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2017 FIAT 124 Spider: First Drive Review


If you’re looking for information on a newer FIAT 124 Spider, we’ve published an updated review: 2019 FIAT 124 Spider Review

Would you like your Italian food prepared with a touch of wasabi? Fiat Chrysler is hoping the answer is yes: It’s a pretty good corollary for what they’ve done with the 2017 FIAT 124 Spider and 124 Spider Abarth. The best part? Chopsticks aren’t required.

Without having to reinvent the wheel, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles leveraged their relationship with Japanese partner Mazda to reimagine the beloved (and sometimes despised) FIAT 124, which was introduced to the world at the 1967 Turin Motor Show. Love it or hate it, the 124 sold 170,000 copies, making it the top-selling FIAT of all time. The brand claims there are still 8,000 registered models on today’s highways. Now, on the eve of its second coming, Autotrader samples this fusion of flavors.

A FIATa?

The 2017 FIAT Spider is based on the good bones of Mazda’s MX-5 Miata roadster. It features all-new bodywork covering its 2-seat monocoque unibody. The 124 Spider features a front/midengine design with rear-wheel drive, powered by the same 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged engine found in the FIAT 500 Abarth.

Unlike the 500 Abarth, this Spider finds the engine supplying 160 horsepower in the Classica and Lusso trims, while the Abarth manages 164 hp. All three versions send 184 lb-ft of torque in a longitudinally mounted arrangement to an Aisin 6-speed automatic or C635 6-speed manual gearbox. A front-mounted intercooler gets first dibs at cold air for an added power boost from the inline 4-cylinder engine. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that this 2,500-pounder should see 26 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg on the highway from the manual gearbox; the automatic should net 25 mpg city/36 mpg hwy.

The FIAT Spider rides on a double-wishbone front suspension and a multilink rear kit with stabilizer bars at both ends for flat, competent handling in almost every situation. Steering is from an electrically assisted power rack-and-pinion system and a nicely sized sport steering wheel. The higher-performance Abarth includes a Bilstein sport suspension with a mechanical limited-slip differential, a shock tower strut brace, a sport-mode selector and a tuned Abarth exhaust system.

The 124 is available with an array of safety equipment, including a blind spot monitoring system, rear cross-path detection and a ParkView rear backup camera.

This topless Spider is available in three trim levels: the basic Classica, the luxed-out Lusso and the aggressive Abarth sport trim. The base Classica with fabric seats, 16-inch wheels and a manual transmission starts at $24,995, while the more upscale Lusso with its leather seats and 17-in wheels checks in at $27,495 and the sporty Abarth prices out at $28,195.

The first 124 roadster units will be available in a Prima Edizione Lusso trim level complete with special paint, a commemorative badge and blue leather bags. The special-edition price starts at $35,000. Automatic transmissions carry a $1,350 upcharge on all trim levels. Pricing for each trim does not include a $995 destination fee. See the 2017 FIAT 124 Spider models for sale near you

Outside In

The FIAT identity is both expressive and imposing at the same time, but even more so with the blacked-out hood and trunk pieces that are part of the Abarth package. Along the way, it also winds up being 5 inches longer than its Miata relative. With a sharklike nose at the leading edge, it retains some of the aggression of the earlier FIAT model. At the rear is a swallow’s-tail design with horizontal taillights helping to give it a wider appearance while still resembling its progenitor. The entire body is tied together by an Italian character line that runs front to rear.

The Spider’s interior is vaguely familiar if you’ve ever spent time in a Mazda Miata. In other words, the interior works. The gauge binnacle is dominated by the central tachometer, itself flanked by a 150 mile-per-hour speedometer on the right and a multifunction gauge on the left showing a trip odometer, fuel, temperature and charge functions.

FIAT designed the 124 with the driver as the center of its universe. The automaker chose to highlight fine craftsmanship, leather design and technologies in the cockpit, with changes in comfort and convenience that separate it further from its Mazda roots. Seating has been modified for a different level of comfort and breadth across the driver’s back. The result is a car that isn’t as claustrophobic as the Miata. We think fit and finish have been improved, as have the noise, vibration and harshness levels thanks to the use of acoustically tuned windshield glass and other insulation material around the cabin. The FIAT Uconnect infotainment system and console-mounted controllers were donated directly from the Mazda parts bin.

Behind the easy single-handed 1-latch convertible roof operation is a trunk that holds about 5 cu ft. of cargo space. Pack lightly.

Driving Impressions

The FIAT 124 Spider took the best of the Mazda MX-5 Miata and enhanced it with a touch of Italian zest that had us grinning from ear to ear. Like the Miata, the 124 Spider fits like a glove, with a seat seemingly designed to accommodate western body types. One of Fiat Chrysler’s engineers claimed her husband, who’s 6 feet 4 inches tall, fits inside with room to spare, but we’ll believe it when we see it.

Once nestled inside and buckled in, we were very familiar with the cockpit, having seen it during a recent MX-5 road test. Still, this one displayed a bit more Italian flair, whether from high-quality interior pieces or the growl of the MultiAir turbocharged 4-cylinder under the hood. There’s even more growl if you order the Mopar parts catalog’s Record Monza baffled exhaust system.

Power from the 1.4-liter engine was plentiful for such a small 4-cylinder, but its Aisin 6-speed automatic transmission with sport-shift functionality tended to bog down while in normal automatic mode. Flick it over into sport-shift mode, however, and the 124 transforms into an aggressive cruiser. Perhaps a recalibration of the gearbox is in order?

The real fun occurred when we hopped into the 6-speed manual-equipped Spider, which offered quick throws with definitive shifts that made us feel like we were one with the vehicle. Steering was relatively direct in an electric power-assisted sort of way. We aren’t saying it was overly boosted; it just offered a touch less road feel than the rawer Miata.

Accelerating onto an interstate highway in Southern California had us cruising in the open air in no time. But the real thrill occurred every time we squeezed the accelerator and heard that distinct Italian whine come from the dual exhausts behind us. It was like hearing music from long ago. La dolce vita, indeed. Find a Fiat 124 Spider for sale

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

 

Mark Elias
Mark Elias is a writer and photographer specializing in automotive topics ranging from new and used cars to classics and motorsports. His first car was a Matchbox Jaguar D-Type. From there, things have only become larger. During his professional career, he has been a staff photographer for the Associated Press, a contract photographer for Bloomberg News, and a contributor to automotive outlets... Read More about Mark Elias

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