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Wednesday, November 18, 2015
2017 Fiat 124 Spider Impressions
They say you can't go back. Go back to your childhood house and it looks smaller, the neighborhood is different, the tree-house is gone. Disappointing. The same with cars. Pick up an old classic and wow, does this thing rattle. The A/C barely cools, wait, there is no A/C, and man, I remember the seats being more comfortable and wider. It never stops you from trying, though. And I'll admit I've been eyeing getting another classic Fiat 124 Spider, just for old time's sake.
So when Fiat invited me a couple of weeks back to preview the new 2017 Fiat 124 Spider I was excited but also apprehensive. Like many, I had seen the leaked spy shots of the new Spider, and I couldn't tell what I was seeing. The image quality was terrible. Worse were some folks shouting 'badge job' - a Mazda MX5 with a Fiat emblem on it. Not one to listen to the seething masses, I needed to see for myself if the new Spider was the spiritual successor of the car I grew up loving.
I arrived at the FCA Technology Center in Auburn Hills, and after exchanging the usual pleasantries with the hard working Fiat USA team I grabbed a seat in the front row.
Fiat had an original 1968 Fiat 124 Spider on display along with a new 2017 Spider laying in wait under wraps. Its LED headlight's glowing sexily under the covers.
The presentation started and first up was Bob Broderdorf, Director of Fiat Brand North America, explaining the significance of the classic 124 Spider to the poor souls who don't know the importance of the car.
For those who don't know the original car was a revelation of refinement in its segment dominated by antiquated sports car. With a twin cam engine, 5-speed gearbox, 4-wheel disc brakes, a top that didn't leak and a body designed by Pininfarina that had the charisma to be passed off as a Ferrari, the 124 Spider was a superstar in the 60s and 70s. Refined, elegant and sophisticated, Fiat sold 170,000 124 Spiders between 1968 and 1985, and 8,000 are still registered here in the US today.
The early Spider on display was a perfect original example and reminded me of the two I had owned previously. It had me lusting after it. Subconsciously daydreaming that I was 30 (40?) years younger, I couldn't take my eyes off of it. Suddenly I realized I had been staring so intently at the old car I was about to miss the unveiling of the new one. I quickly turned my head to watch the cover be pulled back, and I was struck with emotions that took me by surprise. It was as if I had suddenly just seen a long lost family member.
My apprehension over the new design was instantly gone. I was captivated by how the designers captured the shapes and feeling of the old car. The grille shape and pattern celebrate the timeless designs that I worshiped as a boy. The bumperless front recalls the 124 Abarth Rally that us old time Fiat enthusiasts daydreamed of owning. The front headlights with the eyebrow shadow complement the grille's shape just like the original's. The twin power domes on the hood remind one of the Spider 2000's.
As the car rotated on its display turntable, the classic's signature belt-line kick up on the rear quarters was there as well as the "seagull" section on the rear fenders and rear deck lid shape. To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.
Fiat had brought the lead engineer and designer from Italy to introduce their latest creation, and I hung on every delightfully accented word. First up was ingegnere Enrico Genchi describing the particular attention given to enhancing driving pleasure. Suspension calibration was done 100% in Italy. Reduced roll angle and roll rate were targeted to impart the expected Italian sports car handling.
Gear ratios in the manual transmission were selected for the best acceleration for a sporty, lively feel just like the original's. The 2017 124 Spider uses a 1.4 L MultiAir Turbo engine, the same one utilized in the Fiat 500 Abarth but with the turbo's peak boost turned up to 22 psi, up from the Abarth's 18 psi. This bumps the Spider's torque to 184 lbs.ft, up from the manual transmission Abarth's 170 lbs.ft.
Italian cars have always been known for their exhaust note, and the engineers lavished a lusty dual exhaust on the new Spider that conveys just what an enthusiast wants to hear. An automatic transmission is offered and is tuned for enjoyable grand touring.
The original 124 Spider set standards for refinement in its segment and again, the new car carries over that tradition. Special attention has been given to Noise, Vibration and Harshness (NVH) and the new 124 Spider is reported to be quiet. Best in class torsional stiffness plays a big part here. The acoustic windshield glass and a genuine glass rear window aid in refinement as does a fully lined convertible top.
Next up was Felix Kilbertus, ex-Pininfarina lead designer and Design Manager for the 124 Spider. His enthusiasm and respect for the classic was evident, yet the design is not just a copy, for there is no art in copying. The new design from the creative minds at Fiat Centro Stile uses some of the favorite design elements from the iconic past, but with a modern interpretation. It took 9-10 months to settle and get to a starting point. This is a 100% Italian design, and interestingly the designer made a point of not looking at the Mazda MX5 during the design process. The face of a car is always important in Italian design, and the car exudes a natural beauty that doesn't shout or looks pretentious.
Inside the car was given an Italian makeover in keeping with the classic's elegant and refined interior. Simplicity, atmosphere and materials were priorities. Everything that you touch feels good - Fiat calls it 'Emotional Handling.' A leather-wrapped instrument cupola, a hallmark of upscale Fiats, is used as well as soft-touch material for the dash. Instrument graphics are unique, and the seats have been sculpted for an elegant, sophisticated look. New door panels complete the new Fiat 124 Spider's interior and give the car an upscale European feel, much different than the MX5.
I had gone into the presentation uncertain, and thinking just maybe I should pick up one more classic Spider for one last hurrah. With the new Spider that all changed. Now I can revisit the excitement of the glory years, but this time with A/C. Who says you can't go back!
Images courtesy of FCA.