2017 Fiat 124 Spider
While Fiat is well known worldwide for their diminutive 500, or cinquecento; it’s the 124 Coupe and Spider that first introduced most Americans to the brand back in the late 60s. And after using the 500 to re-introduce themselves here in the states, Fiat has now launched an all-new 124 Spider for us to enjoy. But this is no throw-back two seat Italian sports car!
Up to now, the cars making up Fiat’s U.S. return have indeed been diminutive, mostly economy-minded affairs. But, the overall effect of Fiat’s return has been anything but small, merging with Chrysler in 2014 to create Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. And now things get a whole lot more exciting with the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider.
Now this is where we tell you that this 124 is actually built on the same chassis as the Mazda MX-5, and further, comes out of the same Japanese plant. But this is far from a story about international badge engineering. They really do look a lot different, at least outside, especially when parked next to each other. Where the MX-5 has gotten meaner looking over the years, the 124 looks classy; with a nicely modern update of 60’s Italian-style.
The 124 Spider certainly has a sporty character; but instead of begging you to seek apexes, it yearns for mountain passes, and a more relaxed Grand Touring pace. It’s less edgy and more compliant; a kinder, gentler, and softer MX-5 if you will. Very reminiscent of the first Miata.
The engine is another clear departure. In place of the Miata’s naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter is the same 1.4-liter MultiAir turbo-4 found in other current Fiats, including the raucous 500 Abarth. Here it spins up 160–horsepower and 184 lb-ft. of torque.
It winds up quickly. But, despite more horsepower and torque, an increase in size and weight makes the 124 a tad less spirited off the line than the MX-5, though the exhaust note adds to its much enjoyed Italian flair.
And it surely fits in with the character of the original 124 Spider, which was an everyman’s take on a Ferrari.
We hit 60 in 7.6–seconds, and cleared the ¼-mile in 15.8-seconds at 91 miles-per-hour. Refreshing!
Our tester came with the optional 6–speed automatic in place of the standard 6-speed manual. It worked well enough, with smooth shifts; but really could use some paddle shifters for truly living out the Italian dream. Yes, you can shift manually with the shifter itself, but it’s just not the same.
After taking a few trips through the cones, our early impressions were confirmed; the 124 Spider does respond softer than a Miata.
Steering is numb feeling, but accurate; and there’s always the possibility of snapping the rear loose; as even with the cushier feel, the car remains plenty responsive.
But while unique outside and under the hood, the interior is another story. It’s almost a direct MX-5 copy, including dash-top infotainment screen that responds to touch and a console-mounted controller. To get navigation, you have to opt for Lusso trim and then add the Premium Collection Package.
The 124’s gauges look great and steering wheel placement is just about perfect.
Also there’s still no dash-mounted glove box, rather a storage bin in between the seats, but you do get an outside trunk release. And, with 5 1/2 inches more length, there’s more room in the 124’s trunk, 4.9 cubic-ft. versus the MX-5’s 4.6.
And we love the fact that top operation is still 1-hand fold down simple; thank you Fiat for not complicating that.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings are 25-City, 36-Highway, and 29–Combined. We averaged just 27.1 miles-per-gallon, and this tiny turbo does require Premium.
The Energy Impact Score is still good however, at 11.4-barrels of annual oil consumption with CO2 emissions of 5.0-tons.
There are 3-models of 124 to choose from, starting with Classica at $25,990. For what it’s worth, that makes it the lowest-priced turbocharged convertible in America, but also $240 more than a base MX-5.
So overall, if you like the MX-5, you’ll like the 124. Though, while clearly not politically correct, we do think the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider will easily appeal more to female buyers; though it will certainly attract fans of the original 124 as well.
Mazda says that without the Fiat partnership for the 124, a new MX-5 might not have happened. Now that would have been a calamity. So, we’re ecstatic that Fiat decided to bring back the 124 Spider, for a global tie-up that everyone who loves to drive should go out and celebrate.
- Engine: 1.4 liter
- Horsepower: 160
- Torque: 184 lb-ft.
- 0-60 mph: 7.6 seconds
- 1/4 mile: 15.8 seconds @ 91 mph
- EPA: 25 mpg city / 36 mpg highway
- Energy Impact: 11.4 barrels of oil/yr
- CO2 Emissions: 5.0 tons/yr
2023 GMC Canyon
Canyon Goes Bigger
Most people know the GMC Canyon as the Chevrolet Colorado’s professional grade cousin. And while that sounds like just marketing speak, with an all-new design of GM’s midsize truck platform comes more genuine brand separation. So, let’s see what the third-gen GMC Canyon delivers in real time!
