The Fiat 124 Spider is a bilingual strategy piece designed to please the senses, the company says.
The strategy for this two-seater is to add a love interest to the existing lineup of Fiat 500 models (four- and five-seaters) and bring in some new customers through a new relationship with Japanese carmaker Mazda. The 2017 124 Spider shares the basic architecture with the MX-5 Miata, but Fiat goes where Mazda did not by offering a higher-performance Abarth model.
There is some sexy Italian heritage brought forward with the nameplate, known as the One-Two-Four Spider by enthusiasts. And as odd as this Mazda hookup may seem, the Spider has a Fiat engine, some Italian craftsmanship and a bite of the shark-nose styling of the 1968 model.
Sold in Classica, Lusso and Abarth trim levels, starting prices range from $25,990 to $29,190, including the $995 freight charge. However, for a time there is a price incentive of $500 off the purchase price (not available for leasing). Basic warranty coverage with roadside assistance (including powertrain) is four years or 50,000 miles. That compares to Miata’s 3 years/36,000 miles for basic coverage and 5 years/60,000 miles for powertrain.
Today’s Lusso tester was $32,880 with white pearl paint and the Premium collection, $3,795, which includes a Bose nine-speaker audio system with subwoofer, adaptive front headlights (that turn a few degrees with the steering wheel), auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlamp leveling system, and blind-spot and cross-path detection safety features.
The Classica and Lusso get Fiat’s 160-horsepower, turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which has 184 foot-pounds of torque at 3,200 rpm. The engine force feels comparable to the 155 horsepower in the 2.0-liter four-cylinder Miata. But a little more forza would be welcome (in either car).
The Classica has 16-inch, three-season tires and alloy wheels. The Lusso and Abarth get 17-inchers, including Bridgestone Potenza RE-050A on the Abarth. Four-wheel disc brakes on all models have 11-inch vented front rotors and 11-inch solid rear rotors. That’s plenty to securely stop the 2,436-pound Lusso, with manual transmission.
The Abarth gets a bit more horsepower from a free-flow exhaust (164 horsepower) with the same torque rating as the standard engine, but in Sport mode it has a lower peak rpm of 2,500 rpm.
The best parts of the Abarth are its bawdy exhaust tone, which just calls out, its Brembo brakes and its Bilstein shock absorbers. There are also some fun Mopar accessories, such as a dual-mode performance exhaust, turbo blow-off valve (to vent excess spooled pressure and sound like a drifter), a strut-tower brace and a few others. In either engine there’s revvy fun in second gear, where the torque kicks in. (Mopar parts are warranteed when installed by the dealer, and those parts can be rolled into the financing plan.)
All models are available with a standard six-speed manual (from Mazda) or six-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy ratings are 26 mpg city, 35 highway and 30 mpg combined for the manual and 25/36/29 mpg for the automatic on the recommended premium fuel.
The 11.9-gallon tank allows a decent cruising range, but buyers of the Classica, with its springy seats, will appreciate the fuel stop for a break to stretch the posterior. I felt slumped and restricted after a short while in these seats. The lovely leather seats in the Lusso (the luxury model) are much more comfortable with a more supportive cushion and lower back.
Built in Hiroshima, Japan, Fiat says it paid a lot of attention to the quality of materials used for the interior. Besides the engine and some front and rear sheet metal, Fiat says it changed only the parts involved with driving: the steering wheel (with grained leather), gauges (graphics and colors) and seats (The Lusso has rich leather.). There is also more soundproofing, including an acoustic windshield, thicker back glass and insulator pads throughout the cabin.
The soft-top design is Mazda’s. It has a manual, one-handed drop and raise procedure. A nifty built-in tonneau snaps neatly into place.
While the Fiat gets the advantage of the Miata’s assets, it also gets some of its drawbacks, such as awkward cup holders, no door pockets and no glove box. The trunk is also minimalist at almost 5 cubic feet, so pack lightly.
The playing field between the Miata and the 124 Spider appears to have been well-leveled by Mazda, considering the comparable power ratings, transmissions, seven color choices, three trim levels and pricing. I suppose it is a beneficial business strategy for both manufacturers, but I expected more uniqueness from an Italian icon.
Mark Maynard is online at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find photo galleries and more news at Facebook.com/MaynardsGarage