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2017 Fiat 124 Spider Review By Dan Poler - "Perfetto"

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By Dan Poler
Senior Editor And Bureau Chief
Rocky Mountain Bureau
The Auto Channel

How does one find perfection in the automotive world? Indeed, everyone has their own definition: Perhaps it’s the luxury pickup truck, capable of towing many thousands of pounds while keeping its occupants in luxury. Or the all-electric family car, never requiring a stop at the pump. Maybe it’s the car at home on the track as it is on the street, just begging to be pushed around corners.

For me, I think of something different. I think of the cars that bring forth a unique combination of value and sport. And although not without its faults, the Fiat 124 Spider is as close to perfection as I’ve driven in quite a long while.

The Fiat 124 Spider is born from a collaboration with Mazda. Rather than start from scratch to revive this legendary marque, Fiat uses as a base one of the best front-engined, rear-wheel drive convertibles on the market. Much of the interior is recognizably Mazda, as is the convertible top and the transmission, but the body is all boldly Italian, sharing not a single panel with its Japanese brother. Likewise the engine is of Italian descent: Want a turbocharged engine in a 2017 Miata? You won’t find it - but you will find it in the Fiat 124 Spider, with the small 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged engine.

That body work looks quintessentially Italian, taking the Miata and adding about five inches of length. The longer, clean lines serve a purpose as well - a few extra inches up front are needed to accomodate that engine, and a couple in the rear increase trunk space a tiny bit. The wheelbase is however unchanged so there is no increase in the space between: The passenger cabin.

Inside, this is still a two-seat roadster. It’s low, it’s cramped, and it’s difficult to get in and out. The controls and displays are very clearly Mazda, including the 7-inch infotainment display that sticks up oddly from the dash. There’s a little bit of storage space but it’s curiously placed, including a requirement that cup holders be empty to access. That said, there are some nice touches as well, such as speakers built in to the non-adjustable headrests.

So with all of these little nags, why is the Fiat 124 Spider perfection? That quintessential combination of a front turbocharged engine, rear drive, and manual transmission adds up to being a blast to drive. In particular, the Mazda-sourced transmission pairs perfectly to the 1.4 Liter turbocharged engine, with a short throw shifter and easy clutch, it’s a pleasure to drive whether going around mountain switchbacks or sitting in the Front Range’s stop-and-go traffic. The joy is in the simplicity of this cute little roadster: Even the manual top can be manipulated quite quickly, changing configuration in just a handful of seconds. Although 160 horsepower doesn’t sound like much, even with its elongated body the Fiat 124 Spider checks in just shy of 2,500 pounds curb weight, meaning a respectable 15.2 pounds per horsepower to be pushed around. With the wheel in one hand and the stick in the other, the Fiat 124 Spider feels balanced and nimble, threading comfortably and nimbly through traffic.

Although it’s easy to price a Fiat 124 Spider out north of $37,000, ours came very simply optioned: With only a 7-inch display for the radio, a back-up camera, and remote keyless entry and ignition, carrying a sticker price of just $27,285. If a roadster / convertible is on your shopping list, we highly recommend you check this one out - and keep it simple.

Specifications - 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

Engine: 1.4 Liter MultiAir Turbo

Transmission: 6-Speed Manual

Horsepower: 160 @ 5,500 RPM

Torque (ft-lbs): 184 @ 2,500 RPM

Wheelbase / Length (in): 90.9 / 159.6

Curb Weight (lbs): 2,436

Pounds per HP: 15.2

Fuel Capacity (gal): 11.9

Fuel Requirement: Premium unleaded

Tires: Yokohama Advan Sport V105; 195/50R16 84V

Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - city/highway/combined/observed: 26/35/30/33

Base Trim Price: $24,995

Price as Tested: $27,285 (includes nav capability, Pandora, Aha, and Stitcher apps,

Integrated voice command with Bluetooth, AM/FM radio with 7-inch display, ParkView

rear back-up camera, remote proximity keyless entry, and destination/delivery)

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