Small trucks are once again a big deal, and part of the reason is that they are no longer small. There’s not much about this 2023 GMC Canyon that resembles the ¼-ton Sonomas, S-10s, Rangers, and Datsun trucks that were wildly popular in the 1980s.
Of course, then, people were willing to sacrifice certain “big-truck” things for an easier to use and more economical pickup experience. Well, we don’t seem to be big on compromise for much of anything these days, and the current midsize crop of trucks deliver more than ever. So fittingly, the 2023 Canyon will be available as a Crew Cab only with a 5-foot bed. No more extended cab or long bed options. Wheelbase is about 3-inches longer than before, with the front wheels pushed more towards the front. It definitely looks tougher, and they’ve even eliminated the much-hated front air dam that protruded well below the front bumper.
The Canyon also comes exclusively with the high-output version of GM’s 2.7-liter turbocharged I-4, with a stout 310-horsepower and 430 lb-ft. of torque. At times it feels even more powerful than those numbers would indicate, with its diesel-like torque delivery enabling a best-in-class max tow rating of 7,700-lbs. No choice of transmission either, strictly 8-speed automatic, but you can still decide whether you want rear or 4-wheel-drive.
At minimum, ground clearance is 9.6-inches, which is more than an inch taller than last year, and almost 2-inches over Chevy’s base Colorado. And since it’s all about the off-road packages these days, our AT4 tester comes with 4-wheel drive, off-road suspension, locking rear diff, 2-speed transfer case, hill descent control, and 18-inch wheels with all-terrain tires.
And that’s just where things get started, as at the top of the heap, there’s a new AT4X with 10.7-inches of ground clearance, enhanced front and rear e-locking differentials, 33-inch mud terrain tires, Multimatic dampers, and an additional Baja Drive Mode. We’ll have more on the AT4X real soon.
But for all Canyons, including this AT4, GMC went tech-heavy, as all get 11-inch infotainment screens and a fully digital driver display in either 8 or 11-inches. Plus, an available head up display comes with most trims, and there are even optional underbody cameras.
Unique AT4 features include a Jet Black and Timber interior motif with stitched logos on the leather front seats. Those seats are definitely comfortable, and it feels maybe a tad roomier than before, but still well shy of the sprawling space in a full-size truck. It’s even more noticeable in the rear, though there are more practical storage options back here.
The AT4 gets a sliding rear window, along with a tailgate storage system to complement the integrated ruler, and bed side-mounted 120-volt power outlet. The Canyon already delivered one of the best rides in the midsize class, and the taller suspension seems to only improve on that; it’s not quite crossover plush, but certainly great for a body on frame truck.
Though the higher ground clearance and off-road emphasis kept it from being a track star. Indeed, healthy amounts of understeer and body roll greeted us in our handling course. It was a little hesitant off the line in speed runs, but once rolling, power poured on steadily. 0-60 in only 7.5-seconds, and through the ¼-mile in 15.6-seconds at 91 miles-per-hour.
Government Fuel Economy Ratings for the AT4 are 17-City, 21-Highway, and 19-Combined; we averaged an acceptable 18.2 miles-per-gallon of Regular. Pricing starts with a 2-wheel-drive Elevation at $38,395. That puts it at midlevel Chevrolet Colorado, with is consistent with the mission of the new Canyon. All other trims come with 4-wheel drive, this AT4 starting at $45,395, and the AT4X now eclipsing Denali as the highest offering at $56,995.
So, as small trucks have grown, so has the price of entry. But if that doesn’t scare you off, there is no denying the 2023 GMC Canyon is yes bigger, but also bolder and badder than before. Does that necessarily make it better? We say positively yes!
- Engine: 2.7L Turbo-4
- Horsepower: 310
- 0-60 mph: 7.5 seconds
- 60-0 Braking: 121 feet (avg)
- MW Fuel Economy: 18.2 mpg (Regular)
- Transmission: 8-speed auto
- Torque: 430 lb-ft.
- 1/4 Mile: 15.6-seconds at 91 mph
- EPA: 17 City / 21 Highway / 19 Combined
2024 Jeep Wrangler
The New Wrangler Crawls Its Way Towards Modernization
The Jeep Wrangler has been an affordable rugged launching pad for backroad exploring for almost four decades. And while constant updates have made the current Wrangler more modern and capable than ever, a lot has changed since the JL model first arrived for 2018. So, Jeep engineers did their thing again, handing us yet another, better Wrangler for 2024.
