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2017 Fiat 124 Spider: First Impressions

img109626984 1447874712290 jpg 2017 Fiat 124 Spider; | Cars.com photo by Steven Pham

There’s a problem with Fiat’s new roadster, the Mazda-based 124 Spider. And that problem is that the new MX-5 Miata was unveiled first. Taken on its own the new 124 Spider isn’t a bad-looking car — it’s got good proportions, and from the right angle (the forward three-quarters) you can see parallels with the original roadster from the 1960s. But when parked next to a Miata, which is a flawless example of automotive styling, the 124 Spider just looks wrong.

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The big eyes don’t help. Those three-element LED ring-style running lights set into scalloped openings are meant to harken back to the Pininfarina-designed “baby Ferrari” look of the original, but they look a little cartoonish and forced. Compared to the low-slung look of the Miata (and yes, there’s just no way around continuing to compare this car with the Miata), it looks wrong.

img111474026 1447874723674 jpg 2017 Fiat 124 Spider; | Cars.com photo by Steven Pham

The squared-off rear end looks too high and too blocky. It has the feel of a little-known aftermarket tuner modifying a perfectly good Miata with an ill-conceived body kit. Fiat has tried very hard to make it look Fiat-like, and despite there not being a single body panel shared with the Miata, the similarities are still apparent.

img141026698 1447874795203 jpg 2017 Fiat 124 Spider; | Cars.com photo by Steven Pham

Peek inside, and you’re greeted with straight-up Mazda Miata interior bits, right down to the multimedia controller between the seats. It’s understandably expensive to do a unique dashboard for such a low-volume vehicle, but the Mazda interior is so distinctive that it’s impossible to hide the vehicle’s origins with some additional leatherette wrapping. Thankfully, it’s a good interior already, so nobody can fault Fiat for quality or design. But again, it just does not feel Italian in there.

img142873740 1447874808591 jpg 2017 Fiat 124 Spider; | Cars.com photo by Steven Pham

Hopefully, the driving experience will be enough to differentiate the Fiat 124 Spider from the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Replacing the Mazda engine with a Fiat engine (the awesomely snorty 1.4-liter turbo found under the hood of the 500 Abarth), special gearing on the transmission and a unique dual exhaust, the 124 Spider should certainly sound and feel like a proper Italian roadster. It’s just a shame that it doesn’t actually look like one.

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Detroit Bureau Chief Aaron Bragman has had over 25 years of experience in the auto industry as a journalist, analyst, purchasing agent and program manager. Bragman grew up around his father’s classic Triumph sports cars (which were all sold and gone when he turned 16, much to his frustration) and comes from a Detroit family where cars put food on tables as much as smiles on faces. Today, he’s a member of the Automotive Press Association and the Midwest Automotive Media Association. His pronouns are he/him, but his adjectives are fat/sassy. Email Aaron Bragman

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