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2017 Fiat 124 Spider Review by Larry Nutson +VIDEO

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2017 Fiat 124 Spider
High sun and fun factor

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

The Fiat brand has been around a long time, since 1899 as a matter of fact. Fiat disappeared from U.S. shores back in 1983 and made its return in 2009 with the 2-door Cinquecento, the 500.

Now adding to the coupes, cabrios and small crossovers sold here by Fiat, the sporty, Italian flair of Fiat has emerged again with the new 2017 Fiat 124 Spider. The new 124 Spider has lots of similarities to the original Pininfarina-designed 2-seater of 1966. However along with greater comfort and convenience I’m sure it will provide a much better ownership experience.

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The new 124 Spider comes from a joint venture with Mazda. Built in Japan, there’s lots of Mazda’s MX-5 Miata underneath the skin of this new Fiat. However, the 124 Spider does have a unique powertrain: a 160-hp 1.4-L turbo four with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. The 124 Spider’s suspension uses a double-wishbone layout in front and a multi-link in the rear. Springs and shocks are also unique to the Spider.

The 124 Spider is available in three trim levels: Classica, Lusso and Abarth. The Classica is priced at $24,995, the Lusso at $27,495 and the Abarth tops out at $28,195. The Abarth has a sport-tuned exhaust, a limited-slip differential, and a boost to 164 HP. (See links to 2017 Fiat 124 specs, comparisons and prices for all three versions below my review.)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

EPA test-cycle fuel economy ratings are 26 city / 35 highway for manual transmission and 25 city / 36 highway for automatic transmission…basically, identical.

As a celebration of the return of the classic nameplate, the first 124 Spiders will be offered as a limited-edition Prima Edizione Lusso. Each will be individually numbered with a commemorative badge and available in exclusive Azzurro Italia (Blue) exterior paint with premium leather seats in Saddle. Buyers of the Prima Edizione also will receive a few unique goodies, including a leather bag, journal with pen and a poster showcasing original design illustration with vehicle dimensions.

The all-new 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Prima Edizione Lusso has a U.S. MSRP of $35,000, plus $995 destination.

So how’s it drive you ask. Well, I had long weekend to tool around in a Classica model with the six-speed manual. Fortunately the summer weather was wonderful and I most always had the top down. The top is operated by hand and is easy to flip down and pull back up in a single-handed operation. There’s a hard shell in the section of the top structure right overhead that helps quiet wind noise and also forms the boot cover when the top is lowered.

I’ve spent some time with the MX-5 Miata and am familiar with its overall driving dynamics. I was interested to experience the 124s power train with the turbo engine. Like many turbos there’s some lag off the line. Engine revs needed to be in the 2500 to 3000 rpm range before upshifting to avoid dropping engine speed too low. Acceleration is as brisk as it need be. After all, this Spider is meant to be seen and you don’t want to drive too fast.

I did also drive the new 124 Spider at a mid-summer media preview event at the FCA Proving Grounds in Michigan. There I took the Spider around a large oval highway-speed loop and also on a short handling course. On these roads the Spider lived up to its sports car creds, handling the roads, twists and corners with ease and confidence. The 124’s suspension is a bit softer-tuned compared to the Miata’s, and that’s not a bad thing for less-than-smooth roads.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Seating is adequate for two not-to-large adults and the trunk has room for two carry-on suitcases. Weekend road trips with more than the shirt on your back will be possible. And for your convenience and comfort, air conditioning is at your beck and call if it’s too hot and muggy.

There’s an audio system with four speakers; two are in the headrests. A Bose 9-speaker premium system is an option. But I have to say, with the top down at speeds above 40mph you might as well just turn the audio off.

Far from the days of 1966, the all-new 124 Spider is available with safety features like Blind-spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Path detection and ParkView rear backup camera.

I drove the Spider to a Cars & Coffee type car enthusiast event and it did turn some heads and draw a lot of attention. Naturally, conversations made comparisons to and brought out opinions vs. the Miata. Everyone has their likes and dislikes. Some liked the slightly longer length of the 124 as well as the front and rear styling.

Convertible top material is very good today. So good, that there should be no hesitancy in buying a drop-top car. The 124 Spider’s top material is made by Haartz, the world’s leading supplier of soft-top material. The Haartz top material is quite durable and soil resistant. However, occasional cleaning is necessary and Haartz recently introduced the RaggTopp Premium Convertible Top Brush. The brush’s bristles are made from fibrillated Nylex, which is soft, yet strong, to gently loosen the dirt and debris from the convertible top. The bristles clean gently and do not damage acrylic cloth or vinyl convertible tops materials.

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Generally speaking, convertible buyers want to drive with the top down as often as possible. There are any number of convertibles on the market today, 2-seat and 4-seat, and data shows that the convertible market is growing.

By the way don’t forget some sun screen and it you are highway cruising for long stints above 55mph, top up might be better to reduce the chance of hearing damage. Of course, earplugs are a consideration. Get your drop-top soon and enjoy the outdoors and the open-air.

2016 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy

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