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  • 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    Iconic roadster returns for millennial driving enthusiasts

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 1968 Fiat 124 Spider

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 1968 Fiat 124 Spider

    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. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    Classic drop-top reinvented for millennial buyers

    By Nina Russin

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    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.

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    2017 Fiat 124 Spider

    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. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Fiat 500X Easy

    All-wheel drive crossover takes Fiat in a new direction

    By Nina Russin

    Fiat 500X

    Fiat 500X

    Can a fashionista find true happiness away from the big city? Perhaps if she was driving the new Fiat 500X she could. Although Fiat’s newest compact crossover shares powertrain components with the Jeep Renegade, it’s a distinctly different car.

    The Fiat 500X is the yin to the Jeep Renegade’s yang: the hipper, more style-conscious twin geared towards millennial urbanites.

    Buyers can choose between front and all-wheel drive models and two powertrains: a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine rated at 160 horsepower mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, and the 180-horsepower 2.4-liter Tigershark engine with the same nine-speed automatic transmission found in the Jeep Cherokee.

    As different as their personalities are, the Jeep and Fiat share a similar value-driven sales strategy. In the case of the Jeep, it’s an affordable off-road alternative to the Wrangler. For the Fiat, it’s affordable design: the Guggenheim for the price of a duplex in the suburbs.

    The test car is the front-wheel drive Fiat 500X Easy priced from $22,300. The Easy sits in the middle of five available trim levels, with standard features including daytime running lamps, a thin film transistor information display, remote keyless entry, satellite radio, fold flat front passenger seat, split folding second-row seats, and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.

    An option package on the test car adds dual-zone automatic temperature control, keyless start, an eight-way power driver’s seat, rearview camera, ambient lighting, heated front seats and steering wheel, bringing the final MSRP to $24,700. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2016 Fiat 500X First Drive

    All-wheel drive makes the 500 outwardly mobile

    By Nina Russin

    2016 Fiat 500X

    2016 Fiat 500X

    If the 1957 Fiat Cinquecento was the mouse that roared, the 500X is the mouse that scales mountains. For 2016, Fiat enters the compact crossover segment with a new model that shares chassis components with the Jeep Renegade, but has a personality all its own.

    Since bringing an all-new 500 stateside for the 2012 model year, Fiat diversified its offerings with a family of cars that share the first model’s iconic styling but appeal to drivers wanting more room, more power, or a greener footprint.

    The 500L, introduced shortly after the 500, offered more interior space, but maintained a similar urban orientation to its smaller sibling. The 500X that debuts for 2016 is the first Fiat with available all-wheel drive for better four-season performance.

    The newest Fiat comes in five trim models, including Trekking and Trekking Plus versions that appeal to buyers with active lifestyles. Pricing for the base Pop front-wheel drive car is $20,000 excluding destination. The Pop is the only model to come with a 1.4-liter turbocharged MultiAir engine and six-speed manual transmission.

    All other grades- the Lounge, Easy, Trekking and Trekking Plus come with a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter Tigershark engine and nine-speed automatic transmission. The Trekking model starts at $23,100, while the upscale Trekking Plus is priced from $27,100.

    All-wheel drive adds an additional $1,900. A disconnecting rear axle makes the all-wheel drive car perform as a front-wheel drive when traction demands are low for better gas mileage.

    All versions come with the Uconnect infotainment system: a three-inch screen in the base model, five-inch screen in midgrades and 6.5-inch screen with navigation and Sirius traffic updates on upscale grades. Top-of-the-line models also get keyless entry and start, heated steering wheel and seats, Beats audio systems and Bluetooth streaming audio.

    Available active safety features include blind spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, forward collision mitigation and cross path detection. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Fiat 500L

    A bigger 500 for active lifestyles

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Fiat 500L

    Although it shares front-end styling and nomenclature with the Fiat 500, the new 500L is a completely different car. Built on Chrysler’s small-wide architecture, the newest Fiat shares underpinnings with the new Jeep Cherokee that rolls out in the fall. Power comes from a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine paired with either a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.

