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2017 Car Review - 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth Review By John Heilig

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By John Heilig
Bureau Chief and Senior Editor
Mid-Atlantic Bureu
The Auto Channel

REVIEWED VEHICLE: 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

ENGINE: 1.4-liter I-4

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual 

HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 164 hp @ 5,500 rpm/184 lb.-ft. @ 3,200 rpm

WHEELBASE: 90.9 in

LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT: 159.6 x 68.5 x 48.5 in.

TIRES: P205/45VR17

CARGO CAPACITY: 4.9 cu. ft.

ECONOMY: 26 mpg city/35 mpg highway/23.9 mpg test

FUEL TANK: 11.9 gal.

CURB WEIGHT: 2,477 lbs.     LBS/HP: 15.1

TOWING CAPACITY: Not recommended


STICKER: $33,184 (includes $995 delivery, $3,995 options)

BOTTOM LINE: The Fiat 124 Spider is true to the definition of a sports car; fun for two people with exhilarating performance. It is hampered by too much ambient noise with the top down, but why have a Spider if you don’t drive it with the top down?

The first sports car I ever drove was a Fiat Abarth 500 with a Zagato double bubble top. It was during a car show at the old Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island and I was smitten that a car of that size could produce so much fun without going ridiculously fast. Constant readers will note that the first sports car I owned was an MGA roadster that engendered much of the same response as the Fiat, even though its was bigger and had a bigger engine. 

Well, Fiat stopped selling cars in the US for a while, and MG is now longer a viable marque.  But Fiat is back, and their latest venture into sports cars is the 124 Spider. Now, I remember a Fiat 124 from “back in the day.” It was a 2+2 open-top sporty car and it was the first car I ever earned a perfect score in during a rally. Sadly, my navigator never actually registered us, so we missed out on a great prize, as I remember.

This latest version of the 124 harks back to the old days of sports cars. It is a two-seater, slightly cramped, fun to drive and noisy. The Abarth exhaust system definitely has some influence on the exhaust note, which isn’t bad. 

When I first saw the 124, I was reminded of the BMW X4. There’s also a strong hint of Mazda Miata in it, and there should be. The 124 is built by Mazda in Japan, with an Italian engine and just about everything else from Japan. I found the styling of the 124 more dramatic than the Miata, but Miata styling has become almost old hat by now. There are some significant differences between the two cars that gives the 124 its own character.

The 124 uses a double wishbone front suspension and a multi-link rear. Handling is very good, and I enjoyed testing my nerve seeing how quickly I could go around corners without hitting the brakes. 

Like true sports cars, it isn’t the power - 164 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque - but how you use it. The fun is in the handling. The suspension is firm, but the memories of sports cars past made it seem normal. The engine does get up to 6,000 rpm quickly. With the large center-mounted tachometer it is easy to see what you’re doing. The analog speedometer is a smaller dial off to the right. With its size and with the top down, it’s hard to read the speedo in sunlight, so behave. The transmission offers crisp shifts among well-chosen gears. The 124 can be driven “normally,” or as a true sports car with brisk acceleration.  

As a Spider (or convertible), it’s critical that the top lower and raise easily. It can be accomplished with one hand and even from outside the car. With the top up, there is minimal wind noise. With it down, however, it is difficult to hold a normal conversation thanks to the combination of wind and exhaust noise. Consequently, we usually drove without talking or listening to the radio.

The audio system is good and with a clear infotainment screen. However, in audio it’s easy to push the central controller and/or the volume with your arm if you’re holding on to the gear lever.

Front seats are comfortable deep buckets that could be a challenge to a larger person. They are heated and in our tester had red inserts. There’s no glove box, but there is a small center console/arm rest between the seats. In the rear, again between the seats, is the “glove box.” This compartment holds the owners manual and an ersatz cupholder that fits in a slot on the transmission hump. The transmission hump has an extension of sorts on the right side that compromises passenger foot room somewhat. 

Based on our sports car experiences of the past, my wife was happy to note that there was no hair messing during top-down drives. The seat backs are taller than we remembered and that provided a buffer. In addition, there is a wind diffuser panel between the seats.

I welcome the Fiat 124 Spider back to America. True, it isn’t a true Italian sports car any more, but this Japanese-Italian hybrid still does the job well.

(c) 2017 The Auto Page Syndicate

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