By Bill Schaffer
Carlsbad, Calif. ? The 2017 Fiat Spider — it’s like d?j? vu, only better.
Growing up in small-town Montana, I was enamored by the sexy Fiat 124. However, as a 15-year-old driver in a family who was in to cars,
American cars were what we drove. Plus, the only time we saw one of those sporty little “foreign jobs” was when one wandered off the Interstate highway and happened to stop at my father’s gas station where I pumped gas, washed windows and checked oil ? that?s back when they really were ?service stations.?
I was in college by the time the Fiat 124 Spiders started stopping for gas, but in the summers we got to see a few. In fact, it sold quite well for a little sports car in a country that drove big American cars, with about 150,000 being sold from 1968 until it was discontinued in 1985. World-wide there were about 200,000 sold, so the U.S. was the big market for this made-in-Italy model.
The 124 Spider is the sixth model in the U.S. Fiat lineup and the first sports car for the brand since the original was discontinued. A product of the Italian/American Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider was developed through a partnership with Mazda. By designing the new two-seat sport car jointly from the ground up, both manufacturers could make significant savings on development costs allowing the pair to keep the price point lower, which was especially important on a product like this with a limited sales potential. The end result for Mazda was the new generation MX-5 or Miata, and for Fiat it was the 124 Spider. While the two cars share many of the same basic elements, the two have distinctive personalities, features and looks.
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider recreates the look and feel of the original Spider and integrates mechanicals that should make it a much better car than the original.
I was fortunate to be able to spend a day driving the new 124 Spider at the national press Introduction in Carlsbad, Calif, and I was Impressed by the design, performance and quality of Fiat’s new edition.
Powered by a 164-hp turbocharged MultiAir 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 184-lb.ft. of torque, the two-seater is available with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission with paddle sifters. The 124 Spider is the first application of this drive train into a rear-wheel drive vehicle.
Olivier Fran?ois, Head of Fiat Brand, FCA ? Global said, ?There?s no better way to celebrate 50 years of the Fiat 124 Spider than to bring back this iconic roadster, pairing its Italian styling of the past with all of the modern performance and technology of today,? he continued, ?The 124 Spider expands the Fiat family, bringing to market yet another head-turning, fun-to-drive vehicle for our customers.?
Driving the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a bit of a surprise. I expected it to be rougher riding and loud, but the car turned out to be much more refined. The handling produced by the double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension was sports car-like as I would expect, but yet the end result is quite smooth, and very comfortable. It wasn?t jarring or rough like some cars of this caliber. The steering is accurate, brakes efficient and overall it is very fun to drive. Even the exhaust note, with the exception of the Abarth model, is modest. The EPA rates fuel economy at 25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined with the automatic transmission.
I also had a chance to run several of the Fiat 124 Spider models through an autocross course set up at Qualcomm Stadium, home of the San Diego Chargers. I drove both manual and automatic transmissions through the long course and, although it wasn?t timed, the automatic felt faster to me. The car handles beautifully, staying flat on the corners and with excellent steering response and quick braking.
Fiat says the Abarth version makes a 0 to 60 mph sprint in 6.8 seconds and a blink more for the other two versions. There is a bit of turbo lag when the accelerator is floored, but I think that adds to the charm. Of course, a sports car is better enjoyed with a manual transmission, especially one as smooth and easy to shift like this one. However, for those who prefer two pedals to three, the automatic is a very reasonable option, and you can still shift using the steering wheel mounted paddles.
In the individualization process taken by the two brands, the Fiat is a few inches longer and ends up with a dash more cargo space (4.9 cubic feet) which is nice, because with no back seat there?s no place to put things, so trunk space is at a premium. The cockpit is still a bit on the snug size for larger passengers and drivers. And if you are thinking of carrying golf clubs, forget it, unless you?re a solo.
Convertibles are always so much fun, with the open feeling and all the smells you don?t normally experience in a closed car. The Fiat 124 makes the conversion from top up to topless as quickly as you can reach up, flip the center latch and push the cloth top back behind the seat where a section of the top becomes a nice-looking cover. Raising the top is equally easy, again flipping a leaver, grabbing the top handle, pulling it forward and quickly latching it. It doesn?t get much faster or easier than that. When the top is up, and the windows are up, its quiet and wind free. When the top is down there is very little wind buffeting, so you can still talk with a passenger or enjoy the audio system.
In a convertible, I always feel a bit more vulnerable, but this one has extensive safety and security features like a high-strength body structure, blind-spot monitoring, all the electronic braking enhancements, rain-sensing wipers and dozens of the latest safety and anti-roll technologies. Behind each seat is a built-in roll bar for additional protection.
Like all new cars the Fiat 124 Spider has a full set of infotainment and communications devices including Fiat?s Connect 7.0 system with seven-inch touch screen, multimedia control, Bluetooth connectivity.
For extra comfort and convenience there are heated seats and Fiat?s Keyless Enter ?n Go unlocking and starting system. Music comes from a Bose premium sound system with nine speakers including dual headrest speakers to deliver the quality sound right next to the ear.
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is available in three trim levels: Classica, Lusso and Abarth. All three models offer and extensive list of standard features, with the Lusso adding more luxury and comfort appointments and the Abarth with more performance features.
Base prices for the three models respectively, and including the destination charge, are $25,990; $27,495 and $28,195. With all the available options, including Brembo brakes, the Aisin automatic transmission and Luxury Collection the Abarth price can go as high as $36,030.
FCA?s in-house aftermarket parts maker, Mopar, offers an extensive menu of options to further personalize your Fiat 124 Spider. For more information on the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider go online to http://www.fiatusa.com/en/spider/ .