Fiata: The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso

Front 3/4 view of 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso.
I am a beauty addict.

That's why I came thisclose to buying a 1979 Fiat Spider brand new.  And why the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider speaks so strongly to me now.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 1967 Fiat Spider
2017 Fiat 124 Spider and 1967 Fiat Spider.
What made the purchase of the Spider 38 years ago a near miss was Fiat's reputation for gross unreliability.  Being 23 years old and making enough money to buy the car, but not enough to get on a first-name basis with Italian mechanics, I balked and bought a Toyota Corolla instead.

In bringing back its 1960s and 70s halo car, Fiat wisely chose to take another company's fully-baked product, the Mazda MX-5 Miata, and make styling changes to make it resemble the original Spider.  Those of us who think the current Miata's styling a bit too blunt and cartoonish will appreciate the Fiat 124 Spider's sense of proportion (it's five and a half inches longer than the Miata) and flowing lines.

Rear view of 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso.

While we've raved for many years about the overall goodness of the MX-5 Miata, Fiat didn't stop with the styling.  They got into the mechanicals, too.  The springs, dampers and anti-roll bars are unique to the 124 Spider.  And, perhaps more worrisome for those of us old enough to remember "Fix It Again, Tony", the engine is a Fiat powerplant...the 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo four.  Yes, it makes five more horsepower than the Miata's non-turbo 2.0-liter four, but the Spider is also 193 pounds heavier than the Miata.   Gas mileage differs a bit from the Miata (25 city/36 highway for the Fiat, 27/34 for the Mazda).

The good news is that overall build quality is excellent.  Both cars come off the same Mazda assembly line in Hiroshima, Japan.

Interior view of 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso interior.
The extra weight comes from the added length, as well as thicker rear glass, added sound deadening in the firewall and under the carpet and an acoustic windshield.  All of which make the Fiat 124 Spider a softer, smoother machine than the Miata.  Especially in Lusso trim, the 124 Spider is more of a small-scale grand tourer.

Our tester was the Lusso.  $27,495 gets you a rear backup camera, remote keyless entry, rain-sensitive windshield wipers, enhanced accident response system, electronic stability control, speed control, the touring suspension, a four-speaker AM/FM/Bluetooth audio system with a seven-inch display, air conditioning with automatic temperature control, heated front seats, a leahter-wrapped steering wheel, soft touch upper instrument panel and wrapped lower instrument panel (in saddle color, it's gorgeous), piano black interior accents, 17-inch premium silver aluminium wheels, automatic headlamps, fog lamps, power mirrors, LED taillamps, and a dual exhaust with bright tips.

Ours had options as well...$3,795 for the Premium Collection (an upgraded nine-speaker Bose audio system with HD Radio, blind spot and cross-path detection, rear parking assist, navigation, LED adaptive and auto-leveling headlamps with washers, heated exterior mirrors which dim automatically, a universal garage door opener, and a security alarm); and $1,350 for a six-speed automatic transmission.  With $995 destination charge, the bottom line was $33,635....or, as the Phoenix bureau pointed out in a review of a different car a few days ago, roughly the cost of the average new car these days.

If it weren't the stormiest week in Northern California in a decade, I'd be writing about how delightful the Fiat is to drive on a winding two-lane road.  Smoother than the Miata.  Less edgy.  Frankly, I could be perfectly happy with a Fiat 124 Spider Lusso.  I'd be a minute later everywhere I went because I'd pause and look at it getting in and getting out, but I could live with that.  But call me supersitious---I'd breathe a lot easier if it had the Mazda engine under the hood.