Seat Time: Fiat 124 – A 21st Century Reboot

June 20th, 2016 at 11:09am

Exterior

Seat Time is a chance for us to share our impressions of vehicles being tested in the Autoline Garage and at media previews from around the globe.

Reviewer: Chip Drake
Vehicle: 2017 Fiat 124 Spider
Price: $25,000-$30,000 (price varies by trim level)
Pros: great styling, nice soft-touch interior
Cons: passenger seat pickle

Final Impression:
What’s the third car in your garage? Don’t have one? Well, for those who are looking for one, FIAT is hoping that you make that choice its new 2017 124 Spider.

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Yes, the iconic roadster, which stopped production in 1985, is back celebrating the 50th anniversary of its origin. But whereas that version was pretty much Italian through and through, this new Spider carries a few different passports.

What I mean to say is this car is a hybrid. No, not that kind of hybrid but an actual combination of cars. FIAT produced the new 124 using Mazda’s Hiroshima-built Miata as its base vehicle. Then, both FCA Engineering and Design went to work to make this car more FIAT than Mazda. And for most consumers, they succeeded.

The exterior pays homage to the 1966 model with the company’s Italian studio giving the car a sleek 21st century update. From the hexagonal grill in the front to the sharp horizontal lamps in the rear, there’s a lot about this styling that looks like it comes from the original.

Interior-Side

Meanwhile, the interior surrounds the driver/passenger with comfortable, ergonomic seats and soft touch materials throughout the cabin. Top that off with the easiest manual convertible roof in the business, other than Miata I suppose, and you’ve got a contemporary looking icon. Sitting in the cockpit, the driver is greeted with the usual suite of safety technology that we’ve come to expect in addition to what FCA calls its FIAT Connect Systems — radio, bluetooth, USB ports and more — but so far, Apple CarPlay or Android Auto are MIA.

On the powertrain side, Engineering gave the 124 FIAT’s turbocharged MultiAir 1.4-liter engine which, during my drive time with the car, delivered more than 30mpgs combined. That was with a six-speed automatic transmission.

When it comes to driving, this rear-wheel-powered 124 is a blast! Through mountain switchbacks and 70mph freeways, I literally enjoyed all my time behind the steering wheel. But, as far as I’m concerned, the driver’s seat in this car is the only one with a fun quotient.

Interior-Above

What do I mean? Well, I think the Death Star trash compactor (in Star Wars) looked infinitely more comfortable than the 124’s passenger seat. Neither my driving partner or myself wanted to move to the right side of the car thanks to some serious space limitations (and that’s putting it mildly). Now, to be fair, there are any number of smaller people in the world who would fit just fine in the 124, and I’m not talking Oompa Loompa size either. But that would most certainly mean they are under 6-foot tall, which didn’t fit either of us.

So if the passenger seat situation doesn’t dissuade you, then this might be the perfect third car for your family, which is part of the marketing strategy FIAT is using to sell the car.

The 124 comes in three trim levels priced between $25,000 and $30,000. They are (from low to high): the Classica with 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth seats and 6 colors; the Lusso with 17-inch wheels, leather seats and 7 colors; and the Abarth, which comes with a performance package that includes a Brembo braking system, Recaro seats and 5 exterior colors.

This is a fun, good-looking 21st century reboot of a 50-year old icon. Buy it if you plan to drive the car yourself or start the Mediterranean Diet.

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