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2017 Fiat 124 Spider First Look Review

A Miata with Pininfarina (inspired) styling.

Nov 18, 2015
Writer: Frank Markus

Future Monday morning quarterbacks will no doubt continue debating whether Fiat-Chrysler should have conceived the spider co-developed with Mazda on the fourth-gen Miata platform as a Fiat or an Alfa Romeo. There was certainly ample precedent to head in either direction. The car's proportions would have supported either; they'd have mostly wound up in the same dealerships anyway; and now that we've seen the 124 Spider, we're through wondering what a "graduate" Miata would've looked like. This car is gorgeous in the flesh, and its design is remarkably faithful to Tom Tjaarda's Pininfarina original, which stands to this day as the best-selling Fiat in the U.S. (more than 175,000 sold between 1967 and 1985).

2017 Fiat 124 Spider side profile Photo 2/57   |   2017 Fiat 124 Spider First Look Review

Originally billed as "the poor man's Ferrari," the 1967 124 Spider borrowed heavily from Ferrari design up front with round headlamps set back in nacelles, and the new car echoes this look with oval daytime running lamps (surrounding LED main and high-beams) similarly inset. The vaguely smiling trapezoidal grille takes shape as a two-piece grille on the new car, borrowing a wider honeycomb/egg-crate grille design from later cars. The hood also shares the twin power domes like those that signaled the optional upgrade from 1,438 to 1,608cc starting in 1970. In profile, the iconic bone line that starts on the front fender and kicks up over the door handle to define the top corner of the rear quarters is prominently replicated, as are the gentle downward slopes of the long hood and short deck—no wedge look here. The lower body sides, with various lines intended to slim the car's vertical mass, are considerably busier than the original. In back, Tjaarda's original Corvette Rondine ("swallow" in Italian) concept is almost as faithfully aped here as it was in the 1967 Spider, the horizontal surfaces of the rear quarters rising like bird wings from the decklid. The taillamps feature three-sided LED surrounds with a body-color island inset into the turn signal.

If the proportions look just a bit more pleasing than its Miata kissing cousin, it could be because the rear overhang is extended by most of the 5.5-inch difference in overall length between the roadsters. (The wheelbase is identical at 90.9 inches.) This along with a slightly higher deck and wider trunk interior give the 124 a 4.94-cubic-foot trunk; that's up 0.35 cubes on the Miata's. Overall height and width wiggle just a tenth or two (down and up respectively). The interior gets a unique steering wheel, seats, door panels, instrument panel upholstery, and gauge graphics, but it will otherwise look pretty familiar to Miata enthusiasts, and it's virtually identical dimensionally.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider front three quarter 021 Photo 6/57   |   2017 Fiat 124 Spider front three quarter 021

Motivation comes from an Italian-designed and assembled SOHC 1.4-liter MultiAir engine that's 80cc smaller than the original Spider's DOHC 1.4, but with a turbo it produces 160 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque—well up from the 90 hp/80 lb-ft (SAE gross) of the original. It relies on absolutely no tubes, trumpets, resonators, sound symposers, or other auditory trompe l'oreille—its exhaust is tuned to sing Italian arias through its standard dual exhaust pipes, we're assured. That thrust is routed aft via a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. The Aisin automatic remains unchanged from the ones motivating Miatas except for shift-strategy reprogramming, though the axle ratio is unique to the Fiat. The manual gets different internal gearing better suited to the turbo engine's torque characteristics and is modified to fit the engine. The turbo engine weighs more than Mazda's Skyactiv mill. The added rear overhang partially offsets that, but we're told the front/rear weight balance is 54/46 percent. (Our last Miata Club measured 52/48.)

2017 Fiat 124 Spider steering wheel badge Photo 7/57   |   2017 Fiat 124 Spider First Look Review

The new Spider's suspension is via control arms up front (just like the original) and multilink in the rear. Hard parts and geometry are shared with the Miata, but bushings, damping and spring rates, and anti-roll bar tuning are all unique to Fiat (fearless prediction: There will be less body roll). We are assured that "fun to drive" was the chassis engineers' prime directive, but we also understand that comfort is emphasized a bit more strongly than with the Miata.

When it goes on sale the summer of 2016, it will launch in two price classes: Classico and Lusso. Classico gets 16-inch wheels, a black cloth interior with a 3-inch infotainment screen, a manual transmission, body-color windshield surrounds, and less interior opulence and equipment. The Lusso gets 17-inch wheels, a much swankier leather-swathed interior in black or black-and-saddle color schemes with standard seat heaters and a 7-inch screen, a silver windshield surround, and chrome tailpipe outlets. Lusso models also get considerably more sound deadening with acoustic glass in the windshield and the soft-top glass and extra deadeners around the tunnel and in the soft top (which still raises and lowers lickety-split with one hand). If you're wondering, no, you can't get a fancy leather-lined 124 Spider with a manual transmission. At first. We're promised other price classes will be introduced that permit greater mixing and matching. One of these is a special run of just 124 Prima Edizione models, which will get unique Lusso Blue paint and every conceivable option. You know Fiat won't be able to resist reviving the spirit of the Abarth 124 Rally, which boasted a 128-hp 1,756cc engine. After all, there's a perfectly good 1,742cc direct-injected Alfa turbo that would be perfect.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider
BASE PRICE $26,500 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 2-pass, 2-door convertible
ENGINE 1.4L/160-hp/184-lb-ft turbocharged SOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSIONS 6-speed manual, 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 2,450-2,500 lb (mfr)
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 159.6 x 68.5 x 48.5 in
0-60 MPH 6.6-6.9 sec (MT est)
ON SALE IN U.S. Summer 2016
2017 Fiat 124 Spider taillight Photo 11/57   |   2017 Fiat 124 Spider First Look Review

Cadillac killed the original Spider. Pininfarina built all 124 Spiders and continued building and marketing them as the Pininfarina Spider Europa and Spider Azzura after Fiat departed our shores. They could have continued to do so but needed the assembly line space to build the Allant.

Ferrari engine. The 124's engine family, including Fiat's first mass-production twin-cam, was designed by none other than ex-Ferrari engine ace Aurelio Lampredi. Its valve-adjustment shims are interchangeable with those of the Dino V-6.

Detroit's Spider Turbo. In 1981, Legend Industries of Detroit and Hauppauge, New York, developed a turbo upgrade for the by-then Bosch L-Jetronic-injected 1,995cc Fiat Spider that upped output to 120 hp/130 lb-ft and dropping 0-60 times from 10.3 to 9.2 seconds.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider front end Photo 27/57   |   2017 Fiat 124 Spider First Look Review
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