When Fiat re-entered the U.S. market in 2011 with the retro-styled 500 minicar, it was inevitable that the Italian automaker’s most beloved model, the Spider roadster, eventually wouldn’t be far behind. It arrived for the 2017 model year, in plenty of time for baby boomers to relive their glory days of the 1960s and ’70s.
In terms of styling, the new 124 Spider is just as compelling as its predecessor, which exited the U.S. market in the mid-1980s. It’s much better equipped and more reliable, thanks to the Mazda DNA lurking under the shapely, sculpted Pininfarina sheet metal. For tall drivers who aren’t as agile as they once were, the 124 poses a challenge where access and egress are concerned. It should be noted, however, that this is a summer car with a cloth top that’s a snap to operate — and getting in and out of the driver’s seat is fairly easy, even for older drivers, when the top is down. Also helpful is the wide door opening.
The 124 Spider comes in three flavors — Classico, Lusso and Abarth. Our Rosso Red test car, a 124 Lusso, had a base price of $27,495 and sticker price of $32,285. The base Classico starts at $24,995.
Power is provided at all trim levels by a 160-horsepower turbocharged inline Four that packs 184 pound-feet of torque. An automatic transmission is optional, but our test car came with the “correct” gearbox for this sporty rear-drive convertible, a 6-speed stick shift.
For tall drivers, leg room was just barely adequate, and head room was tight. While top-down driving was a much more pleasurable experience, the top of our tallest driver’s head caught the breeze over the windshield. Handling, throttle response and shifting were excellent.
Built in Hiroshima, Japan, the 124 Spider essentially is the fraternal twin of the popular Mazda MX-5 Miata, a roadster that took the reins from Fiat, MG and Triumph a generation ago and never let go. Drivers who have driven the MX-5, or for that matter, any Mazda, will recognize much of the switchgear, including the Commander infotainment control between the seats.
The trunk is tiny — just 4.9 cubic feet — but on the plus side, the top does not intrude on trunk space when lowered.
Among the standard features were automatic climate control, heated front seats, rear backup camera, and Pandora, Aha and Stitcher apps. A $3,795 Customer Preferred Package added satellite radio, blind-spot and cross-path detection, navigation system, heated and autodimming exterior mirrors, and more.
The 124 Spider is rated at 26 mpg city, 35 highway, and we came close to the upper number during a 600-mile, mostly highway round trip. Fiat Chrysler recommends but does not require premium unleaded gasoline.
There aren’t many competitors in this segment: the MX-5; the Toyota 86 and its cousin, the Subaru BRZ; and, for a few thousand dollars more, the Nissan 370Z.
2017 Fiat 124 Spider
Engine: 1.4-liter turbocharged inline Four, 160 horsepower, 184 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Weight: 2,436 lb.
Suspension: double-wishbone front, multi-link rear
Wheels: 17×7-in. Premium Silver aluminum wheels
Tires: P205/45VR17 three-season performance
Seating capacity: 2
Luggage capacity: 4.9 cu. ft.
Fuel capacity: 11.9 gal.
Fuel economy: 26 mpg city, 35 mpg highway
Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline (recommended)
Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.