Tag Archives: Mazda Miata

2017 Fiat 500 Abarth

Fiat 500 Abarth pumps up the low-cost fun … 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth

Few cars are pure joy to drive, yet cost less than $30,000. I’d put the Mazda Miata at the top of those, and a few models of the Mini Cooper would slot into this price range. But Fiat’s 500 Abarth is a relative newcomer and blows the others away on price.

The Abarth starts at about $21 grand, including delivery, and that’s down about $2,500 from a year ago. That doesn’t happen often!

There’s no getting around the fact that the Fiat 500 is a tiny car. It rides on just a 90.6-inch wheelbase, is a wee 144.4 inches long and weighs just more than 2,500 lbs.2017 Fiat 500 Abarth

But in its size, like the Miata, lies the Fiat’s fun, nimbleness and, well, joy.

You can toss this around, zip through corners, slip into seemingly impossible parking spots and flat out drive it like you stole it. It’s fun. This is a driver’s car. You smile a lot in a 500.2017 Fiat 500 Abarth

In its lower lines, the Pop and Lounge models, the 500 carries a mild 1.4-liter Multi-Air I4 that generates just 101 horsepower, leading to superb gas mileage. Well, the racier Abarth, which Fiat says is pronounced AH-bart, bumps that up substantially to 160 horses thanks to dual intercoolers, turbos.

Now you have some pop when you slip the 5-speed manual through the gears. Second and third punch up the torque (a 170 rating) and by fourth you feel like you’ve had a little mini vacation. Five speeds keeps it all simple, but adding a sixth would allow its small engine to bring the revs down and quiet the interior some.

Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed the grumbling burble of this little turbo as it was amplified via dual exhausts. But I kept wanting to shift to sixth on the freeway as its continued grumble made listening to the radio nigh to impossible. Continue reading 2017 Fiat 500 Abarth

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2017 Fiat 124 Spider Classica

Fiat’s 124 a Miata remake long on style, better ride2017 Fiat 124 Spider

It has been a long, long time since an affordable convertible with Italian styling was available in the United States, but now we have Fiat’s 124 Spider.

Actually, we had it all along, or at least since 1989, in the form of a Mazda Miata. The new Fiat is mostly Miata, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Ah, but there are differences.

For stylistas who prefer a long hood reflecting the styling of previous Fiat Spiders and other Italian sports cars, Fiat’s restyling of Miata’s body will be alluring. And it is. The Spider looks longer and leaner than the cute, but edgy Miata.

Yet there’s amore; I mean more.2017 Fiat 124 Spider

The 124’s headlights are round and taillights are rectangles, similar to the 1960s Spider, the ride is a tad smoother and well, plus there’s a bit more oomph under that long hood. Fiat uses one of its Multi-Air turbocharged 1.4-liter I4 engines to propel the roadster.

That’s not a huge upgrade in the pony department, moving from Mazda’s 155 horses generated by its 2.0-liter I4 to 160 in the Fiat. But the torque, the oomph if you will, is more substantial at 184 lb.-ft. with the turbo.

Dimensionally Fiat’s Spider is about 5 inches longer (most of it hood we suspect) and 100 pounds heavier. But what’s that among friends.

From a driving perspective the feel is nearly the same in a 124 Spider as in a Miata – simple fun. Handling is quick and light, the car feels you totally control it and can put it anywhere you want on the road. The roadster corners well on twisty roads and thanks to the turbo, it leaves a stoplight with a touch more zip than the Miata. Continue reading 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Classica

2015 Buick Encore AWD Premium

Buick Encore surprisingly nimble encore1

The Buick Encore and Chevy Trax are kissin’ cousins riding on the same platform with the same engine and transmission, but aimed at different markets.

Not surprisingly the Chevy aims at value-minded and younger buyers, while the Buick aims more upscale, at empty-nesters who demand luxury and feel they’ve hit a stage of life where they’ve moved beyond the Chevy brand. I like both the Trax and Encore. They’re fun to drive with nimble handling and good ride for a small sport-ute. Both deliver excellent fuel economy.

There’s no denying the Buick feels more upscale. It has a leather interior and is quieter inside. As an aging Boomer I like the quiet. Additional sound deadening, which Buick calls QuietTuning, helps ensure the quiet, along with a Bose Active Noise Cancellation system.

encore2That and the leather interior and more standard features helps explain the added cost compared with the Trax, which is a real bargain. The Trax LT AWD I tested previously started at $23,945 and with minor options was just $25,315. While the tested bright white Encore AWD Premium listed at $30,935 and after options and delivery charges hit $34,390. That’s pretty high considering how many fine mid-size utes and crossovers you can get for that, or less. Most offer AWD and are more spacious inside.

Naturally, if you want the Buick, but find yourself closer to a Chevy budget, a base Encore starts at $24,990, but that’s with two-wheel drive. I don’t want to dwell on price because the Encore is such fun to drive, and few utes or crossovers can say that. Continue reading 2015 Buick Encore AWD Premium

Zoomie Car of the Year Awards 1990-2014

25 Years of Zoomies

Here are my Car of the Year Awards for the first 25 years of the Savage On Wheels column, as they appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. This year the Zoomies will appear only on this website. Watch for their posting …. very soon!

Art: Stuart Carlson
Art: Stuart Carlson

Here are the past Zoomie winners:

2014: Mazda3 (light, swoopy hatchback with power, fun handling and fuel efficiency)

2013: Dodge Dart (sassy smart looking small car, full of youthful features, value)

2012: Chevrolet Volt (good looking, well built and cutting edge technology)

2011: Ford Mustang (in any trim a beautiful, fast, fun car with excellent ride and handling)

2010: Suzuki Kizashi SLS (modest price, good looks/handling, loaded with goodies)

2009: Volvo C30 (sassy, economical, fun with fresh styling)

2008: Nissan Altima Coupe (awesome looks, good value, fun drive with power)

2007: Mazda5 (stylish blend of sportwagon-van, low price, practical)

2006: Ford Fusion (good looks, good value, improved fit and finish) Continue reading Zoomie Car of the Year Awards 1990-2014

2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata

A Sports Car as Good as it Gets

This is the Miata I actually drove, but a few weeks before the test. Here it sits near the Carousel at Road America at a Midwest Autowriters outing.

To look at Mazda’s MX-5 Miata you’d think little has changed since its introduction nearly 25 years ago.It’s still the quintessential two-seater, a sports car for the ages with a simple layout, simple lines, simple controls and for today’s market, a simple price tag.

The base Sport with a soft convertible top goes for $23,470, but the tested Special Edition with a power hardtop lists at $31,225. Add in the $795 destination charge and you’re looking at $32,020, not an economy car, but there aren’t many convertibles available in this price range anymore.

Yet Miata is a pleasant mixture of change and stability. The petit, some might call it cute, styling has been cleaned up a touch through the years, so now it reflects a bit more crispness, like the former Honda S2000 roadster. Continue reading 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata