Fiat's new Spider flashes back to sportier times

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Fiat's sporty new Spider mashes up Italian flair with Japanese manufacturing. (KABC)

It's been five years since Fiat returned to the United States with the cute little 500.

It now comes in all sorts of varieties, from the high performance 500 Abarth, to the pure electric 500e.

Fiat added a couple of larger models in recent years to appeal to a wider customer base, the 500L and 500X four-doors.

Now, the newest Fiat is here, and it's a flashback to the brand's earlier times in the U.S. This year marks the return of the 124 Spider, promising lots of fun, open-air motoring at a base price of about $25,000.

Though this is an all-new car for Fiat, they had a big head start developing it, as it shares a whole lot with the Mazda Miata.

Though Fiat calls the Spider an Italian car in spirit, the label in the door jamb states quite clearly that it's made in Japan.

But this isn't just a Miata with a Fiat badge thrown on. It has Fiat's own engine, a turbo-charged 1.4-liter four cylinder, which produces a bit more horsepower (160 vs. 155) and a lot more torque (184 vs. 148 lb-ft) than the non-turbocharged engine in the Miata.

The extra power and torque help performance quite a bit, especially with the standard 6-speed manual transmission.

Another place Fiat went their own way was with the suspension, tuned by engineers in Italy and Michigan. While the Mazda Miata is legendary for its neutral handling characteristics, the Spider is equally nimble through the corners.

As for comfort, it's all there too, with amenities that the Fiat Spider of the 1970s never imagined, especially in the up-level Lusso model.

For a base price of $27,495, the Lusso includes things like automatic climate control and heated leather seats. An automatic transmission is available for an additional $1,400.

As in the Miata, comfort is limited if you're more than about six-feet tall, especially when the top is up.

The earlier Fiat Spider had a somewhat elongated hood in relation to the rest of the car, and Fiat's designers did the same thing with the new one. Overall, the Spider is about five inches longer than the Miata, and the two cars share no body panels.

The new Fiat Spider: a car with a famous Italian name, but built by a Japanese company. While this may seem like a strange mash-up, it's the global auto industry working in harmony. European flair meets Asian manufacturing efficiency.
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