With the flair and flavor of its Italian ancestor, the Fiat 124 Spider returns after a multi-decade absence sporting a powerful powertrain and the underpinnings of the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 Miata.
“There are synergies between the two cars, but we approached this platform in a completely different manner. We made the 124 Spider a very Fiat experience,” Bob Broderdorf, Director of Fiat Brand North America, said in an interview with Automotive Engineering prior to the roadster convertible’s world debut at the 2015 Los Angeles Auto Show.
The 2017 Spider uses the 2016 MX-5’s rear-wheel-drive chassis and underbody. “That was the starting point,” Leia Horton, Program Manager and Vehicle Integration Responsible for the Spider, told Automotive Engineering. “We did unique tuning of the vehicle dynamics—the steering and the suspension elements. The Spider also has unique exterior styling and unique interior features, including the seats, inner door panels, dashboard, and the gear shift knob.”
Fiat officials announced the automaker’s return to the U.S. marketplace at the 2010 LA Auto Show, and this year’s California media preview signaled another milestone for Fiat. Said Broderdorf, “Of the three vehicles that we now have in the U.S. line-up [500, 500L, 500X], the 124 Spider is the first rear-wheel-drive vehicle.”
Beginning with the sketches, designers took more than nine months to develop the Spider’s final styling flavor. According to Ralph Gilles, Head of Design for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles-Global, the resulting production car “distills the very best qualities of the original, and gives it so much more.”
The Spider’s exterior side body panels are made of high-strength steel, while the hood and trunk lid are aluminum as is the front and rear bumper reinforcements, underbody crossmember, and the bulkhead panel. In contrast, the MX-5’s body-in-white—minus its windshield frame and doors—is comprised of aluminum alloy. The Fiat roadster’s manually operated, fully insulated fabric soft-top with aluminum top bows and structure is a duplicate of the MX-5’s convertible top.
The 90.0-in (2309-mm) wheelbase Spider employs a turbocharged 1.4-L four-cylinder, the same engine that powers the Fiat 500 Abarth. Said Horton, “This is the first application of a longitudinal engine for Fiat in North America.” The Termoli, Italy-assembled Fiat MultiAir Turbo engine produces 160 hp (119 kW) at 5600 rpm and 184 lb·ft (250 N·m) of torque at 2500 rpm and mates to either a Mazda-built six-speed manual or an Aisin supplied six-speed automatic transmission.
With the manual transmission and its die-cast aluminum housing, Spider’s curb weight is 2436 lb (1105 kg). The curb weight when fitted with the automatic transmission is 2476 lb (1123 kg).
A front double wishbone/rear multi-link suspension and a dual-pinion electric-power-steering system link the driver to the road. “The pleasure of driving was our main target,” Lead Engineer Enrico Genchi said, underlining the Spider’s unique steering and suspension calibrations.
FCA engineering teams in the U.S., Italy, and Japan are continuing to finesse the tuning of the suspension and exhaust system. Said Horton: “We’re paying a lot of attention to the exhaust sound. With a turbo engine, you always hear the turbo whine. But we’ve subdued the turbo whine to a point where you can really celebrate the exhaust sound.”
The novel exhaust tone is the soft-top roadster’s audio identifier.
“When you’re sitting in the car with the top up or the top down, and you’re driving at low speeds or highway speeds, or in neutral or at idle, you can really hear a deep, throaty, full sound. It’s a very pleasant sound,” Horton asserted.
Spider’s seats use a lightweight net material on the back and cushion, and the seat back bars are made of aluminum. The two-seater has a standard three gauge cluster that spotlights a large analog tachometer in the center, a speedometer on the right, and an information display on the left.
The first 124 roadsters produced will be a limited-edition Prima Edizione Lusso in exclusive Azzurro Italia (blue) exterior paint with premium leather seats in saddle color. Each will be numbered with a commemorative badge.
Designed at Centro Stile in Turin, Italy, and assembled in Hiroshima, Japan, the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider reaches North American dealerships in the summer of 2016. The roadster is available in Classica and Lusso trim levels. Available safety features include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, rear backup camera, and a rear park-assist system. Spider’s pricing and fuel economy numbers will be released in the coming months.