    The body is 27-inches longer and six-inches taller than the Cinquecento, allowing room for five passengers and a good-sized cargo area. Second-row seats fold flat to expand the cargo floor, and can also tumble-and-fold forward.

    There are four models: Pop, Easy, Trekking and Lounge. Pricing for the base model begins at $19,100, while the upscale lounge starts at $24,195. The Trekking model with styling for outdoor enthusiasts starts at $21,195

    Base sticker for the Easy test car is $20,195, excluding the $800 destination charge. A complimentary preferred package adds a Uconnect 6.5-inch touch screen, navigation, backup camera and rear park assist, valued at $1,700 free of charge. The preferred package is available to all buyers purchasing their vehicles prior to the end of the calendar year. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2014 Fiat 500L

    Fiat pumps up the volume with a roomier 500

    By Nina Russin

    2014 Fiat 500L

    The Fiat 500’s whisker grille and compact dimensions remind me of Topo Gigio: a puppet that made regular appearances on Ed Sullivan’s Sunday night variety show in the 1960s. Unlike many of Ed’s guests such as the Beetles, Rolling Stones and the Doors, Topo never wanted to be center stage. Despite that, his unabashed cuteness found its way into the hearts of millions of kids, including me. Perhaps it’s the association that makes the newest Cinquecento such a lovable design.

    The car’s demure footprint has a downside, however, that being its lack of cargo space. This year, Fiat introduces the 500L: an all-new model that could be construed as Topo Gigio’s big brother. The new model is 47-inches longer than the current Fiat 500, and has as much interior space as the Chrysler 300 full-sized sedan.

    Classified as a B segment car, the Fiat 500L is based on the automaker’s new small-wide architecture, the same platform that will house the new Jeep Cherokee that rolls out later this year. With fold-and-tumble second-row seats that give its interior enough room to stash a road bike, the 2014 500L might be the Fiat buyers with active lifestyles have been waiting for. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show

    OEMs predict a brighter 2013

    By Nina Russin

    The fourth-generation Range Rover made its North American debut in LA

    Los Angeles is the first of four major auto shows in the United States, and therefore sets the tenor for the remainder of the season. While sales statistics can be misleading, catering spreads which accompany the various press conferences are much more telling.

    Before the crash of 2008, the show floor was rife with the spoils of success. It was rare to find any press conference without an espresso machine and plates of scones. Full-fledged buffets with open bars were not unusual. I remember one automaker inviting journalists to take home folding chairs set out for the event. The chairs were nice enough to furnish a summer cabin.

    When things went black four years ago, it was hard to find a bottle of water on the show floor, much less a cappuccino. While I don’t condone swag wagons at editorial functions, the lack thereof was certainly telling.

    Gradually, the amenities came back, beginning with some ice buckets with refreshments and the occasional Danish pastry. But it was not until the 2012 show which opened to the media this week that “real food” made its reappearance on the show floor. Read the rest of this entry »

  • Extended drive: 2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio

    Open-air fun for four

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Fiat 500 Cabrio with 1962 Fiat 500

    The Fiat 500 Cabriolet is the yin to the Fiat 500 Abarth’s yang. Whereas the Abarth is all-business performance, the open-air version of the Cinquecento focuses on enjoying the moment. Pricing for the upscale lounge model starts at $23,500.

    Power comes from a 1.4-liter engine rated at 101 horsepower and six-speed automatic transmission. Because of its high compression ratio, Fiat recommends the use of 91 octane gasoline, although 87 is acceptable.

    The multi-air engine uses solenoids to open and shut the engine intake valves rather than camshaft lobes. The technology makes the engine faster at adjusting to air/fuel mixture needs.

