Review: Fiat 124 Spider has Italian style, Japanese quality – USA TODAY
As a kid, one of the nicest bonding experiences I had with my father was going car shopping. I’ll never forget the time we visited a Fiat dealership and saw a gleaming Fiat 124 Spider in the showroom. Between the British racing green paint job and wood-accented dashboard, it was the most breathtaking car I had ever seen.
“My son is silently screaming for me to buy it,” my father told the salesman. He didn’t — and it’s probably for the best, because beyond the car’s flawless appearance, Fiat’s were known for less-than-stellar reliability.
Now comes a new Fiat 124 Spider, a two-seat sports car that is not only sexy in appearance and breathtaking when it comes to performance, but holds out the hope of the kind of reliability that usually comes with Japanese-built cars. It is built at Mazda’s Hiroshima plant on the chassis that underpins the highly-regarded Mazda’s MX-5 Miata.
The model’s reintroduction comes just ahead of the last Fiat 124’s 50th anniversary. There are still 8,000 of the little buggers registered in the U.S., Fiat says. Some 170,000 were built between 1968 and 1983.
The 124 Spider is as appealing as they come, with its long hood and short rear deck that emphasize its zippy performance. The Fiat 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged engine puts out a smooth 160 horsepower, teamed with a standard 6-speed manual transmission. Because it’s a sports car with heritage, it basically screams for a manual. Just like the Miata, the shifting is a little stiffer than we’d prefer, both the moving the stick and pressing the clutch. Brushing aside the extra effort, the shifting is just part of the fun.
Of course, there’s also the option for an automatic transmission, if you must (and most will even as a $950 option). The number of models offering manuals continues to dwindle.
Fiat says the brand went to lengths to try to keep touches from the original Fiat 124 Spider in the new one, which comes to showrooms this summer. We noticed the similarities more than differences with the Miata when it came to the dashboard layout. And that’s not a bad thing, given how wonderful the most recent Miata turned out.
The Spider’s most appealing feature isn’t inside the car, but outside — that big blue sky that most drivers would never notice. Unlike the complicated electrically operated mechanisms that usually crank tops up and down, the 124 has one of the most simple, easy-opened tops we’ve ever seen. It’s a 5-second operation, and the latching and unlatching is easy. It encourages drivers to open the roof at even a hint of sunshine.
The biggest drawback to the car is the tight quarters. Though Fiat boasts the car’s trunk is more capacious than other roadsters, we couldn’t fit a lot more in it than a single roller bag. The driver’s seatback seemed unusually narrow. The cupholders are attached next to the passenger’s shoulders, between the seatbacks, requiring a clumsy move to grab that commuter mug that risks a spill. And our 6-2 frame poked up against the canvas roof, which became another reason to find an excuse to drive top-down.
Annoyances aside, the Fiat 124 Spider is a blast. And at $25,990, including shipping, it’s coming billed as cheapest new turbocharged-convertible on the market.
The bigger decision for many will be whether to buy the roadster as a Mazda or a Fiat. The Mazda version comes with the 2-liter SkyActiv engine that has 5 less horsepower and about the same starting price. One thing is clear: Either might be the perfect choice for new car buyers looking to escape their sedan-encased existences.
What Stands Out
Fun: You’ll love driving again.
Power: That Fiat engine really pops.
Size: Tight squeeze.
2017 Fiat 124 Spider
What? A two-seat sports car that revives a nameplate from the 1960s.
When? Comes to showrooms this summer.
How much? Starts at $24,995 plus $995 shipping, for the base version. The fanciest 124 Abarth goes for $28,195.
Where? Assembled in Hiroshima, Japan.
How big? 13.3 feet.
What makes it go? A Fiat 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo engine producing 160 horsepower, with a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission.
How thirsty? 26 miles per gallon in the city, 35 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg combined with the manual. About the same with the automatic.
Overall: Italian flair with Japanese reliability.