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Road Test Report 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Classica 6MT– Affordable fun, but Is This Your Trim?

We tested the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Classica, the base model of this fun convertible. It is fun without a doubt, but is it a good value?

The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a fun and affordable convertible. We road-tested the base model six-speed manual Classica with the Customer preferred Package 21D. Here’s what we found.

The 124 Spider Style
Fiat has done a great job differentiating the Spider from the car on which it is based, the Mazda Miata. The front end is wide and flat and the headlights look great. Along the sides, it is all Miata to my eye, but in back it is again its own design and it looks a bit like an Avanti, which is not a bad thing. Inside, it is completely identical to the Mazda Miata except that the seats have slightly different styling.

The 124 Spider Basic Specs & Content
The 2017 124 Spider Classica comes with a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine making 160 hp. Fiat offers a six-speed manual as the standard transmission or an optional automatic. Our test car was the manual. The Classica has 16” wheels, which are the smallest on Spiders – and they have a benefit.

The Classica is the base trim of the Fiat 124 Spider and starts at about $26K including destination. Our tester had the $1,295 “Customer preferred Package 21D” which adds the technology collection. However, it does not add navigation, just the ability to accept it. It costs about $500 to have a dealer enable it with the SD card Fiat withholds from buyers. So, at the end of the day, it costs about $1800 to get Nav in a Fiat Spider. Facebook 124 Spider Club member, Ted R., told Torque News that he ordered the SD card for just $150 on the internet and it was easy to install and works great. We’ve heard the same from others. There is no Android Auto or Apple Car Play available in the 124 Spider.

The Classica comes with cloth seats, which are fine, and in fact, are better than hot leather on a sunny day. However, this trim level did not come with heated seats. Normally, that is fine, but as a long-time convertible owner, I know that heated seats extend the number of useful days one can use a convertible comfortably. Based on our use of the build tool at Fiat’s site, adding heated seats to a Classica trim is not possible. That is a shame.

124 Spider – The Drive
The brilliance of the Fiat 124 Spider comes through immediately. It is a fun car to drive in good weather with the top down. This is not a car designed to be a daily driver, never mind a commuter car, so use caution if that is your plans for it. That said, a short drive in the 124 Spider is all it takes to fall in love.

The reason is the handling. The 124 Spider Classica is softly sprung, and the 16” tires benefit from a bit more sidewall than the optional 17” tires. That smooths out some of the bumps and nothing is lost in terms of enjoyment. The car is still a sports car, and it is easy to zip from corner to corner. The Spider is really a back-roads car. On the highway, it is fun for a few miles, but then it starts to get a bit fatiguing, even with the roof up. (More on Page 2 & 3)

The 124 Spider Classica brakes extremely well. It feels like a proper sports car in this regard. Feel free to be tempted by the higher trims and the sportier Abarth, but on-road the 124 Spider Classica is more than capable enough of braking in any situation.

The engine is the hard part to praise. The reason is the Italian turbocharged engine, which feels as if it has a bit of a dead spot from about 1,000 to about 1,600 RPMs. Is it turbo-lag, or is it gearing, or is it both? I honestly can’t say, but I drove a Miata RF two weeks ago and it has no dead spot. I wish it were otherwise, but the 124 Spider Classica’s engine is not as fun to drive as the Miata’s. The stick shift is great. Fiat sourced the gearbox and shifter from Mazda. I owned this same gearbox and shifter for many years in a 2007 Miata and it felt exactly as I remembered it.

The engine and gearing also conspire to make it hard to slow to almost a complete stop in second gear and then take off again. Why do I bring this up? Because in real-world driving that is how one uses a stick shift. Shifting to first while slowly rolling is hard on the car and sometimes the car won’t take first unless stopped. The torque to pull away in second safely and at a reasonable pace is not there.

Practical Living – 124 Spider
The Fiat Spider, regardless of trim, has no glove box, but it isn’t a problem. There is a secret compartment behind the passenger’s seat and a locking console box behind the driver’s elbow. The small armrest compartment fits a cell phone, but the spot ahead of the stick shift in the dash is not cell phone friendly. The trunk is relatively large (image) and easily big enough for a mid-week grocery run, or for a weekend getaway for two people. It compares well to the Miata. The cupholders have a flaw in the design, but we know the hack to fix that.

The audio is great for a convertible at this price point and it fixes the biggest problem the prior generation Miata had. The headrest-mounted speakers are super and the car has enough audio punch to be heard above the road noise on back roads.

There is no spare in the Fiat 124 Spider and the repair plan is a kit since the tires are not run-flat capable. Everyone ignores this until they are 100 miles from home on the Sunday before a holiday and a flat happens. There is a strategy for dealing with that situation, and we hope you know it. (More on page 3)

Conclusion – 124 Spider Classica
We took and unusual angle on this road test report. We could have filled a few more paragraphs telling readers all about the Spider’s background, but it is in its second calendar year of sales now, and we expect you read those stories already. We hope you will find we confirmed some things you may have read and got a look at the practical side of owning this car.

However, if you want a sportier convertible you should consider the Abarth trims of the 124 Spider and also drive a Miata. We will also suggest to buyers to negotiate the cost of the Nav SD card at the time of purchase or shop it on-line. Finally, if you plan to do long trips in the 124 Spider do consider a trim with heated seats. You’ll be glad you did some cool fall day.

At its $27,285 list price, we feel the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Classica is a great deal. If you prefer the looks over the Miata, and if you are on a budget, this is an excellent convertible you will love owning.

Related Story - Read Our RaceTrack Evaluation Of the 124 Spider