Fiat Turns to Mazda for Iconic Sports Car About 50 years after first launching the Fiat 124 Spider in the United States, Fiat is launching a new Spider in Summer 2016. The last time the Fiat 124 Spider was sold in the USA was in 1983. To gain a desirable roadster without having to develop the car themselves, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) turned to Mazda.
Fiat wants the 124 Spider to re-establish the sporty image of the brand and communicate “fun, joyous and optimistic” motoring.
Basically, the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is a reskinned Mazda Miata propelled by a Fiat MultiAir Turbo 4-cylinder engine.
Unique Exterior Styling Take the outstanding Mazda MX-5 Miata and breathe Italian-ness on it and you have the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider. With the rear wheel drive Mazda roadster platform as a base, Fiat has done an excellent job differentiating their little roadster from the Miata. The proportions are definitely Miata, but the Fiat body is 5.5-inches longer with much of the length increase going to the trunk. The exterior styling is different, maybe a bit more upscale looking. The front end has a hexagonal grille with a honeycomb mesh flanked by styled headlamps. It has a friendly face. The rear has sharp horizontal LED taillamps. Both the front and rear designs are reminiscent of the original 124 Spider.
Minor Interior Differentiation The interior is lifted directly from the Miata with material upgrades here and there. The seats are very comfortable and supportive with a unique sew style. Two seat trim colors are available, black and saddle. The saddle seat trim is very upscale looking and radio speakers in the headrests are a nice touch. The interior has been optimized for quietness. Being a roadster, wind buffeting can be a real problem, so care was taken in the windshield header and side window design to minimize buffeting at speed. The top is one of the best features of the Fiat 124 Spider. It can be opened or closed with one hand from either front seat. Brilliant!
Unique Turbo Engine from Italy The Fiat 124 Spider is powered by Fiat’s 1.4L MultiAir Turbo 4-cylinder engine with 160-horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque. The engine block has been modified for longitudinal installation in the platform and to mate with Mazda’s excellent 6-speed manual transmission and 6-speed automatic transmission.
The suspension has been tuned a bit differently and the ride seems a bit more supple than on the Miata. Handling is crisp as befits the short wheelbase.
Pricing Essentially Equivalent with Miata There are three trim levels: Classica, Lusso and Abarth. There is also a 124 unit special edition car at launch – Prima Edizione Lusso (check all the boxes, unique blue color = $35,000). The base Classica model is priced at $24,995 with the 6-speed manual transmission. Destination charges are $995. About 60% of the Fiat 124 Spider buyers are expected to opt for the automatic transmission that adds $1,350 to the price. The volume model likely will be the $27,495 Lusso model that adds automatic headlamps, fog lamps, rain sensing wipers, automatic temperature control, leatherette and piano black instrument panel inserts, and 7-inch touch screen. Selecting the sportiest Abarth model is $28,195. When compared with the Miata, Lusso seems like a deal compared with the Miata Grand Touring ($31,270) except the Grand Touring Miata is fully loaded. To get that level of equipment on the Fiat 124 Spider adds another $3,795 to the price putting the Fiat only $20 higher than the Miata (Fiat destination charge is $160 higher than Mazda – puts actual price difference at $180 higher than Miata).
Honda launches its all-new 2016 HR-V sub-compact crossover sport utility vehicle in May, 2015. The 2016 Honda HR-V, based on Honda’s diminutive Fit sub-compact, is very spacious for what it is. The interior – at least the passenger compartment – feels about as big as the larger Honda CR-V. HR-V’s wheelbase is only a half inch shorter than CR-V allowing the big seating area, but its overall length is about ten inches shorter – less cargo room. The front seating area feels wider than you would expect in a vehicle this small. Ingress and egress are easy to the front seats. The rear seats are a bit tight. You have to maneuver your feet to get between the B-pillar and the seat and there is not much knee room. Cargo room is larger than it looks. The best feature Honda takes from the architecture of the Fit are the “Magic Seat” rear seats that flip and fold several ways to maximize the flexibility of the area behind the front seats.
Shared Platform with Renegade – Different Mission At a glance, the 2016 Fiat 500X is a solid addition to the Fiat lineup in the USA. Built alongside the Jeep Renegade at FCA’s Melfi, Italy plant the 500X shares the Renegade’s platform but has a dramatically different mission that demands tuning and settings to be very different. While the Renegade Trailhawk is at home off-road, the 500X is for the cities and suburbs.
Once upon a time, I was the design engineer for the advanced vehicle package of the Ford Nantucket program. Nantucket was the code name of what would become the 1975 Ford Econoline full size van that was to continue in production with moderate updates through 2014 – about 39 years!. So, it was particularly meaningful to me to accept an invitation by Ford to attend the press preview for the Econoline’s (now “E-Series”) replacement in Kansas City, Missouri – the Ford Transit.
