2017 Fiat Spider Lusso with automatics transmission drive review

My job as an official for the 24 Hours of Lemons race series takes me to exotic destinations such as Loudon, New Hampshire, or Willcox, Arizona, and I find that these trips provide excellent opportunities to see how a vehicle performs under real-world conditions.
That means hauling plenty of coworkers and their stuff over potholed back roads full of mutant wildlife and then trying to look cool when cruising through a paddock full of opinionated car-expert racers. In March, I drove a 2017 Toyota Prius Prime to work at Sonoma Raceway in California, achieving staggeringly good fuel economy while attracting exactly zero interest in the car from anybody. In May, the Lemons Traveling Circus rolled into Thunderhill Raceway for the Vodden the Hell Are We Doing race, and I opted for a car I figured would attract some notice: a bronzo magnetico titanium 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso. Here’s how that went.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider automatic gearshift lever

I forgot to specify that I wanted a manual transmission, and so I got this.PHOTO BY MURILEE MARTIN

2017 Fiat 124 Spider on Glenn County road

This sort of driving is a lot more fun with a manual transmission.PHOTO BY MURILEE MARTIN

With an automatic, I didn’t feel inspired to do all that Racey McRacerson stuff on the ample, hilly, winding roads around Thunderhill Raceway, because why bother getting sporty with a sports car burdened with a slushbox? I’ll cut to the chase on the driving impressions and say this thing drives more or less exactly like a Mazda Miata, because it is a Mazda Miata. I’m sure that I’d have been able to detect the subtle performance differences between the Miata and the 124 Spider (beyond the obvious engine contrast, the Fiat being equipped with a 160-hp turbocharged engine and the Mazda getting a 155-hp naturally aspirated engine) had I been able to jump from one to the other and compare, but my depression over the automatic was so profound that I drove the thing like a rental Dodge Journey anyway.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider on Nimitz Freeway

Driving the Dreaded Nimitz™ freeway in Oakland.PHOTO BY MURILEE MARTIN

In any case, much of my driving before and after the race took place on congested San Francisco Bay Area highways, where top-down motoring pleasure looks like this, even in a sexy crypto-Italian convertible.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso near Glenn County orchard

It’s slightly cooler-looking than its Miata sibling.PHOTO BY MURILEE MARTIN

There are two types of people who might want a two-seat sports car. One is the type who will take the car to track days and bore you with lengthy monologues about trail braking and double apexing. This person should skip the 124 Spider and go right to the MX-5. The other type wants to look and feel cool, maybe a little dangerous and why not liven up your commute to the cubicle-farm day job with a non-boring-looking car? The Fiat 124 Spider is ideal for this purpose, because it has all the no-nonsense reliability and good design of the Miata plus a snazzier interior (color-wise, at least) and Turin-influenced body lines.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider with 24 Hours of Lemons judge cars

The 124 Spider fit in well with the cars driven by the other race officialsPHOTO BY MURILEE MARTIN

While working at the race, I parked the Fiat next to the cars of my coworkers: a completely original Volkswagen Rabbit pickup and a B-Spec Toyota Yaris race car. The Fiat got some interest from racers (most of whom already owned Miata street and/or race cars), but it just didn’t stand out when next to cars like these.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider with Eyesore Racing Mazda Miata

With one of the most successful Mazdas in 24 Hours of Lemons historyPHOTO BY MURILEE MARTIN

One of the best things about having this car as my Race Organizer Review sled was the tradition of shooting photographs with Lemons race cars made by the same manufacturer. I broadened the qualifications to include engine-swapped cars, because I think the idea of a factory-engine-swapped new Miata is an interesting one. Here’s the Fiat with its ancestor, the famous Eyesore Racing Miata.

2017 Fiat 124 Spider Lusso LH front view

After nearly a week with this car, I came to appreciate it as good-looking transportation.PHOTO BY MURILEE MARTIN

After a week with this car, including several days driving in 104°F heat, I found that it was a pretty sensible transportation device; with the six-speed manual transmission, it would have been genuinely fun. The MultiAir turbo engine sounds better than the Miata’s engine and makes a bit more power, and there’s no danger of looking like the world’s most boring track nerd, as you would in a new Miata.
Fuente: Auto Week