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2017 Fiat 124 Spider First Drive

San Diego, California ― Let’s address the tiny 2-seater roadster in the room, shall we? Yes, this Fiat is based on a Mazda we all know and love a great deal. However, that’s where the similarities end.

You might recognize bits and pieces when you sit inside, and the shape is obviously similar, but no more comparisons can be made with the MX-5. The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a mischievous little Italian that just so happens to have been born out east. That doesn’t change the fact that it talks wildly with its hands, is ever so cheeky and oh-so stylish as only a European can be.   

Almost 50 years since it was first introduced to North America, the 124 Spider is making a serious comeback, and in all the right ways. While Hollywood is known for its less than stellar returns, this Italian/American/Japanese hybrid might just be the winning combination that proves comebacks don’t all have to be cheesy. I see it as Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.

That European flare 
Now, there’s no denying the silhouette of the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is familiar at first glance. However, take a few more seconds to soak it all in and you’ll find yourself face-to-face with a sexy little Italian number that’s all-new (and approx. 5” longer on each end than the MX-5), with curves and edges in all the right places. 

Drawing inspiration directly from the 1968 Spider, this modernized roadster is quite a looker. From the slightly boxy LED headlights housed in a smooth, almost caricaturized front grille ― complete with a powerfully sculpted hood that alludes to the boisterous engine beneath ― to the sleek rear end with an integrated spoiler and dual exhaust pipes, the 124 Spider might be mini, but it definitely has a mighty presence on the road.   

Slip inside the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider and you’ll instantly recognize your surroundings. Lifted directly from the 2016 Mazda MX-5, the cockpit’s layout is one you’ll know. On the other hand, Fiat went to great lengths to up the ante in terms of interior quality and feel. Soft-touch materials were used across the dash as well as on the door inserts and armrests. Even the steering wheel was beefed up and made more substantial. 

I used to think Volvo had the most comfortable seats in the entire auto industry, but that was before I sat in a Fiat 124 Spider Lusso model. I mean, these buckets swallow you up, coddle you, and hold you in place in the best way possible. They are so damn comfortable I didn’t want to get out, even when my time came to hand over the steering wheel to my driving partner for the day.

One more thing here: The soft-top roof is a manual latch-and-release design that’s uber-easy to use and can actually be retracted and replaced with one hand. It takes a bit of practice, sure, but it can be done! 

That Italian flare and finesse 
Besides great looks, this little roadster also has great road manners. Equipped with an Italian-built, inline 4-cylinder turbocharged engine, the 124 Spider produces 160 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque in both the Classica and Lusso models. Standard on the latter is an FCA-sourced, 6-speed automatic transmission, while a Mazda-bred, 6-speed manual (not the same one as in the MX-5, though) is standard on the former and Abarth. 

Oh yes, there’s an Abarth! The jump in horsepower isn’t too significant (164 ponies), but you get other fancy bits like larger wheels, upgraded brakes, and a Sport button that tightens everything up and makes the driving experience a bit more intense. 

Speaking of intensity, it’s more Tuscan Merlot than Grappa. There’s something pleasantly soft about the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider. Just as the Subaru BRZ is “softer” than the Scion FR-S, the 124 Spider exhibits a softer side that’s perhaps the result of its own double-wishbone suspension. Steering is sharp without being overly accurate or making the little car twitchy in switchback turns. 

A quick run on an autocross course set up specifically for the 124 Spider lineup revealed the tail-happy nature of the RWD roadster in all models and trim levels, from the base automatic Classica up to the 6-speed manual, MOPAR-accessorized Abarth (complete with a Fast and Furious-style blow-off valve and snarly exhaust note). 

Achieving a near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution and proving only 50kg heavier than the new MX-5, the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is beautifully balanced and extremely hard to throw off its course even under heavy braking and severe directional changes. This car goes where it’s thrown, and it does so with gusto and flare. 

If you don’t have a massive grin on your face every time you drive the 124 Spider then you’ve officially got no soul and all joy for life has left you. 

Che bella machina 
Just as the BRZ/FR-S twins found out (and really, any twin out there), standing on your own can be a challenge at times. However, with this particular “twin,” standing on its own is going to prove quite simple. All you have to do is get behind the wheel and you’ll immediately feel the difference in its drive and on-road demeanor. 

With a starting price of $33,495 for the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Classica, and just $37,995 for the 124 Spider Abarth, this little 2-seater is well worth a gander if you’re in the market for a fun-to-drive weekend cruiser that’s got some serious character and flare on the open road. 

2017 Fiat 124 Spider
fiat 124-spider 2017
2017 Fiat 124 Spider
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Photos:M.Lightstone
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