restraints, antilock brakes, stability control, daytime running lamps and tire pressure monitoring.
The sexy new Spider is rolling into Fiat dealerships nationwide.
Like: An affordable, stylish, fun-to-drive roadster in the traditional of Fiat’s iconic open-air cars.
Dislike: Small interior and trunk space limits the car’s practicality for some buyers.
Model: 124 Spider
Base price: $24,995
As tested: $27,880
Horsepower: 160 Hp @ 5500 rpm
Torque: 184 lbs.-ft. @ 3200 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 26/35 mpg city/highway