LOS ANGELES – There may be a Mazda MX-5 chassis underpinning the ’17 Fiat 124 Spider, but who cares as long as the top drops, the engine sings and the styling screams “la dolce vita?”
That’s what FCA’s Fiat brand is counting on when it reintroduces the 124 Spider roadster to the U.S. market in 2016 after a three-decade absence.
“This car distills the best qualities of the old car,” says Ralph Gilles, FCA design director at a special event prior to the Los Angeles auto show unveiling of the new model. “This car is going to change lives. It is the anti-commodity.”
Bold statements, indeed, but the 124 Spider appears to have the goods to back up the swagger. Building on the already-winning MX-5 platform, Fiat adds a 1.4L turbocharged MultiAir I-4 engine producing 160 hp and 184 lb.-ft. (249 Nm) of torque, driving the rear wheels through either a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. The MX-5 is powered by a naturally aspirated 2.0L I-4 making 155 hp and 148 lb.-ft. (201 Nm) of torque
The body work is all Fiat as well, starting up front with styling that designer Felix Kilbertus says mimics a human face, with a broadly smiling grille and three-segment round headlights as eyes, recessed and lightly lidded by sheet metal to recall Spiders past.
Spider heritage also influences the long, low hood and power domes as well as the horizontal rear lamps and bird-in-flight “V” styling of the stubby decklid and rear fenders, Kilbertus says.
Although many interior elements are shared with the MX-5, Fiat injects its own level of luxury materials, including a sport steering wheel, seats and shifter to distinguish the 124 Spider. Gauges, graphics, door panels and the upper dash trim also are unique.
'Poor Man's Ferrari' Returns
Ensuring the “pleasure of driving” and the spirit of the original 124 Spider are the objectives of chief engineer Enrico Genchi, whose job was made easier from the start thanks to the MX-5’s lightweight chassis and longitudinal powertrain layout.
Suspension is all MX-5 – double wishbones in front and multilink rear – but Fiat tuned the springs and shocks for what Genchi terms a “balance between handling and comfort. You must be able to drive every day in comfort.” Steering is electrically assisted via a rack-mounted motor.
Added insulation and dedicated engine mounts reduce noise and vibration, however engineers paid special attention to making sure the exhaust note is ideally tuned and audible. “It is the soul of a sports car,” Genchi says.
The 124 Spider pays homage to the original car that was introduced 50 years ago in the U.S. and became the brand’s best-selling model. Known as the “poor man’s Ferrari” for its Ferrari-like front and Chevrolet Corvette-like tail, 170,000 were purchased in America between 1967 and 1985; 8,000 are still registered, says Bob Broderdorf, Fiat North America-brand director.
Fiat hopes the ’17 124 Spider is the car it needs to rebuild the brand’s Italian appeal in the U.S. Fiat has sold 188,474 vehicles since its reintroduction to the States five years ago.
The 124 Spider is available in two trim levels, the base Classica and the uplevel Lusso.
In a nod to Spider’s heritage, the first 124 vehicles are limited-edition Azzurro Italia blue Prima Edizione Lusso models, each individually numbered with a commemorative badge. The 124 Spider goes on sale in summer 2016.