When the top goes down pulses go up. That’s the quintessential emotion experienced behind the wheel of an Italian designed sports car with the ability to expose you to the outer world while pressing through cascading roads and striking panoramas. This was just one of a cadre of fond memories while Cali cruising a few weeks ago in the all-new 2017 Fiat 124 Spider which returns to grace after its initial introduction 50 years ago.
Originally launched in 1966, the 124 Spider nameplate now offers the automotive consumer market another value convertible with style and grace while reinvigorating a brand that set trends in its heyday. Showcased in Southern California for Automotive Rhythms and other media to test drive, the smaller drop-top expands Fiat’s growing fleet of niche vehicles and simultaneously will drive incremental sales to the automaker. With that level of heritage and history it was a no-brainer for Fiat to restore the automotive luminary back to greatness.
“There’s no better way to celebrate 50 years of the Fiat 124 Spider than to bring back this iconic roadster, pairing its Italian styling of the past with all of the modern performance and technology of today,” said Olivier François, Head of FIAT Brand, FCA – Global. “The 124 Spider expands the FIAT family, bringing to market yet another head-turning, fun-to-drive vehicle for our customers.”
For familiarization Fiat welcomed us to Carlsbad, CA for initial testing of the roadster. The weather was superb the day of the drive as we left for our route from the Park Hyatt Aviara. I kept the soft top up for the first leg to make certain weather and sound elements stayed outside. They did! The vehicle features a simple, one-handed closing and opening mechanism which transforms it in seconds. Fiat engineered the 124 Spider with an aluminum panel and thick roof layers to ascertain the cabin is quiet when the top is up.
In terms of size, think of the Mazda Miata for comparison. The vehicle’s cabin is compact and not ideally practical for taller or wider individuals like myself, so customer preference will vary. Emphasizing a rear-wheel-drive platform, its styling (designed in Italy) is characterized by a thick A-pillars, a low and elongated hood, short deck similar to the original, sharp fascia and dual, split honeycomb grilles. In addition, the 124 Spider’s LED lights are broken into three sections to replicate the human eyelid. Clever. My black interior featured heated seats, dual USB ports and a leather wrapped steering wheel. On most models I love how the silver A-pillars, rims, dual exhausts and seatback rollover bars synchronize in color scheme. But more importantly Fiat made sure air flow goes over the cabin instead of in it. I did find trouble with adjusting the side view mirrors since the door handle impedes the reach angle.
The 124 Spider is powered by Chrysler’s 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged engine with 164-horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. Either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic is paired with the engine. It is smooth with reasonable acceleration but swings through sharp turns with aplomb. Though, uphill acceleration was a bit sluggish in the automatic model I spent time in. Use the Sport mode selector to enhance the Spider’s phenomenal, fun factors.
Technology is omnipresent from entertainment to safety spectrums in the 124 Spider. The rotary central controller was simple to use for operating functions such as the 7” Fiat Connect system. Opt for the Bose sound system with headrest speakers for the most ideal top-down driving scenarios. Music can be played from SiriusXM, Pandora, Aha or Stitcher by way of Bluetooth connectivity. A ParkView rear camera is even at your disposal. Other safety tech includes Blind-spot monitoring and rear Cross Path detection.
Available in three distinctive models, each is representative of the lifestyle of the potential owner or enthusiast. The Classica kicks off at $24,995 with the manual for those looking for performance traits in their ride. The Lusso manual begins at $27,495 and is geared more towards luxury focused consumers. The Abarth, starting at $28,195, will show you what it means to be Italian. Its rowdy exhaust notes, sports wrapped seats with unique seat foam to keep passengers positioned on aggressive maneuvering, quad pipes, 17” Gun Metal aluminum spins, and the possibility of a hood racing stripe sets the tone for extreme driving experiences. The automatic transmission includes paddle shifters on this model.
Lastly, a special edition model entrusted to the first 124 vehicles will be unique with an Azzurro Italia Blue hue and special Saddle leather interior starting at $35,000. It will be dubbed the Prima Edizione Lusso.