2017 Fiat 124 Spider Roadster


As a little boy, my brothers and I (yes, the Wright brothers) got tiny plastic cars for Christmas one year with the make of car embossed over the back window.  They were about the size of a spool of thread, and we thought one of them was a “FLAT”.  The word Fiat, stamped on the toy, was foreign to us little guys and besides, no such cars were to be seen near Fullerton, Nebraska.  We learned much later that we had been playing with a Fiat 500 replica.

Italian automaker Fiat built automobiles in New York prior to World War II, and at the start of the conflict production in this country ceased.  They re-appeared in the U.S. in the 1950’s and sourced the backronym “Fix It Again, Tony” as a reference to rust and reliability problems.  In fact, I bought a 1968 Fiat roadster that was riddled with rust and after a trip to the bodyshop, drove it for several years during my Air Force assignment in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

I enjoyed the little red Fiat and had a dream of trading for the bigger 124 Spider, but marriage terminated my sports car ownership days and I replaced the Fiat with a Datsun sedan.


I was thrilled in 2014 when I heard that Fiat was going to resurrect the venerable 124 Spider, and as it turned out they built it on Mazda’s MX-5 Miata platform in a joint venture project.  A 2017 model was loaned to me for a week recently and I was able to give it a rather thorough analysis.

It had an M.S.R.P. of $27,285.00, and that price included a technology package with a 7″ display, XM radio, backup camera, and proximity keyless entry.  Drivetrain is a 1.4 liter, 160 horsepower turbo-4 and transmission is a pleasing 6-speed manual.  The vehicle is rear-wheel drive, handles like a dream and the top is a snap to put up and down (manually).  This 124 is a big step forward for Fiat Chrysler.


2014 Fiat 500L Easy 4-Door Sedan

Fiat 500L    I drove the Fiat to Denver today, and enjoyed the view from the driver’s seat.  The car has three windshields, essentially, and up top is a mammoth double power moon roof with shade.  The glass opening is nearly as big as the roof, and the front half powers open.  I liked the Beats 6-speaker stereo/XM radio, the heated black cloth seats, the dual glove boxes, the crisp 6.5″ navigation/backup camera screen, and the console-mounted emergency brake.  I didn’t particularly care for the switch-blade key ignition, the inverted tach/speedometer with uninspiring information display between them, or the somewhat non-supportive buckets up front.  The tilt/telescope column, floor shift, 23.1 cubic feet of trunk space, and folding back seat were all on target.  INTERIOR GRADE – 85.Fiat Interior

Styling of the 500L is unconventional, and gives the car a funky personality.  It’s hard to not like it, and hard to not notice everyone staring at the car while you tool around.  The “Easy” model that I tested had thirteen-spoke aluminum wheels and Continental ContiPro Contact 205/55R16 radial mud/snow tires.  I wasn’t that excited about the wheels or the grill styling.  The white paint on the mirrors that matched the roof color was great, and the tailgate look and glass top were satisfying.  STYLING GRADE – 90.Fiat HeadlightFiat Taillight

Base price of the 500L is $20,195.00, and options/freight bring the total M.S.R.P. to $25,545.00.  Those options are a popular equipment group, Premier package, automatic transmission, the moonroof, heated seats, and the two-toned bronze and white paint.  All of the luxury items are on hand such as navigation, rearview camera, tilt/telescope, power windows/locks/mirrors, and the hands-free phone setup.  The power door locks are not located on the doors, but on the dashboard.  VALUE PROPOSITION GRADE – 88.

Initial impressions of driving the Fiat are better than the week-long impressions.  The turbo engine (1.4 liter, 160 horsepower) has some lag to it, and guidance down the road could be more pleasing to this writer.  The aforementioned visibility is great, the transmission is pleasing (the manual mode is excellent), and interior noise is minimal for a little car.  Ride and handling are above average, as well.  Listening to that Beats stereo while on the road makes the trip seem shorter.  DRIVING GRADE – 86.

Fiat creates interest, and buyers, for the 500L by offering a “personality”, as I see it.  It is a fun car, is fine for travelling in, and the back seat and trunk are surprisingly functional.  FIAT 500L GRADE – 88.25 (B+).Fiat Gauges

2013 Fiat 500 Turbo Sport Hatchback

Fiat 500T in SnowWhen my brothers and I were growing up (there were four Wright brothers), we had a suite of little plastic cars of all makes to play with.  They were quite small, perhaps 1.5 inches long, and had the names imprinted on the roof, just above the back window.  We referred to one of the cars as the FLAT, because the name was quite small, and perhaps even mistakenly embossed.  Little boys in rural Nebraska would never have heard of a Fiat, to be sure, and it was years later when I, and perhaps they, became aware of the venerable Italian brand of cars.

The little model car was a 500, nicknamed Topolino (Italian for little mouse), and was produced from 1936 until 1955.  The Fiat 500, in fact, has been produced and sold in America for most of the last 77 years, and this last week I received one for testing.  It was provided by Chrysler Corporation, the company that Fiat and the U.S. government saved from bankruptcy in 2009.

In this column I have in the past mentioned that I once owned a Fiat, a 1968 850 roadster.  At that time the brand had a reputation for unreliability, but as I understand it, the Fiat line of cars hold together pretty well today.  Long term testing of the 500, available since 2007, has produced good results for the car.  My 850 was for the purpose of running up and down the Space Coast of Florida when I was assigned to the Apollo program.

The 500T that I tested had the 135 horsepower (150 lb. ft. of torque), turbocharged, 1.4 liter four cylinder engine and five speed manual transmission.  It was painted Rame (copper) metallic and the interior was Nero (black) cloth.  I’m pretty sure these are Italian words.  Base price of the turbo model was $19,500, and options included the Beats audio package ($1,500), comfort/convenience group ($650), and $700 for destination charges.  Total M.S.R.P., therefore, was $22,350.  Beats Audio is the stereo company started by Dr. Dre, and in the car it featured 6 speakers, including a trunk mounted subwoofer.  Satellite radio, Bluetooth phone, USB connection, cruise, tilt, power windows (2), power remote locks, and leather wrapped steering wheel/shift knob were all on hand in the 500T.

According to the Fiat brochure, “Zippy happens” with the turbocharged 500, and I will attest to that.  It also rides well on the Interstate, despite the 90.6” wheelbase.  Weight of the 500T is 2,333 lbs., and the fuel tank holds 10.5 gallons –   EPA mileage ratings are 28/34 city-highway.  Overall, driving the Fiat 500T is a lot of fun.

Styling is a hallmark of the Fiat, and the Sport has some extra fascia trim as well as a chrome exhaust finisher, chrome door handles, spoiler, and polished 16” alloy wheels.  The car is fitted with 195/45R-16 radials.

I like this Fiat more than the one I owned 42 years ago – in fact at that point in time I would have been surprised to hear of the future existence of such a nice Fiat.