2017 Fiat 124 SpiderPosted on June 10th, 2016
Classic drop-top reinvented for millennial buyers
By Nina Russin
Fiat has a talent for making what was once old new again, and just as important, relevant. Inspiration for the new 2017 Fiat Spider is the brand’s classic roadster that debuted at the 1966 Turin Auto show. Designed by Pininfarina and powered by a 1438 cc engine, the Spider was a more affordable alternative to the legendary Ferrari GTS. It became Fiat’s most successful effort in the United States, produced through the 1985 model year.
The new 124 Spider shares chassis components with the current Mazda MX-5 Miata, but features a slightly larger body, different engine, styling and exhaust system than its Japanese counterpart.
Power for all three grades comes from Fiat’s 160-horsepower 1.4-liter MultiAir intercooled and turbocharged engine. A quad exhaust on the upscale Abarth grade adds four horsepower. Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission with manual gear selection.
At the beginning of production Fiat is issuing a Prima Edizione version of the midgrade Lusso, limited to 124 vehicles.
Pricing for the base Classica model with manual gearbox starts at $24,995 ($26,345 with the automatic), the Lusso at $27,495 and performance-oriented Abarth at $28,195. Pricing does not include a $995 destination charge. Standard convenience features on the Classica include 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth seats, halogen headlamps, a rollbar and dual exhaust.
The Lusso adds 17-inch wheels and leather seating, while the Abarth comes with Bilstein shocks, Brembo brakes, front strut tower brace, 17-inch alloy wheels, limited slip differential and quad exhaust.
Test drive in San Diego
At a recent media event I drove the Classica with the six-speed manual transmission and Lusso with the six-speed automatic on a route that included surface streets in the city center, highways, two-lane roads through the mountains to the east and the Pacific Coast Highway.
Of the two transmission options, the manual gearbox is the better choice, enabling the driver to make the most power from the small, turbocharged engine. Fuel economy around town is slightly better with the manual transmission, while the automatic offers one MPG more on the highway.
Fiat should have an easy time selling its message of affordable style with its newest offering. While the two-seater won’t fill the squares for growing families, it can easily serve as the primary vehicle for singles or young couples. The trunk is big enough to hold a couple of pieces of luggage or the weekly groceries, and the interior is pleasantly quiet with the top in place, thanks to the Spider’s insulated windshield and rear glass and multi-layer cloth top. The manual top is easy to deploy with one hand, and has a single latch at the top of the windshield to secure in place.
Turbocharging gives the 1.4-liter engine appealing performance, with good power off the line and in the 20-50 mile-per-hour range drivers use merging into high-speed traffic. Peak torque is 184 pound-feet, available from 2500 RPM. The short-throw manual gearshift lever makes it fun to snap between the gears. Gears have plenty of range for stop-and-go driving. Those who don’t mind pushing a clutch will find this one quite reasonable to live with.
The electric power steering system is so well tuned that it is virtually indistinguishable from a conventional hydraulic system, offering the advantages of weight reduction and better packaging under the hood. A 30.8-foot turning circle makes it easy to maneuver the Spider through crowded streets in city centers, while a pleasantly heavy feel at speed should appeal to driving enthusiasts pushing the envelope on winding rural roads.
A four-wheel independent suspension consists of a compact double wishbone setup in front and multi-link in the rear. Driving along canyon roads through the mountains the suspension did an excellent job of keeping the chassis flat in the corners while isolating occupants from bumps in the road.
Visibility around the perimeter is surprisingly good with the top in place. It took me a few minutes to get used to the rearview mirrors due to their positioning, but having done that they made it quite easy to monitor traffic in adjacent lanes. Rearview cameras on the test car improve visibility backing out of parking spots, where I found myself surrounded by high profile vehicles. Buyers can also add blind spot monitoring with LED and audible signals, although this is by no means necessary.
Four-wheel disc brakes stop the Spider in firm, linear fashion.
Its Italian styling is one of the Spider’s biggest selling points. Designers based the exterior on the 1966 model with its shark-like nose and snub rear end. A strong character line from the front hood to the back of the car maintains the horizontal focus of the original.
Up front, halogen headlamps with daytime running lamps and an egg crate grille create a distinctive face. Abarth models get a black matt hood to eliminate reflections that can be distracting on a racetrack. Tail lamps with body color inserts reference the swallow rear end of the ’66 model.
Fiat’s talent for styling makes the Spider interior a joy to spend time in, whether buyers opt for cloth upholstery on the base model or leather on the Lusso. Keyless entry and start saves the driver from fumbling for the key fob, adding a measure of safety after dark.
Access and egress is typical for a sports car of this type. Expect a little effort sliding into the seats that sit deep inside the car’s frame; the same applies for exiting. Once inside, most should find the seats quite comfortable for longer drives. Adjustments enable smaller drivers to raise the seats for a clear forward view.
Incorporating modern infotainment features such as the large center touch screen and information-filled gauge cluster was a challenge that designers didn’t completely resolve. I found it difficult to read both displays with the top deployed in mid-day sun. Images on the center stack screen essentially disappeared without a hood to shade them. Black gauges with white lettering were difficult to read wearing polarized sunglasses.
The Fiat 124 Spider comes with front and side airbags, antilock brakes, stability control, traction control, daytime running lamps and tire pressure monitoring.
The Fiat 124 Spider begins rolling into dealerships this summer followed by the Abarth in the fall.
Like: A stylish, affordable roadster with great road manners and enough cargo space to function as its owner’s only vehicle.
Dislike: Gauge cluster and center stack screen are difficult to read in bright sunlight.
Model: 124 Spider
Base price: $24,995 (excluding destination)
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 160 Hp @ 5500
Torque: 184 lbs.-ft. @ 2500 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy*: 26/35 mpg city/highway (manual); 25/36 mpg city/highway (automatic)
Comment:*The manufacturer recommends but does not require premium unleaded gasoline.