Hugely Complex Program – Lots of Choice Ford’s One Ford strategy dictates that vehicles be as common as possible around the world. While the E-Series has been the top selling large van in the USA for years, it was basically a North America only product. The European Transit van was completely different. Also, the American E-Series never had the breadth of product choices that the European Transit had. Now that has changed with the American-made Transit about as complex as the European model.
America has been introduced to the European white van offerings with the European Mercedes-Benz/Freightliner Sprinter van and the Ram Promaster (from Fiat). So the 2015 Ford Transit may not take the American eye by surprise, but its complexity is near mind blowing. The 2015 Ford Transit is available in two wheelbases, three roof heights in both cargo van and passenger wagon configurations. There is even a chassis cab and cutaway available. What this means is that you can have an empty box, or a high-roof wagon that can seat up to 15 people. Ford affectionately calls this one the “Jumbo”.
(General Motors has the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana vans that are sorely in need of updating. At present, The General has no vehicles in the USA facing these Euro-style competitors).
Initially, Transit is available with a sliding door on the passenger side of the vehicle. Later the van version will be available with a sliding door on the driver’s side as well. Because the second row seat would have to be narrowed to be two passengers only, the passenger version – the Transit wagon – is only available with a passenger side slider.
Maneuverable The Transit is very easy to drive with outstanding forward visibility through what has to be about the largest windshield in the industry. Europe-like turning radius makes the Transit very maneuverable in tight spaces. A tight slow-speed gymkhana course in a Kansas City parking lot helped demonstrate how nimble even the Jumbo was through narrow cone alleys.
Wide Powertrain Selection Power comes from a 275HP/260 lb-ft of torque 3.7L V6, a 310HP/400 lb-ft of torque 3.5L EcoBoost V6, or a 185HP/350 lb-ft of torque 3.2L I5 Power Stroke diesel. Of the three engines, the EcoBoost V6 has the most punch and is the most fun to drive – as if that is a major attribute a van buyer is looking for. All engines are mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. The powertrains in the 2015 Ford Transit get much better fuel economy than the outgoing E-Series; a substantial operating cost savings commercial van operators are looking for.
Can Transit Be Rattle Free? We have all ridden in vans and shuttles that are consummate rattle traps. Of course, they probably have a couple hundred thousand miles on them and have been abused for their entire time in service. And, of course, the vans Ford provided for the press preview had been thoroughly prepped. The remarkable thing about these vans was how quiet and rattle-free they were. They were very tight and solid feeling. It will be interesting to experience one when it hits 100,000 miles.
Navigation Screen Snafu Okay, I can understand Ford’s rationale that few commercial fleet operators would spring for an in-vehicle navigation system when most of their drivers are equipped with GPS enabled smart phones with Google Maps, but the Transit solution to navigation is Sync with MyFord Touch and a relatively small screen. Other Ford vehicles have an 8-inch screen and the Transit loses out in comparison. I know, its a nit-pick, but worthy of mention.
E-Series Continues in Chassis Cab Versions Probably until the end of the decade, the old Econoline/E-Series will still be available in chassis cab configurations likely for airport shuttle use. They are built at Ford’s Loraine, Ohio plant.
The 2014 Fiat 500L is on sale now. Fiat unloaded the first boatload of 500Ls in Baltimore early June and by mid-June they had begun arriving at nearby Fiat Studios. Adding this larger four door vehicle to the Fiat line-up is very welcome to Fiat dealers who have been limited to the Fiat 500 albeit with two bodystyles and a multitude of models. The 500L is based on Fiat’s new “Small Wide” platform and shares nothing with the smaller 500 except for the “500” nomenclature and its engine. Like the 500, the 500L strives to be very emotional in its styling with cab-forward proportions and a long floating roof that is usually in contrasting colors to the body. Early on, it will turn heads.
For those who have not been paying attention, the 500L competes with the Kia Soul, Nissan Cube and MINI Countryman. It is available with dark tinted rear windows meaning it is classified as a truck. It is front wheel drive and powered with Fiat’s 1.4L Multi-Air Turbocharged 4-cylinder engine found in the 500 Abarth mated to either a six-speed manual transmission or Euro Twin Clutch automatic – a full automatic will be available in the first half of 2014. The 160-horsepower 4-cylinder has 184 lb-ft of torque. But the vehicle is much bigger and heavier than the minuscule Abarth and does not have near the performance. But that’s another story we’ll address later.
Big Car Room in Micro Car Footprint The real story about the 500L is its size. Think of it as a B-Segment four-door hatchback with a large car sized interior. It has panoramic view windows for great visibility. The seating position is upright and the seat is positioned so you can just slide into it. No climbing to get up into the seat. Once you are in, there is generous headroom and adequate shoulder room even for the largest drivers and passengers. The steering wheel has a squarish inner diameter so the instrument cluster can be viewed without obstructions. The ergonomics are good with controls easy to reach and operate. Fiat claims the 500L has best-in-class headroom, legroom, interior volume and cargo space.
Four Models – Pop-Easy-Trekking-Lounge The four models range in price from $19,900 (with destination included) for the Pop to $24,995 for the top of the line Lounge. The more aggressive USA-only Trekking model – shown above with the kayak mounted on the roof – is a step down from the Lounge at $21,995. While Fiat describes the 500L as the “Anti-SUV”, the SUV-like cues on the Trekking model are certainly a nod in that direction with more aggressive cladding and even a unique front fascia. While the Trekking model is USA-only now, Fiat says other markets like the model and are asking that it be added to their line-ups as well. The interiors are differentiated by material usage – hard and soft trim – and color. But each interior attempts to be a bit playful and engaging. Attention to detail is very good.
Some naysayers are already preparing their eulogies for the electric car. They say that have failed. They say that consumers don’t want them. They say the market’s not ready for them. Our view? To date, they’ve been a tough sell, but there’s some real progress being made. We’re not ready to start cuing Mozart’s Requiem just yet.
Consider if you will the new Fiat 500e, the Italian brand’s new entry into the electric car segment. It’s great to look at. It’s fun to drive. It’s quick. It’s well equipped with lots of features. And the whole package incorporates some very convincing and innovative motivators to consider one.
From our point of view, there are two major reasons why electric cars haven’t taken off yet. One is price. Electric cars cost far more than their gasoline powered counterparts. The other is range anxiety. Consumers are (rightly) concerned that electric cars won’t get them where they need to go and that they could be left stranded, with no backup in sight.
Award Winner Gets Major Changes After Only Three Years The 2012 Grand Cherokee has been arguably the best affordable “real” SUV on the market since the latest generation was launched for the 2011 model year. The Grand Cherokee was so good that its owners rated it higher enough against its competition to win AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award in 2011 and 2012 AND AutoPacific’s Ideal Vehicle Award in 2011 and 2012! This sweep in these tough-to-win owner awards is testament to the excellence of the Grand Cherokee.
Developed in Time of Hardship The 2011 Grand Cherokee was developed during the dark days of the reign of Cerberus Capital Management. Their ownership of Chrysler steered the firm to the bankruptcy courts and a bailout by the U.S. and Canadian government, UAW and CAW. Ultimately, Fiat took control of Chrysler and Jeep and the firm is now prospering. It is surprising that under the eyes of Cerberus, the 2011 Grand Cherokee turned out to be such a good vehicle.
Best Gets Better Like other Chrysler products (Chrysler 300, Chrysler 200, Dodge Charger, Ram 1500), Jeep’s product team has reinvigorated the vehicle but mostly under the skin. The front fascia is new. Taillamps are new. A couple of wheel designs are new. And the interiors are new and much more upscale. Grand Cherokee gets Chrysler’s latest iteration of its excellent and easy to use UConnect system. Gone is the 5-speed automatic transmission replaced by a silky smooth 8-speed unit. A 240HP 3.0L V6 diesel is available for the first time. So, the Grand Cherokee is a substantially upgraded version of the 2011 vehicle. And it works!
After driving the Fiat 500 and 500c (cabriolet), I was ready to relegate it to the ranks of “chick car”. Its high-style accents and accoutrements scream “feminine”. But, now there is a Fiat a guy can be proud to drive – the Abarth model. Abarth Fiats have been high performance versions of Fiat car lines for decades since Austrian Karl Abarth began modifying them in the late ’50s. This is America’s chance to have the most up-to-date Abarth available.
Scorpions Anyone? At a glance you can tell the Abarth is something special. Starting with the Fiat 500 Sport, the Abarth adds a unique front fascia that is actually functional making room for the 160HP 1.4L MultiAir 4-cylinder turbocharged engine. The Abarth is not shy about shouting what it is. The Abarth scorpion logo is found on the quarter panels, on the decklid, on the grille and on centers of the wheels. There is also a lower bodyside stripe shouting “ABARTH”. The outside mirrors sport contrasting colors depending on the interior color selection and matching the Abarth bodyside stripe. The mirror caps and Abarth stripe are a $350 option.
Of all the vehicles I have tried out over the past two months since joining the VehicleVoice staff, the 2012 FIAT 500 Sport was by far the biggest attention grabber. Even my neighbor, whom I have never heard a word from in over two years, came up to me to inquire about my latest ride. His final words to me: “You’re gonna have a hard time picking up girls with this car.”
Its diminutive size may give the 500 a somewhat feminine gait, but the car no doubt draws looks wherever it goes. Regardless of the image the FIAT 500 may have portrayed, I was a bit amused by all the stares I got from zipping around town in this car.
Inspired by the original FIAT 500 minicar of 1957, the new 500 pays stylistic homage to that car but takes its soul into the 21st century. It is certainly one of the smallest cars for sale in the U.S., which could end up being a challenge for the car…or a unique differentiator.