Drive Time: Fiat 124 Spider tests twists of Rist | MyWindsorNow.com
Bud Wells
For The Tribune

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Drive Time: Fiat 124 Spider tests twists of Rist

The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth in Rist Canyon.

Idling at a stoplight Sunday after driving away from lunch in Old Town Fort Collins in a 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth roadster, it took me but a few seconds to brighten the tiny cockpit. With my left hand on the steering wheel, I released the latch at the center of the windshield header, tossed back the soft-top and gave one final hard push to secure it down behind the seats.

With the top open, the beautifully sculpted Fiat draws lots of looks along the busy streets of Greeley, Windsor, Loveland and Fort Collins. The two-seater performs best, though, out on a more open roadway, one filled with curves and climbs and descents and some spectacular sideline scenery. You know where I'm heading with this. We were lunching in Old Town from completing the exhilarating drive of Rist Canyon.

Rist Canyon and its adjacent areas north of Masonville and west of Fort Collins, are drives lined not only with beauty, but challenges worthy of great-handling automobiles. Since the day in February 2009, when I tested its twists with an '09 Chrysler 300C SRT8's 425-horsepower, 6.1-liter Hemi V-8, I've guided four sports cars through the "course."

Perfectly suited to the narrow roadways was the Porsche Carrera, then came the 2010 Chevy Corvette Grand Sport Coupe – 6-speed manual shift with a 436-hp, 6.2-liter V-8, which would run 0 to 60 in 4 seconds. Last September, it was the 2016 Ford Mustang GT, finished in a deep orange hue, with 435-hp and 400 lb.-ft. of torque. Sunday, it was the Abarth Spider in an Italian rosso shade of red.

The Fiat 124's outstanding grip and cornering capability are its claims to meriting a run through the Rist loop. The Abarth version of the convertible adds Bilstein sport suspension, Brembo brakes, a mechanical limited-slip differential and Recaro sport seats.

The 124 Spider dates to the mid-1960s in Italy, and the new one certainly appears to be something designed and built in Fiat's native land. Not so.

While the Spider is chief rival for the popular Mazda Miata, ironically the Fiat is being built by Mazda on the same assembly line as the Miata, in Hiroshima, Japan. The faster Mazda builds the cars, the more competition it has. Wise guys have referred to the new 124 as a Fiata or Fiazda.

While the interiors of the Spider and Miata are near identical, the Fiat furnishes its own engine and is somewhat distinctive with an exterior of low-riding grille, hood bulges and a chrome finish around the windshield, all drawn from the old 124. The Fiat is 5 inches longer than the Miata.

In Abarth form, the Fiat uses a 1.4-liter, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine of 164 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque. Mazda for its Miata uses a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder naturally aspirated block of 155 horsepower. The two shares Mazda's 6-speed manual transmission.

My overall fuel-mileage average was 28.9; EPA estimate is 26/35. The interior is tight, particularly in footroom for the driver. If braking for a downshift with right foot on the pedal, the left foot barely has room to depress the clutch.

Sticker price on the Abarth Spider is$33,185. Give up sport leather seats, navigation, headlamp washers, blind-spot warning and SiriusXM satellite radio and the price would fall below $30k ($29,190). Beginning price on the lesser-equipped 124 Spider Classica is around $25,000.

— Bud Wells, a native of Wray, is a former Page 1 editor of the Denver Post and has reviewed automobiles for the past 40 years. He can be contacted at budwellscars@comcast.net.