Fiat’s roadster aims to bring some Italian panache to the group that is known primarily for muscle cars (and trucks) here in North America.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso

Chelsea, Michigan—Every year Fiat Chrysler Automobiles feeds a smorgasbord to the automotive media at the company’s proving grounds.

The feast is a tasty selection of virtually everything the FCA cooks up and all are made available for test drives.

All halo brands are there of course, the Vipers and Hellcats and SRT lineup; along with all things off road from the Jeep and truck groups (which reminds me, keep your eyes on upcoming Driveway issues for a look at the 2017 RAM family), but I had my brain all set for Fiat’s latest issue the 124 Spider.

No doubt you’ve heard about the Spider by this time – Fiat’s roadster aims to bring some Italian panache to the group that is known primarily for muscle cars (and trucks) here in North America.

There’s a reason it looks so much like Mazda’s MX-5/Miata, the 124 Spider was developed in conjunction with the Japanese carmaker on its popular two-seater platform; but the Fiat version gets a lot of things right where Mazda… well, didn’t quite nail it.

Front-end styling, for one thing – I like the nose of the 124 a great deal more that its Mazda counterpart – and a slight increase in overall size and dimensions. Bigger trunk, too.

I got to drive a few iterations of the Spider in its various trim levels (which are Classica, Lusso and Abarth, in ascending order) on the various closed tracks available at the event, and quickly found it to be my favorite ride at Chelsea.

While certainly not the fastest thing on hand, the Spider is an agile handler in any of its trims on an autocross course; and brings enough horses and torque to make the nimble little convertible the most fun to drive.

Certainly more so than the Viper – which is into its final year of production, incidentally – as that thing scares me. I freely admit, it is way more car than I can handle, and the Big Snake has kicked more than a couple of drivers through the pearly gates in its history when they got overconfident and pulled a ‘hold-my-Red Bull-and watch this” moment.

Indeed, the 124 is my favorite Fiat, with either of its available transmissions. Whether driving the Mazda-sourced six-speed manual or automatic, the car performs admirably and delivers the fun factor.

As an auto-writer, I am bound by our secret code to pretend I like the manual transmission better (we do this so we can act as if we’re better than everybody else, and ‘look at me I can drive a stick’, that sort of thing). The autobox in the Spider is just fine – and with the upper echelon Abarth trim, it comes with wheel-mounted paddle shifters.

Boasting a stiffer suspension than its MX-5 platform donor, and powered by Fiat’s 1.4 litre turbocharged four-cylinder (which puts out up to 160 hp and 124 lb.-ft. of torque in the lower trims, and 165 horses in Abarth models) I’d take any version of the 2017 Spider.

Any criticisms I have of the car are, as with the Mazda MX-5, size-related. While the Fiat Spider is slightly larger, this is still a car that is a tad too small for me (and you too, my gentle friends, if you are more than six feet tall). The top of the windshield sits right about bridge-of-my nose level, and the rear view mirror impedes visibility. It is a tight and low car to enter and exit, and with the top up feels claustrophobic.

Don’t take my word for it, though; take one out for a test drive and judge for yourself, as the 124 Spider is arriving at dealers as we speak. Pricing will run between $33,495 and $37,995 depending on trim.

I predict the likeable little roadster will cleave off a share of the market for itself.

wade [at] wozeroff [dot] com

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