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Performance, Please! – Fiat 124 Spider/Kia Stinger

For a lot of folks, driving is merely a way to get between Points A and B. But you, you’re looking to have a little fun behind the wheel.

Performance is standard on the Fiat 124 Spider. (Photo: © FCA US LLC.)

If there’s a nicer place to be on a sunny afternoon than a winding two-lane road behind the wheel of the Fiat 124 Spider (with the top down, of course) we honestly can’t think of it.

Yes, this two-seat roadster is every bit that agreeable. Built on the underpinnings of the highly regarded Mazda MX-5 Miata, the Spider is a different but no less enjoyable car. For starters, virtually every surface has been reworked to give the Fiat a distinctive look with a uniquely Italian fl air.

The parts you can’t see are equally noteworthy, starting with Fiat’s exclusive turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine. The luxury-oriented Lusso model I drove made optimal use of this motor with its precise six-speed manual gearbox (a less-engaging six-speed automatic is available as an option). The suspension has been retuned to give this version a slightly plusher ride quality without altering the crisp handling that makes the car such a pleasure to drive on said meandering strip of asphalt.

In short, the Fiat 124 Spider is more than just a Miata with a Fiat badge slapped on it. It’s one of those affordable cars that makes you feel like a million bucks behind the wheel.

Base Price: $24,995

MPG: 26 city, 35 highways

Crash Test: N/A

The Kia Stinger is head-turning and affordable. (Photo: Kia Motors America)

Call me a contrarian, but I don’t put much stock in the badges cars wear – I’m simply not impressed with Mercedes’ three-pointed star or BMW’s blue-and-white roundel. No, what impresses me is bang for the buck and the new Kia Stinger has that in abundance.

This midsize four-door hatchback with the sport sedan looks combines head-turning styling with stirring performance. All in a package that can be many thousands less than comparable models from those trendy European brands. Add a comfortable passenger cabin with generous room for four adults and a plethora of comfort and safety features and you have a car that compares favorably with anything in its class.

The top-of-the-line GT2 AWD version I drove was powered by a twin-turbocharged, 3.3-liter V-6 that puts out a healthy 365 horsepower (a still-sprightly 255 horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder is standard). The ride quality is firm but perfectly acceptable and the sporty handling rivals that of many more spendy sport sedans.

I strongly recommend the Kia Stinger as an affordable alternative for those not afflicted with badge-envy.

Base Price: $25,390

MPG: 43 city, 41 highway

Crash Test: 5 stars

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    Actually, there is a nicer place to be on a sunny afternoon – behind the wheel of either our 1978 Fiat X1/9, or our 1969 Lotus Elan. But the 124 is not far behind. In fact, when my wife’s 2010 Mini Cooper S needs an engine or some other large expense, she’ll be either buying another one, or else the 124 Spyder.


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