I’ve had a contentious relationship with Fiat. The iconic Italian brand that merged with Chrysler a few years ago, invaded America’s shores in 2011. I wasn’t a fan at first. The first offering, the 500, was small, and unattractive, like a VW Beetle that had been stepped on by an elephant and emerged very much worse for the wear. They may have a place on the city streets in Italy, but not on the highways of the good old US of A.
Of course my opinion doesn’t affect sales. That opinion is jaded perhaps by the fact that I am at the age where the AARP spends a great deal of money trying to recruit me and the Electric Daisy Carnival is something that should have rides operated by toothless men with sketchy pasts (although from what I understand the toothless sketchy-past men are in abundance at the real EDC). The point is that I am no longer the youth I once was, and Fiat is a somewhat youthful brand.
When I got the first Fiat to test, my opinion wasn’t swayed. That first car was the Abarth. It was small, loud and, to me, ugly. A later turn with the larger 500X crossover softened my stance a bit, but still…
Well Fiat has finally done it. Given me something that I like. And as it turns out the “something” has been with us before.
The Fiat 124 Spider is being re-launched in America after a nearly 50-year absence. The last time the two-seater sports car zipped around the roads here the Beatles were king, Richard Nixon was still liked, and hippies preached free love. It quietly ended its run the same year Ronald Reagan began his second term.
Now the Spider is back, and after my week with it, I can honestly say it’s better than it ever was.
Now the new Spider isn’t built in Italy, or America for that matter. It’s built in Japan. Right beside the car it shares a platform with the Mazda Miata. The design, as well as the engine, comes from Italy, and the Spider shares no bodywork with the Miata, is actually five inches longer, and has a bit more trunk space. Yes they share a 90.9-inch wheelbase , but nothing else. Despite this, many have taken to calling the new Spider a “Fiata”. And that’s just wrong. Because, having driven a new Miata, and now the Spider, I can truthfully say there is very little in common between the two. It’s like twin sisters; one is pretty, but plain, quiet and somewhat shy. The other however, is drop dead gorgeous and the life of any party.
Those extra five inches of bodywork and increased trunk space make all the difference in the way it looks. The bit more powerful engine under the hood (Miata=155, Spider=160) and the increased torque (Miata=148 Spider=184) make all the difference on the road as well.
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider has three trim levels: Classica, Lusso and Abarth. A limited Prima Edizione version is also available, but there is only 124 units (see what they did there?).
The base Classica has such standard features like LED taillights, AC, full power accessories, cruise control, push button starter, Bluetooth, a leather wrapped steering wheel, and shift knob, and a 3-inch display, all set atop 16-inch wheels.
You can get a Technology package (Collections in Fiat-speak), that adds keyless door locks, rearview camera, a 7-inch touchscreen and an HD radio.
The Lusso adds leather upholstery, heated seats, and all the contents of the Technology collection, along with automatic headlights, climate control, and automatic wipers on top of 17-inch wheels.
The top of the line Abarth adds some special exterior and interior trim pieces, quad exhaust tips connected to a slightly more open exhaust system that increases the horsepower to 184. The trim options include a flat black hood and trunk lid, and there are microfiber inserts for the seats. In addition, there is a limited-slip rear differential, a sport-tuned suspension, and adjustable driving modes. Brembo brakes and full leather or leather/simulated suede upholstery are optional.
For the Lusso and Abarth, two collections are available. The Safety and Comfort package adds such things as a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert and rear parking sensors. For the Lusso the Premium collection and for the Abarth the Luxury collection, adds LED adaptive headlights, LED running lights, a navigation system, and a satellite radio with a nine-speaker Bose audio system
My tester for the week was the Lusso with the Premium collection clad in Grigio Argento (Gray Metallic). The look upon first glance was nothing short of stunning. The Spider is quite a looker, it’s low slung with headlights and a front grill that harkens back to the original Spider. The exterior look of the Miata has nothing on the Spider, although the interior does bear a striking resemblance. Truth be told though the saddle color leather with dark trim in the Spider made it look much more upscale. Something else that is shared with the Miata is the easy opening convertible top; it can be lowered or raised quickly with one hand.
Something that is not shared with the Miata is the on the road experience. The five extra horsepower from the 1.4 liter turbocharged powerplant helps, but the nearly 40 pounds more torque means more power to the pavement. My only regret is the model I had was equipped with the optional 6-speed automatic transmission instead of the standard manual. Despite this, driving the Spider with the top down was pure joy. The head-turning look drew stares in the parking lot and on the road. The power was aplenty, and while this isn’t a sports car in the sense of say an F-Type Jag, it was still more than fast enough to elicit many smiles during the week.
Of course if you want an F-Type Jag experience than you’ll pay for it. For an MSRP starting at $24,995 you can have the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider, a fun little rear wheel drive roadster that will put a smile on your face and look good when sitting still.
At the end of the week, actually early on, I knew there was nothing “Fiata” about this. Sure, there are some familiar Miata bits, but Fiat has done a great job in bringing back an iconic car that looks every bit as good as it drives.
Now, you kids get off my lawn.