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First Drive: 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

New roadster separates self from Mazda sibling.

by on Jun.14, 2016

The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is expected to be an attention getter in the U.S. for the struggling brand.

In the age of the driverless car, two-seat roadsters and convertibles are an endangered species.

But Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV is betting there is still enough open space out on the American road for a soft-topped, rear-wheel-drive roadster to find enough cover and to draw enough sustenance to survive in a world that increasingly lives off data points and networks.

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The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider – no fancy spelling please – is quick, nimble and stylish. It is also the epitome of what buffs mean when they talk about cars that are “fun to drive.”

But the car is also blends new technology with some older design formulas to produce a balanced vehicle with a great ride and responsible handling that helped the 124 Spider master the twists and turns of the curving roads during our test run through the hills that ring Southern California’s desert country.

The new addition to the Fiat line-up shares a light-weight chassis with the Mazda Miata.

The Fiat 124 is equipped with electric power-assisted steering, electronic stability control and a light-weight chassis developed by Mazda for the only other vehicle comparable to the Spider, the Mazda MX-5 Miata, which made its debut last year and has earned a steady stream of rave reviews.

(Fiat roadster key to brand’s revival in U.S. For more, Click Here.)

But many of the elements of the Spider, such as the engine, exterior design, styling of the interior and suspension are very different from the Miata. For one thing, while Mazda prides itself in taking things out, Fiat added weight, starting with the bulkier 1.4-liter Italian-made engine with its cast-iron block, which delivers 164 horsepower and 184 foot pounds of torque.

Even with the extra weight, the Fiat 124 Spider’s curb weight is less than 2,500 pounds so the car has a very nice power-to-weight ratio, which comes into play out on the road where the car delivers a spirited ride. It climbs hills with minimal effort and shift points on the six-speed automatic transmissions are well positioned so the engine never seems to strain. A manual transmission is available, but we didn’t have a chance to give it a fair test.

(Fiat hopes new Spider 124 will catch buyers in its web. Click Here for the story.)

Besides adapting a Fiat engine for the Spider’s powertrain, FCA also has made the car about 5.5 inches longer, giving the car a very different exterior appearance than the Miata.

It also added weight but the basic low-slung stance of the new version of the Spider is accentuated by the sleek body sides and a long aluminum hood that underscore’s the car’s classical stance. The extra length is accented by a horizontal line runs from the front fender to rear.

The instrument cluster of the new Fiat 124 Spider is simple and clean.

The front has hexagonal shape pays homage to the original 124 Spider’s front air intake. But the LED headlights and rear lamps provide the Spider with a more contemporary look that reaches beyond the styling of a half century ago. The bright front lights when paired with the hexagonal front grille, give the car a more serious expression.

(Fiat named most unreliable brand by Consumer Reports. Click Here for more.)

Despite the Spider’s modest starting price of $24,995 plus for shipping and handling, the interior is nicely with a handsome dashboard that’s that is completely functional and handles presents the gauges and switches in a clean, logical manner. The inner door panels, which the designers are especially proud, exude style and the steering wheel is very comfortable and seems to have a nicely harmonious relationship to the car.

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One Response to “First Drive: 2017 Fiat 124 Spider”

  1. Mike says:

    Cheaper than a Harley.