Road Tested: 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

Fiats 2017 124 Spider delivers some of the lowest-cost thrills you can have in driving today.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Classica

SAN FRANCISCO, March 15, 2017 — For driving enthusiasts, there are fewer things more rewarding than driving a car that achieves near perfect balance. Balance of weight from front to rear, balance of handling and balance of power. This Mazda MX-5 Miata based Spider from Fiat achieves a certain nirvana that these kinds of enthusiasts will absolutely love.

As a child, I remember the first time I saw a Fiat Spider back around 1981, at a Seattle area dealership and even then thought the car looked exciting. “A small, sports coupe with a convertible top – how great is that?” – was my thought, even back then. Fast forward today and Fiat has again recaptured that memory for myself and many other fans of the 124 Spider and thanks to Mazda, that reality is better than ever.

OI course, there are those who say this car is really just an MX-5 Miata “knock-off” and to a certain degree this 124 Spider and the Miata do share quite a bit. For example, the interior between the two are nearly identical – however, the Spider does sport some rocking Italian-looking seats that are sharp – they both have the same infotainment system, chassis, and transmission. However, the body is all Italian. Just look at that front fascia. The oval headlights, the aggressively-styled grill and roundness of the fenders are a definite nod to this car’s heritage and pedigree.

Fiat has also tweaks the turbocharged, 1.4 liter 4 cylinder to put out 160 horsepower with 184 lb-ft of torque. While that hardly seems “sports car spec worthy”, consider that this car only weighs 2,436 pounds and has nearly even front-to-rear weight distribution. The power is good enough to get the car from zero to 60 6.3 seconds so while it’s zippy, it’s also not going to shatter any land speed records any time soon. Have you ever  heard, “it’s more fun to drive a slower car, fast than it is to drive a fast car, slow”? The 124 Spider is the living embodiment of this expression.

There are two transmissions available, either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual. Why anyone who has two functioning legs would opt for the automatic in a car like this is beyond me – trust me, the manual transmission is the way to go.

Inside, there is decent leg-room for adults up to around 6ft 2inches – much beyond that, even with the seats slid all the way back, one may feel a bit cramped. Having said that, the space inside doesn’t feel overly cramped for this auto reviewer – open the top and you’ll instantly feel any sort of crampedness go away.

The infotainment system uses in our test vehicle delivered okay sound quality – our test model didn’t have the optional 9-speaker Bose system in it but we’ve got to think it sounds much better. Its navigation map offers both the traditional, top-down, 2D view and an optional angled view dubbed 3D – it’s primarily controlled via a dial placed on the center console which also has a few function buttons near the dial. It doesn’t take long at all to get the hang of using this methodology to get your “navigation on” as it’s a quite common one now, found in many cars.

The most important issue for this car, however, is the way it drives and let’s just sum it up by saying: sublime. Once you drop the top, hit a windy road, you’ll never notice the cars extra length over the MX-5 Miata – and frankly, you’ll be rewarded to one of the most fun driving experiences you can have in any car. There are few cars on the road today, regardless of price, that come close to the evenness this car exhibits. It’s dampening is nearly spot-on and the way it powers through hard corners to the point of making any passengers hold-on for dear life. The lateral moves of this car really need to be experienced to be appreciated.

Thanks to Fiat, the MX-5 Miata’s life cycle has been extended. Mazda has said, before, that this deal with Fiat helped finance things for them. And also thanks to Fiat, one can now experience a sports car built with Japanese precision with the looks and heart of Italy. For starting at just under $25,000, this car really does a stellar job of providing some of the best “thrills-per-dollar” you can find, anywhere.

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