    Manual gear selection enables the driver to change gears using the center console-mounted shift lever. A sport mode alters the throttle map and holds onto gears longer for more aggressive performance.

    EPA estimated fuel economy is 29 miles-per-gallon for city and highway driving. Fuel economy for my 100-mile test drive was just over 32 miles-per-gallon.

    There are four options on the test car: pearl white paint ($500), leather upholstery with heated front seats ($1250), TomTom navigation ($400) and 15-inch alloy wheels ($300). Adding the $500 delivery charge, MSRP as tested is $26,450. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

    Performance-oriented hatchback honors a racing legend

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Fiat 500 Abarth

    A year after its reintroduction to the American market, Fiat expands its Cinquecento line-up with two new models: a larger L version which debuts this week in Geneva, and the race-inspired Abarth. Taking its name from Karl Abarth, a German-born driver and engineer who spearheaded Fiat’s motorsports efforts between the end of World War II and his death in 1979, the Fiat 500 Abarth is a track-worthy subcompact hatchback which maintains the fuel efficiency of other 500 models.

    Although the new Abarth shares sheetmetal with the Fiat 500 hatchback, the powertrain is vastly different. Under the hood, a 1.4-liter dual intercooled and turbocharged engine develops up to 160 horsepower and 170 foot-pounds of torque. The high-performance block reaches peak torque at 2500 rpm, for exceptional low-end power.

    Equipped with a heavy-duty five-speed manual transmission, the Fiat 500 Abarth accelerates from zero-to-sixty miles-per-hour in 7.2 seconds, and to 100 miles-per-hour in about 20 seconds. Top speed is electronically limited to 130 miles-per-hour.

    What the acceleration statistics don’t reflect is the Abarth’s most appealing attribute: its exceptionally nimble character. Curb weight is a scant 2512 pounds. The Fiat 500 Abarth is to automobiles what Kenyans are to distance running: a pared down, well balanced package that gets the job done with remarkable efficiency. Highway fuel economy is 34 miles-per-gallon.

    Base price is $22,000, not including the $700 destination charge: not a lot of money for a car as adept at commuting as it is navigating chicanes on the track. A versatile interior has room for up to four passengers and enough cargo space for a modest amount of luggage.

    While the new Abarth might not meet the needs of all buyers with active lifestyles, it’s versatile enough to work well for many, with a price that doesn’t break the bank and performance which appeals to those wanting some muscle under the hood. To help Abarth buyers get the most from their cars, Fiat throws in a one-day driving instruction program, during which buyers learn how to safely push the Abarth’s performance limits on the racetrack. Read the rest of this entry »

  • 2012 Fiat 500 Sport

    Stylish subcompact with 38 mpg fuel economy

    By Nina Russin

    2012 Fiat 500

    The Fiat 500 Sport parked in my driveway brings forth memories of Topo Gigio: the mouse puppet from Ed Sullivan’s popular variety show in the 1960s. It isn’t just the Fiat’s whiskers and logo face, or the fact that both Topo and the original Cincquecento date back to the same era.

    Just as the puppet created by Maria Perego of Milan charmed television viewers, the new Fiat 500 hatchback is irresistibly cute. Styling combines retro and contemporary elements in surprisingly harmonious fashion. It is also quintessentially Italian, setting the car apart from other entries in the A segment.

    Most appealing in the new Cinquecento’s affordability: the base model starts under $16,000. The test car is the midgrade Sport, which has larger wheels and a sport-tuned suspension. MSRP is $17,500, not including the $500 destination charge.

    Power comes from a single overhead cam four-cylinder engine rated at 101 horsepower, with 98 foot-pounds of torque. Because of its high compression ratio, the manufacturer recommends running 91 octane fuel, although regular is acceptable.

    A five-speed manual gearbox, standard on the Sport, enables drivers to make better use of the engine’s available power than the optional six-speed automatic. It also yields better fuel economy: about three miles per gallon on average according to EPA estimates. Read the rest of this entry »