2017 Fiat 124 Spider review: The iconic Italian roadster returns after nearly 50 years

The first Fiat 124 Spider first bowed at the 1966 Turin Auto Show, with the first of its kind to be sold in the U.S. marketplace in 1968. It was produced exclusively for the U.S. market from 1975 and renamed the Spider 2000 in 1979.The entire production process was taken over by Pininfarina and European sales resumed in 1981. In 1982, production of Fiat and Pininfarina Spiders overlapped as Fiat produced the last Spider 2000 models and Pininfarina began building its own version, which sold in th3 U.S. as the Pininfarina Spider Azzurra and in Europe as the Pininfarina Spidereuropa.

In 1985, production of the model line ceased after almost 200,000 Spiders had been built, three quarters of which were for the U.S. market. Enter the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider, with its global debut taking place in November of 2015 at the Los Angeles Auto Show.

The revival of this legendary roadster continues the growth of the Fiat marque in North America. There will be three trim levels: Classica; Lusso; and Abarth, all of which derive their power from an Italian produced front, longitudinally mounted 1.4-liter, SOHC, 16-valve turbocharged, liquid-cooled, Multiair inline 4-cylinder engine with sequential, multiport, electronic returnless fuel injection that delivers 160 horsepower at 5,500 rpm along with 184 pound feet of torque at 2,500 rpm. The Abarth model ekes out an additional four horses (164). Motive force reaches the rear wheels (the first such application for this engine) via either a C635 6-speed manual gearbox, or a B400 Aisin six-speed automatic transmission.

The first 124 Spiders will be available as the limited-production Prima Edizione Lusso, priced at $35,000. and individually numbered with a commemorative badge, appearing exclusively with an Azzurro Italia (Blue) metallic exterior finish, and with premium leather Saddle-toned seats. Buyers of the Prima Edizione will also receive limited edition items, including wearables and a poster. Other model Fiat 124 Spiders will be offered in seven different colors.

Except for the engine, the 124 Spiders will be built in Hiroshima, Japan, and though there are some basic parts and technologies shared with Mazda’s MX-5, this is not a modified Miata, but rather its own Italian creation, designed at Centro Stile in Turin, Italy, borrowing styling cues from the original Spider –considered by many as one of Fiat’s most beautiful cars of all time – and reinterpreting them to suit modern standards.

Visually, this new iteration Fiat 124 Spider displays a timeless low-slung exterior persona, featuring a classically sculpted bodyside, well-balanced proportions and a sporty cabin-to-hood ratio. Features such as the hexagonal upper grille and grille pattern, the hood’s “power domes” and sharp horizontal rear lamps are reminiscent details of the historic Spider.

The centrally positioned cockpit has been designed and crafted to focus on the occupants, with premium soft-touch materials throughout. Ergonomics were thoughtfully applied to emphasize the driving experience and ensure easy operation of the steering wheel, pedals and shifter while driving. The passenger side is not as ergonomically pleasing, and is in fact, rather cramped for anyone who exceeds 6’2” with long legs. The driver’s side is considerably more spacious, as this is after all, intended to be a driver’s car.

The 124 Spider’s suspension setup utiizes a double-wishbone layout up front, with a multi-link arrangement out back, specifically tuned for greater stability while braking and turning. Steering is light and responsive using an electric dual pinion power assist system. The steering and suspension setup, lightweight frame, balanced weight distribution and turbocharged engine blend harmoniously for a pleasurable and dynamic driving experience. Noise vibration and harshness enhancements include an acoustic front windshield and insulation treatments that aid in providing a refined quiet ride.

The Fiat 124 Spider’s soft convertible top is easy to operate and requires minimal force, even when seated in the car, much like the original Spider’s top.

There is a wide array of safety, security and technology features including: adaptive front headlamps, Blind-spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Path detection and ParkView rear backup camera. The high-strength body structure is instrumental in dissipating energy while optimizing occupant protection.

The Fiat 124 Spider is also available with technological features for added comfort and convenience, including the FIAT Connect 7.0 system with 7-inch touchscreen display, multimedia control, Bluetooth connectivity, heated seats and Keyless Enter ‘n Go, AM/FM radio, HD Radio, MP3 player, two USB ports, auxiliary input, six speakers, multimedia control, Bluetooth connectivity and ParkView rear backup camera. A Bose premium sound system with nine speakers, including dual headrest speakers, is available for superior sound quality even with the top and windows down.

