By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
According to Wikipedia the definition of a sports cars is “a small, usually two-seater, two-door automobile designed for spirited performance and nimble handling. Sports cars may be spartan or luxurious, but high maneuverability and light weight are requisite. Sports cars are usually aerodynamically shaped (since the 1950s) and have a low center of gravity compared to standard models. Steering and suspension are typically designed for precise control at high speeds.”
One of the best illustrations of a proper sports car is the 2018 Fiat 124 Spider. The 124 Spider is the sixth model in the U.S. Fiat lineup and the first sports car for the brand since the original was discontinued in 1985.
A product of the Italian/American Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), the Fiat 124 Spider was developed through a partnership with Mazda. By designing the new two-seat sport car jointly from the ground up, both manufacturers could make significant savings on development costs allowing the pair to keep the price point lower, which was especially important on a product like this with a limited sales potential. The result for Mazda was the new generation MX-5 or Miata, and for Fiat it is the 124 Spider. While the two cars share many of the same basic elements, the two have distinctive personalities, features and looks.
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider recreates the look and feel of the original Spider and integrates mechanicals that should make it a much better car than the original. Powered by a 164-hp turbocharged MultiAir 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 184-lb.ft. of torque, the two-seater is available with a six-speed manual or six-speed AISIN automatic transmission with paddle sifters. The 124 Spider is the first application of this drivetrain into a rear-wheel drive vehicle.
We expect sports cars to be rougher riding and louder than other types of cars, but the Fiat Spyder is quite refined. The handling produced by the double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension is sports car-like, but with a level of refinement making it quite smooth, and very comfortable. It wasn’t jarring or rough like some cars of this caliber. The steering is accurate, brakes efficient and overall, we found it very fun to drive. Even the exhaust note, except for the Abarth model, is modest. The EPA rates fuel economy at 25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined with the automatic transmission.
Buff magazine tests list that a 0 to 60 mph sprint takes 6.5 seconds. There is a bit of turbo lag when the accelerator is floored, but we think that adds to the charm. Of course, a sports car is better enjoyed with a manual transmission. However, for those who prefer two pedals to three, the automatic is a very reasonable option, and you can still shift using the steering wheel mounted paddles. Our test vehicle had the optional ($1,350) automatic which is smooth and quick shifting in automatic mode or using paddle shifter.
In the individualization process taken by the two brands, the Fiat is a few inches longer and ends up with a dash more cargo space (4.9 cubic feet) which is nice, because with no back seat there’s no place to put things, so trunk space is at a premium. The cockpit is still a bit on the snug size for larger passengers and drivers. And if you are thinking of carrying golf clubs, forget it, unless you’re solo.
Convertibles are always so much fun, with the open feeling and all the smells you don’t normally experience in a closed car. The Fiat 124 makes the conversion from top up to topless as quickly as you can reach up, flip the center latch and push the cloth top back behind the seat where a section of the top becomes a nice-looking cover. Raising the top is equally easy, again flipping a leaver, grabbing the top handle, pulling it forward and quickly latching it. It doesn’t get much faster or easier than that. When the top is up, and the windows are up, its quiet and wind free. When the top is down there is very little wind buffeting, so you can still talk with a passenger or enjoy the audio system.
The Spyder has extensive safety and security features like a high-strength body structure, blind-spot monitoring, all the electronic braking enhancements, rain-sensing wipers and dozens of the latest safety and anti-roll technologies. Behind each seat is a built-in roll bar for additional protection.
Like all new cars the Fiat 124 Spider has a full set of infotainment and communications devices including Fiat’s Connect 7.0 system with seven-inch touch screen, multimedia control and Bluetooth connectivity.
For extra comfort and convenience there are heated seats and Fiat’s Keyless Enter ‘n Go unlocking and starting system. Music comes from a Bose premium sound system with nine speakers including dual headrest speakers to deliver the quality sound right next to the ear.
The 2018 Fiat 124 Spider is available in three trim levels: Classica, Lusso and Abarth. All three models offer an extensive list of standard features, with the Lusso adding more luxury and comfort appointments and the Abarth with more performance features.
Base prices for the three models respectively, and including the destination charge, are $26,240; $28,840 and $29,540. With all the available options, including Brembo® brakes ($1,495), the Aisin automatic transmission, Recaro® leather seating and Luxury Collection the Abarth price can go as high as $38,605.
It’s nice to know that there is a very refined, fun-to-drive classic sports car, alive and well at your local Fiat Chrysler dealership. To learn more about Fiat’s pure sports car go on line to www.fiatusa.com.