To most people, the Jeep Wrangler is all about tradition, a craggy aging dinosaur among the smooth fleet-footed crossovers of the modern era. But the Wrangler has come a long way with modernization in recent years, and takes another big step for 2024.
Side curtain airbags for the first and second rows are now included in all but the base Wrangler Sport, and Uconnect 5 with 12.3-touchscreen is now standard across the board. And since the 4xe plug-in hybrid powertrain has proven so popular, Jeep has made it available in more trims, including all the way down to Sport S, which means an even lower entry price point for what has quickly become the best-selling PHEV in America.
So, the 4xe has truly brought the Wrangler into the modern era in more ways than one, and it was also what we chose to spend the bulk of our Southern Utah drive time in. It still delivers the same impressive, combined output of 375-horsepower and 470 lb-ft. of torque, with the added bonus of 21-miles of EV time.
The 4xe is just one of many engine options however, including a 270-horsepower 2.0-liter I4 turbo and the monster 470-horsepower 6.4-liter V8 exclusive to the Rubicon 392. Standard engine remains the 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, which is the only way to go if you want to shift your own gears, as the rest are all 8-speed automatics.
Speaking of the Rubicon, they’ve made it even more capable for ’24, with a new Dana 44 HD full-floating solid rear axle which should hold up better when you stuff bigger tires in there, plus boosts towing capacity from 3,500 to 5,000-lbs. And a factory-installed 8,000-lbs. Warn winch is now available as an option.
Off Road+ drive mode makes its way into 4xe models for ’24 too, optimizing throttle, traction control, and transmission parameters to maximize off-road performance whether rock crawling or doing high-speed desert runs. And since people really can’t get enough of Rubicon, Jeep has added a new Rubicon X model with 35-inch tires on beadlock-capable 17-inch wheels, integrated off-road camera, steel bumpers, and full-time Rock-Trac 4:1 transfer case.
Back on our home turf, it was a trip to Mason Dixon Dragway with this 4xe plug-in performer.
Provided you’ve still got some battery power for additional boost, the 4xe will jump off the line with surprising authority on its way to a 0-60 time of 6.7-seconds. Power deliver stays strong once you get rolling, with things really coming alive as the tach needle climbs. Automatic shifts were both quick and smooth, resulting in ¼-mile runs of 15.0-seconds flat at 97 miles-per-hour.
There’s nothing about the Wrangler that wants to be pushed hard through a cone course, but we did it so you won’t have to. And truth be told, it wasn’t that bad, but when you’re sitting this far off the ground, it’s a natural tendency to keep inputs smooth and steady and not tempt tipsy fate by being overly aggressive with steering inputs. But rest assured, even if you are heavy handed, there are plenty of safety systems in place to help keep bad things from happening. There was a lot of weight transfer on hard braking, which is to be expected, but 145 foot stops from 60 were still longer than we like.
The only real change to the new Wrangler look-wise is an updated 7-slot grille with shorter openings; though there are also the usual new color and wheel choices. Multiple soft and hardtop options remain available. And inside, the dash has been reshaped a bit to house that new touchscreen, 12-way adjustable power seats are now available, and additional sound deadening has been added to higher trim levels.
But, just about every trim level also comes with additional content for ’24, and thankfully they haven’t eliminated the 2-door yet, which starts things off with Sport trim at $33,690, 4-grand more for the 4-door. 4xe’s remain 4-door only, but now start at just over $50,000, with the exclusive High Altitude trim at $68,790.
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Jeep sells an incredible number of Wranglers every year, and it was really what kept the former Chrysler Corporation afloat for many years. Stellantis has big plans for EVs going forward, but the 2024 Jeep Wrangler is not only more capable and modern than ever, it’s proof that electrification and old-school off roaders can coexist; and it’s a pretty good bet that the Jeep Wrangler will always remain a major part their portfolio.
- Engine: 2.0L Turbo-4
- Horsepower: 375
- 0-60 mph: 6.7 seconds
- 60-0 Braking: 145 feet (avg)
- EV Range: 21 miles
- Battery: 17.3-kWh
- Torque: 470 lb-ft.
- 1/4 Mile: 15.0-seconds flat at 97 mph
- EPA (Combined): 20 MPG | 49 MPGe