A voice recognition feature, standard on the FIAT Connect 7.0, allows drivers and passengers to operate their mobile phone, music and navigation system handsfree, to stay focused on driving. Voice-text reply also allows drivers
with a compatible mobile phone to reply to a text message using predefined responses. Added entertainment features provide drivers with access to Pandora, Aha and Stitcher Internet radio apps via Bluetooth connectivity.

During the national press introduction, I was able to experience wheel and seat time in both Classica and Lusso models in every day driving scenarios as well as in an Abarth version on a closed autocross course. My Classica tester came with manual gearbox and a base price of $24,995 and a final sticker of $27,285. It wore an exterior finish of Grigio Argento (Gray Metallic), with a Nero (Black) interior and a final price of $27,285. My test Lusso 124 Spider roadster was equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission with the same exterior and interior colors. It was base priced at $27,495 with a final total of $29,840.

SUMMARY: There will be those individuals who will want to characterize the reincarnation of the Fiat 124 Spider as an Italianized Miata. But it’s not a Miata, despite the basic overall form or shape is similar. Admittedly, there are some points or attributes that are very much like those of the Miata. The top structure and operation for instance, are essentially identical. The Fun-To –Drive aspects are also similar, along with the handling traits.

The Miata is not an FCA product. ‘Nuff said about that other Japanese roadster. The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a sexy, attractive, up to date recreation of the original Spider, with many cues lifted from it. The seats are quite comfortable in and of themselves, as well as being extremely supportive, except as already referenced, the right seat is positioned in tighter quarters. In fact the auxiliary outlet is also placed on the right side and is invisible when seated there. I found it necessary to crouch outside the car and lean in to be able to see it to plug in a radar detector.

On the other hand, the top may be both lowered and raised from the driver’s or passenger’s seat – no need exit. Buffeting is minimal with both the top and windows down. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a power retractable hardtop surface in the future though.

The 124 Spider is quick and agile, with good steering feel and instant response. Acceleration is impressive from the turbocharged four-banger and the ride quality is firm but not invasive or harsh, soaking up bumps and potholes without jarring the occupants. Both transmissions operate smoothly, and the manual gearbox serves up a pleasingly short throw from gear to gear.

The Abarth version is tweaked all around and performs beautifully on an autocross course, despite the fact that it puts out only four more horses than the other two trim levels, and the automatic equipped version comes with paddle shifters and other enhanced performance equipment and features.

If you’re in the market for a fun, good-looking and economical two-seat roadster, you owe it to yourself to check out the reincarnation of the Fiat 124 Spider.

SPECIFICATIONS: 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Roadster

Base Price: $24,995. to $29,545.
Price as Tested: $25,990. to $30,540.
Engine Type and Size: 1.4-liter, SOHC, 16-valve turbocharged, liquid-cooled Multiair inline 4-cylinder with sequential, multiport, electronic returnless fuel injection.

Horsepower (bhp): 160 @ 5,500 rpm
Torque (ft./ lbs.): 184 @ 2,500 rpm

Transmission: C635 6-speed manual or B400 Aisin six-speed
Drive Train: Longitudinally mounted front engine / Rear-wheel Drive. – 1st app for this engine.

Suspension: Front – Double-wishbone with stabilizer bars.
Rear – Multi-link with stabilizer bars.

Brakes: Power-assisted Vacuum boost four-wheel discs (ventilated front) with ABS and ESC.

Tires: Yokohama Advan Sport 195/50 R16 A/S – Classica / Bridgestone Potenza S001 – 205/45 R17 A/S – Lusso mounted on 7 “V”-spoke alloy wheels (Classico) / 12-spoke (6-long and 6 short) alloy wheels (Lusso).

Wheelbase: 90.9 inches
Length Overall: 159.6 inches
Width: 68.5 inches
Height: 48.5 inches
Curb Weight: 2,436 lbs. – M/T – 2,476 -auto
Turning Circle: 30.8 ft.
Fuel Capacity: 11.9 gallons
EPA Mileage Estimates: TBD mpg city / mpg highway
Drag Coefficient: 0.34 Top up
0 – 60 mph: Not tested.

Check out this TFLcar video review of the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and Abarth: