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2017 Fiat 124 Spider - Topless In Chicago Review By Larry Nutson

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LEARN MORE: It's Topless Time Hooray!

2017 Fiat 124 Spider
Classy top-down Italian Flair

4 Star Rating From The Auto Channel

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

There’s only one way that the Fiat 124 Spider should be driven. And that is with the top down!

I was hoping for that to be the case during my early-spring week with the 124 Spider but the weather didn’t cooperate. Top-up driving is one of those necessities to keep the rain out and the heat in, and that’s what I needed. Or, on a really hot and muggy summer day, the cooled and conditioned air keeps your hair from frizzing.

The trade off to have open-air driving is the reality that a fabric-top convertible is typically a bit noisy in the cockpit --- unless it happens to be a Rolls-Royce. The audio system, in my view, is good for listening to the news or spoken word, but you really can’t enjoy any music. In the case of the 124 Spider, I listened to the exhaust note and the sound of the engine revving.

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Fiat’s sporty, Italian flair is evident in the new 2017 Fiat 124 Spider. The Spider has lots of similarities to the original Pininfarina-designed 2-seater of 1966. I was hoping to enjoy that Italian flair with the top down, sunglasses on and also a hat to keep my thinned hair in place. But, no.

The 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 4-cylinder available 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.

I’ve spent some time with the MX-5 Miata and am familiar with its overall driving dynamics. But, the 124 is a bit different 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, the Spider is meant to be seen and you don’t want to drive too fast.

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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.

Convertible owners buy a convertible for one primary reason and that is top-down driving. I don’t think the EPA test-cycle fuel economy ratings are of much concern. However, they are in the range of 25-26 city and 35-36 highway.

Late last summer I drove a Classica model with the six-speed manual. This time around it was a Lusso, also a manual. Base price on my media-loaner is $27,495 and an optional $1,495 preferred package included two driver-assistance safety features, Blind-spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection, and a few convenience items. A ParkView rear backup camera is standard.

The bottom line came to $29,985 with the $995 destination charge.

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Seating is adequate for two not-to-large adults and the trunk has room for two carry-on suitcases. A sunny summer weekend road trip is what the 124 Spider is begging you to do.

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.

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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 top material is quite durable and soil resistant.

I’ve owned convertibles myself and always enjoyed pulling into the garage at the end of a day and just leaving it with the top down. I asked Haartz for their advice on leaving a soft-top down for extended periods. They responded that convertible tops may be left in the down position for a week or so under normal conditions. But it is always recommended to have the top up for long-term storage.

They suggested that a week in the down stack position given normal dry conditions is okay. Longer periods should have the top cycled to the up position for a 24-hour period. Never, ever put the top down and leave it down when wet. The top should be dry for any long-term storage in the down position.

Last summer I also drove the 124 Spider at a media preview event at the FCA Proving Grounds in Michigan. I took the Spider around a large highway-speed oval loop and also on a short handling course where I had a bit more freedom than on a public road. 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.

More info and detailed specs on the Fiat 124 Spider can be found at Check out other drop-tops right here at The Auto Channel.

Forecasts are that more convertibles are expected to come on the market from various car makers. I guess the large population of active-lifestyle empty nesters want to enjoy the outdoors and the open-air as much as possible.

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© 2017 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy