Mazda Miata:

2017 Fiat 124 Spider – Japanese Roadster with Italian Flair

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2017 Fiat 124 Spider F34 450Fiat 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).


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Owners Rate Most Fun to Drive Cars

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Fun to drive can be defined an infinite number of ways.  The sports car driver will say power and acceleration, braking and handling are the main contributors to fun to drive.  There is also the element of sexy head-turning styling ringing the sports car driver’s bell.  The sport utility driver will add functionality to that equation.  A smart fortwo driver may think its quirky styling, minuscule size (even with its funky transmission) add to the fun to drive experience.

The most fun to drive vehicles in AutoPacific’s New Vehicle Satisfaction Research – those with 85 % or more of their drivers totally satisfied with its fun to drive characteristics include:

2014 Chevrolet SS1.  Chevrolet SS:  We can certainly understand this one.  Fully loaded 4-door sedan with a Corvette V8, the SS is a great value and adds sedan functionality to a high performance platform.  Not a big seller, the SS buyer certainly understands the special car they are driving.  One hundred percent of the respondents were totally satisfied with its fun to drive characteristics.

2015 Chevrolet Corvette2.  Chevrolet Corvette:  Corvette is the quintessential American sports car.  Big with dramatic styling and powered by a large displacement push-rod V8, the Corvette not only has the dynamics for a fun to drive winner, but also the looks.

 

2014 Porsche Cayman3. Porsche Cayman:  Curvaceous styling with Porsche DNA, German precision and sprightly dynamics have 94% of Cayman drivers totally satisfied with the fun to drive of their car.

 

 

2014 Porsche Panamera4.  Porsche Panamera:  The most expensive of the fun to drive vehicles is the Porsche Panamera 4-door sedan with 93% of its owners totally satisfied.  Sometimes criticized for its ungainly looks, it checks the boxes for fun to drive.  Panamera is in the top ten in power and acceleration.  Panamera is top ranked for braking. Panamera is in the top five for handling.  Not bad for such a large car.

2014 smart fortwo5.  smart fortwo:  There are fifteen cars that score 85% or higher in fun to drive.  Surprising is one of them is the smart fortwo with 92% of its drivers totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  Acceleration and powertrain performance clearly are not strong suits for the fortwo.  Only 28% of fortwo owners are totally satisfied with power and acceleration, so there are other things contributing to its fun to drive.  Maybe it is handling? – 72% are totally satisfied with its handling.  Maybe getting good fuel economy is a contributor? – 76% are totally satisfied with fuel economy.  Maybe just fortwo’s quirky styling just puts a smile on their face?

2014 Porsche Boxster6.  Porsche Boxster:  The first of the “baby” Porsche entries has sometimes been called a chick’s car, and maybe it is if you watched the episode of Two and a Half Men where Alan buys one, but its owners 91% of its owners are totally satisfied with how fun to drive it is.  Owners rate the Boxster in the top ten of totally satisfied with power and acceleration, braking, and handling – all strong contributors to fun to drive.

2015 Nissan 370Z Coupe7.  Nissan 370Z:  A “classic” sports car, 90% of Z-Car owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes.  It is in the top ten in power and acceleration, but comes up shy in handling ranking 12th and poorly in braking where it ranks 53rd.

2014 Jaguar F-Type8.  Jaguar F-Type:  Jag’s new sports car entry has 90% of its owners totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  F-Type is in the top ten in power and acceleration, 11th in braking and 25th in handling.  Clearly, F-Types powertrain strongly contributes to its fun to drive and combined with its classic styling owners score the car very strongly.

2014 Subaru BRZ9.  Subaru BRZ:  The BRZ may be a new category of sporty coupe.  It is built to be extremely maneuverable and fun for a young person.  Small, rear wheel drive, and with the ability to drift around corners, 89% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  In the case of the BRZ, its power and acceleration does not deliver on its looks or fun to drive image.  Only 30% of BRZ owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration ranking it 225th.  About 56% BRZ owners are totally satisfied with its braking.  Where BRZ shines is in handling with 84% of its owners totally satisfying.  It appears that Subaru could improve the standing of the BRZ if engine power was increased substantially.

2014 Chevrolet Camaro10.  Chevrolet Camaro:  A classic American muscle car, 89% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes.  Camaro ranks 17th in power and acceleration with 73% totally satisfied.  It ranks 18th in braking with 77% of its owners totally satisfied.  Camaro ranks 10th in handling.  These are solid results for a sporty coupe showing Camaro succeeds not only on the basis of its iconic image and styling, but also on dynamics.

2014 Ford Mustang11.  Ford Mustang: The outgoing Mustang still has a lot going it with 88% of its owners totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  Mustang owners rank its power and acceleration 28th with 68% totally satisfied.  Mustang falls to 95th in braking with 65% totally satisfied.  It is 55th in handling with 71% totally satisfied.  Clearly, style, image and reputation have gone a long way in contributing to Mustang’s position among fun to drive cars.

2014 MINI Paceman12.  MINI Paceman:  The wierdly styled MINI Paceman is totally fun to drive for about 88% of its owners.  46% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration ranking 156th, other MINI entries rank substantially higher.  About 67% of its owners are totally satisfied with its braking ranking 52nd.  About 75% of owners are totally satisfied with its handling – 27th.  Head-turning styling and image strongly contribute to the fun to drive aura of the MINI Paceman.

2014 Mazda Miata13.  Mazda Miata:  Miatas, or MX-5s, are famous for how fun to drive they are.  About 86% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive attributes.  Miata is not supposed to be blindingly fast it is supposed to be fun and most owners recognize that.  Still, ranking 109th, 53% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration.  About 68% are totally satisfied with its braking – 48th.  About 64% are totally satisfied with its handling – 29th.

2014 Mitsubishi Lancer EVO14.  Mitsubishi Lancer EVO:  The last Lancer EVO ranks 14th in fun to drive with 85% of its owners totally satisfied.  Generally, a car sold for its performance never lives up to the expectations of its owners in power and acceleration, but the EVO seems to be an exception.  About 71% of its owners are totally satisfied with its power and acceleration – ranking 22nd.  About 78% are totally satisfied with braking – 13th.  About 78% are totally satisfied with handling – 15th.  This is a pretty good all-around performance for dynamic attributes.  Sayonara EVO, you will be missed.

2014 Scion FR-S15.  Scion FR-S: The FR-S is the Scion version of the Subaru BRZ.  About 85% of its owners are totally satisfied with its fun to drive.  Like the BRZ, FR-S owners want more power and acceleration – only 33% are totally satisfied – ranked 222nd.  About 52% are totally satisfied with its braking – ranking 178th.  About 73% of FR-S owners are totally satisfied with its handling – that is what the car is designed for after all – ranking 37th.

Top Ten Fun to Drive Brands:  The ranking of brands includes the fun to drive results for all their entries.  The top ten brands are:  1) Porsche, 2) MINI, 3) BMW, 4) Audi, 5) Jaguar, 6) Fiat, 7) Scion, 8) Cadillac, 9) Lincoln, 10) Mercedes-Benz.


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Cadillac STS-V – America's Most Powerful Sedan

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VehicleVoice STS Super Badge.JPG

Ah, this is more like it. The 469-horsepower supercharged Cadillac STS-V is what a high performance interstate cruiser is all about. Large, substantial, spacious, fully featured, blindingly fast, the STS-V, in most cases, more than fills the bill for affluent drivers who covet luxury as well as performance.
VehicleVoice STS F34.JPG

Now, I know my colleagues who like more nimble cars pooh pooh the STS-V, but this car certainly has its place. In fact, when the STS-V rolled out of our lot an Audi S4 with its 340-horsepower V8 and a six-speed manual transmission rolled in. The younger, sportier folks gravitated to the Imola yellow S4 and shed nary a tear for the STS-V. Me, I’d take the STS-V in a heartbeat.
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Saturn Sky Red Line – Corvette Light or Extra-Strength Miata?

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Having me review a 2 seat open top roadster is like having Ed Begley talk about the virtues of an electric vehicle. Objectivity may be a stretch. I’m already a choir member. I just have too many fond memories of riding with my big brother in his Datsun 1600. Cars were invented to have their roofs removed, and their gears selected by the driver. It’s no surprise that I like this vehicle. A lot.
The Look
Talk about a head turner. This vehicle got more attention than grenade in a wedding cake. I probably didn’t hurt that our vehicle was bright red, but I think this vehicle would draw a crowd in any color. I answered more questions from strangers than any other vehicle in recent memory. From geriatrics to kids on skateboards, I received nothing but rave reviews on its exterior styling. My favorite? “It’s a Saturn? But it’s so pretty?”
EDITOR’S NOTE
At first, several of us at AutoPacific were critical of the Saturn Sky. Without driving it, we could critique the substandard interior materials and the truly abysmal cupholder, the lack of storage and on-the-ground sitting position. Appreciating the Sky Red Line is to drive it… hard. Luckily, part ot my commute is through a canyon with dramatic climbs, dips, variously aggressive curves, little traffic even at rush hour. This is where the car really comes into its own. The 260-horsepower provides punch whenever you want it and the wide track shod with sticky tires kept the Sky where you planted it.
On the other hand, Sky’s styling goes into the toilet when the convertible top is up. Also, with the top up, the car is almost impossible to get into or out of. For those of us who are a bit width challenged, a couple of more inches of shoulder room would be nice. But even with these niggling complaints, why doesn’t Sky sell better. Is its success, or lack of success, proof that the market for small 2-seaters is really saturated when Miata, Solstice and Sky are all available at under $25,000.


