Review: Iconic Fiat 124 Spider returns to production in 2017

EUROPEAN FLAIR IN A CLASSIC ROADSTER: The Fiat 124 Spider stays true to its roots with a striking interpretation of classic style.
EUROPEAN FLAIR IN A CLASSIC ROADSTER: The Fiat 124 Spider stays true to its roots with a striking interpretation of classic style. –FCA

The original Fiat 124 Spider debuted in November 1966 at the Turin Auto Show. It made its way to the US in 1968 and was a huge hit as an affordable and stylish sports car. Production ceased in 1985 after 19 years, but now this iconic roadster is back.

The challenge in bringing back a car like the 124 Spider is keeping true to its roots and rich heritage while moving it into the 21st century. Look carefully and you’ll see the old curves hiding beneath the new, modern version of the 124 Spider’s body.

The grille is modeled after the original honeycomb mesh with a hexagonal shape and pattern. The rear has the same horizontal tail lamps, and even the license plate positioning between the rear lamps is a nod to the original.

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The interior was designed to focus on its occupants with an ergonomically placed steering wheel, pedals, and shifter. Seating, too, was specially developed to make the ride more enjoyable. During a day spent driving through southern California, seating was comfortable and supportive but never stiff despite ample bolstering to hold you in on the corners.

RICH INTERIOR: The focus is on the driver with upscale materials and beautiful trims. —FCA

Power comes from a 1.4-liter MultiAir Turbo four-cylinder engine that delivers up to 164 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. This is paired to your choice of a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic with either available on every trim level. The automatic is well-timed and delivers plenty of power right when you need it, but the best experience is found with the manual.

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It turns the 124 Spider into a driver’s car with short throws that make shifting quick and easy. The clutch is likewise smooth and effortless providing a seamless driving experience. Combine this with responsive steering and nimble handling and you have a car that begs you to find a twisting side road so you can take the long way home and have some fun.

The suspension smooths out even rough roads, something that can’t be said of every car in this class, making it a more relaxing ride for everyone. The 124 Spider balances providing the right amount of road feedback without becoming harsh and tiresome on longer drives.

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Part of the joy of owning a roadster is putting the top down and letting the sunshine in, but not every convertible top is easy to operate. Some require the skills of a contortionist to manage it without help or without getting out of the car. The 124 Spider overcomes some of the problem with a manual soft-top that opens with a single, center latch.

Opening the top and pushing it back is easy to manage with just one hand, but pushing it all the way down for that final click, to get it firmly stowed, is tough. Shorter drivers with a shorter reach will find it particularly challenging. Bringing the roof back up, however, is easy from start to finish no matter your stature.

Soft-top convertibles have a tendency to be overly noisy when the roof is closed. There’s no escaping the fact that you have a fabric roof instead of a metal one over your head, but Fiat worked hard to make this car as quiet as possible. Yes, you’ll know you’re in a convertible even with the roof up, but outside sounds like honking horns and passing vehicles are less intrusive than in other soft-tops.

[You can find local deals on Fiats here].

There are three different trim levels to choose from starting with the base Classica at $24,995, which is the most affordable turbo-powered convertible in the country. Affordable doesn’t mean economy, however, as the Classica still comes very well equipped.

It includes details like a dual-tip exhaust, standard 16-inch alloy wheels, and a silver-accented instrument panel. The Classica also features a 160-horsepower version of the 1.4-liter 4-cylinder engine found across the model range.

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One step up takes you to the Lusso at a starting price of $27,495. This model was designed with an eye toward luxury with 17-inch alloy wheels, silver exterior trim accents, and heated premium leather seats. Additional leather finds its way to the lower instrument panel along with Piano Black accents throughout the car.

Finally, there’s the Abarth at $28,195. It combines the improved interior of the Lusso with performance enhancements for the true driving enthusiast. It starts with a boost to 164 horsepower. Next, add front and rear Bilstein sport suspension, mechanical limited-slip differential, and front strut tower bar. There’s even a Sport Mode and a quad exhaust with that fantastic Abarth sound.

If you want something that will make you stand out even more in the 124 Spider’s already eye-catching design, then there’s the limited edition Prima Edizione Lusso at a price of $35,000. This will include only the first 124 vehicles produced. Each will be individually numbered and include a commemorative badge. It will be available only in a Azzurro Italia blue with Saddle leather seats.

The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a small car with very big shoes to fill. Fiat filled those shoes nicely by modernizing the design while staying true to the original. This new version of the iconic Italian roadster is sure to appeal to today’s modern drivers.

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