Sports. Despite how much money and equipment goes into them at the NFL, NBA, and MLB levels, fundamentally, they don’t require much. If you want to play a game of baseball, all you need is a few friends, some ground, a ball, and a bat. Nice and simple – and simply fun. Basketball started with a ball and a peach basket.
The same is true for sports cars. Sure, gobs of horsepower, face-flattening amounts of torque, transmissions seemingly designed in the year 2050, and a list of gizmos longer than the line at the DMV are great, but they’re not absolutely necessary for the enjoyment of that kind of vehicle. All you need is an engine, four wheels, a seat, and a manual gearbox.
When it comes to cars like the 2017 FIAT 124 Spider, you don’t even need a fixed roof. Of course, the Italian automaker offers it with rain-sensing wipers, navigation, heated leather seats, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross path detection, but you don’t have to get it that way. The Spider is available in three trim lines. At one end of the spectrum, there’s the Abarth, the most performance-focused version of FIAT’s open-air two-seater.
Earlier this year, we spent a week in the mid-range Lusso, which we loved for its styling, interior amenities, quick-shifting automatic, and safety tech. The most affordable, entry-level 124 Spider is the Classica. We recently spent seven days driving it around the picturesque Texas Hill Country, enjoying its wonderful simplicity.
2017 FIAT 124 Spider Classica Exterior
All FIAT 124 Spiders come with the same design layout: a long hood, cloth-topped two-seater cockpit, and short rear end. That’s accented by visual cues inspired by the new Spider’s predecessor, the 124 Sport Spider that treated drivers to sunshine and driving enjoyment from the 1960s until the 1980s. Look between our tester’s teardrop-shape projector headlamp casings and you’ll see a hexagonal grille. Above the large red FIAT badge on the nose, there’s a pair of bulges in the hood. A character line runs from the front fenders, flows up and over the door handles, and ends in the top of the rear body panels. It makes that journey above a set of 16-inch aluminum wheels wrapped in three-season performance tires. Out back, LED tail lamps form the start and end points of the softly arching trunk lid.
2017 FIAT 124 Spider Classica Interior
The Spider’s Mazda-Miata-derived cockpit was as easy on the eyes as the sheet metal that surrounded it. It was a study in contrast. The black fabric seats were highlighted by white stitching. Silver trim brightened up the ebony interior at various points, including the door handles, air vent surrounds, steering wheel spokes, and dashboard. One of our review vehicle’s few options, the Technology Collection, added keyless entry and start, a rear back-up camera, and a seven-inch touchscreen above the controls for the HVAC system.
The convertible top was standard equipment. It was also easy to operate. All we had to do to get miles of sky above us was throw one latch above our heads and gently push the roof back behind us until it folded and clicked into place. Thoughtfully tuned aerodynamics and a wind deflector between the two headrests helped keep conversations at speed from turning into shouting matches.
However, the one feature that got our attention the most was that silver-topped lever right in the middle. An automatic transmission is a $1,350 option in the 124 Spider, but we had no problem with a standard being…well…standard. In fact, we loved that it was.
2017 FIAT 124 Spider Classica Performance
That six-speed row-your-own gearbox was connected to FIAT’s 1.4-liter MultiAir turbocharged I4. Letting out its 160 horsepower and 184 lbft of torque was a satisfying exercise of both feet and one hand. The clutch pedal only needed a reasonable amount of pressure and the shifter was light without being rubbery.
We had a chance to stretch the Spider’s legs on a trip from Austin to Dripping Springs. We were on our way to the Texas Auto Writers Association’s 2016 Texas Truck Rodeo to vote on which SUVs, crossovers, and trucks would win titles in a variety of categories, and have a hand in deciding which pickup would gain national attention by being crowned the new “Truck of Texas.”
The magic number on the easy-to-see tachometer was 3. Right above that – at 3,200 rpm – was where the turbo four made its peak torque. We felt all 184 lbft and the Spider’s heightened forward-focused enthusiasm every time it did.
As great as that spot in the rev range felt, we were addicted to going past it. Radio off, we listened for the lovably raw mechanical sound of the four pistons pumping away in front of us. Our hunger for higher revs left us with an average fuel economy of 25.8 mpg. Had we been less liberal with the throttle, we would’ve been able to get 30 combined city/highway mpg**.
On center, the Spider’s steering was rock-solid. That reassuring heft stayed with us when we turned the wheel to take on the sweeping curves of Central Texas. We felt planted and confident at all times. We also felt what the front end of the car was encountering as we charged deeper into ranch country.
2017 FIAT 124 Spider Classica Safety
At roughly 13 feet long and less than six feet wide, the 124 Spider is a small package. Inside of that, FIAT puts dual front and side airbags, active head restraints, stability control, and a tire pressure warning lamp – a good thing to have when you plan on blasting down twisty roads.
2017 FIAT 124 Spider Classica Overall
You can go higher than the Classica trim line of the 2017 FIAT 124 Spider, but the entry-level version of the sports car is a great place to be. It has great styling, a smile-inducing powertrain, and perfectly weighted steering – all for a starting price of $24,995*. To get one just like the car we tested, it’ll cost $27,880. Whichever way you want your 124 Spider Classica equipped, any AutoNation FIAT dealer will be happy to provide it to you. It’s that simple.
*MSRP excluding tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
**Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.