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Mazda Steps Up the Two-Seat Convertible Wars

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Optional Power Retractable Hard Top to Join MX-5’s Options List
Though the news has not found its way to Mazda’s U.S. web site, the home-market branch announced today that the MX-5 convertible gets a new power retractable hard top option that will be offered in North America, Europe, and Japan. More details will be available after its formal introduction at the London auto show in mid-July, but we at VehicleVoice couldn’t wait to bring you the first pictures. Shown here is the European spec model.

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In Japan, the hardtop model will be called Mazda Roadster Power Retractable Hard Top, in Europe the Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe, and in North America the Mazda MX-5 (Miata) Power Retractable Hard Top.
With the new hard top, Mazda is raising the stakes against newcomers from Pontiac and Saturn in the affordable, two-seat convertible market. Will Mazda sell lots of hard-top-equipped MX-5s in the States? Probably not. While experts at AutoPacific do not expect that the model will dramatically increase sales or account for a large percent of the overall mix, Mazda may see a small increase with the new option. More important, it puts General Motors on notice that Mazda will not be giving up their share of this market without a fight. It is also not the only trick up Mazda’s sleeve, as a MazdaSpeed MX-5 is also in the works.
Check back next month, when we expect to have more details about the U.S. on-sale date and equipment for the U.S.-specification models.
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There's No Such Thing As A Bad Name For A Good Car

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In spite of the fact the naming of new automobiles is one of the most arcane and over-intellectualized elements of the auto industry, when all is said and done the name is all but academic if the car is good. And the best damned name in the world will do little to redeem a miserable excuse for an automobile. Perhaps a few examples are called for. When it comes to the lame name for a accomplished automobile a few rise to the top…
Jim Hall, VehicleVoice correspondent and head of AutoPacific‘s Industry Analysis office ponders the naming conundrum.
Mazda Miata Good Car, Good Name, Now the MX-5
Mazda has decided to go back to its original name for the extremely popular Miata sports car. Now the car is officially the MX-5 and Miata is no longer “officially” used. Reportedly, when Mazda was testing potential names in focus groups (none of which were ever chosen), one participant almost came out of his chair when he saw a photo of the Miata prototype and said, “I don’t care what they call it, I would call it MINE!” Well, that is the kind of reaction you want when naming a car, but now millions are spent figuring out what combination of letters and numbers to use to name a car. Oh yeah, how was the Miata named? The Mazda Product Planner for the car at the time was flipping through a dictionary one day and came upon a word that sounded good and meant something good in German. Sold. Cheap, effective research.


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Saturn Sky Quietly Introduced in Los Angeles

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Spring 2006 Sales for Saturn’s First Convertible
The wait is nearly over. After the 2002 Saturn Sky concept sparked speculation about when and if Saturn would add a convertible and was followed by a concept version only twelve months ago, the production vehicle arrives at showrooms in spring 2006. The concept introduced at the Detroit auto show and the production car on display at the 2006 Los Angeles auto show are nearly identical, though the two-seat, rear-wheel-drive roadster is basically the opposite of the front-wheel-drive 2002 concept.


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Land Rover LR3 for First Snow of the Season: To SUV or Not To SUV

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After an unusually warm fall, in southeastern Michigan we are experiencing temperatures more typical of January and February than November or December, complete with early snowfall well ahead of the average. By December 11, we had seen more snow than our average for the entire month of December and more snow than we’ve seen in December since 1974, according to a local newscast. Four to eight inches of the month’s ten-plus inches dropped on the evening of December 8, when snow started coming down heavy about 6 p.m. By about 9:30 p.m., it sure seemed as though three-quarters of the total had fallen. I was attending a holiday party and needed to drive about fifteen miles before I could be snug at home, I found myself grateful to be driving a Land Rover LR3. But: Grateful enough to opt for an SUV for our household fleet?

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