Cooley On Cars
2016 Fiat 124: Does the world need a Miata in drag? (CNET On Cars, Episode 97)Why the Fiat 124 isn't a cynical ploy, how over-the-air updates work, and your email about trusting crash tests.
[SOUND] Fiat 124, does the world need a Miata in drag? This car's a joy to drive. Flashing your car to make it better, for longer, and your emails about factory parts, and the lives of crash test dummies. It's time to check the text. [SOUND] We see cars differently. Nice. We love them on the road and under the hood. But also check the text. [SOUND] And are known for telling it like it is. Ugly is included at no extra cost. The good, the bad, the bottom line. This is c/net On Cars. Welcome to c/net On Cars, the show all about high-tech cars and modern driving. I'm Brian Cooley. Well the term is bad engineering and you say it with a sneer, because it refers to the idea of taking an existing car And basically retrimming it and selling it s a new model. Now, from the inside, you might say that about the Fiat 124. Come on. That's a [UNKNOWN]. But from the outside, you definitely wouldn't ditto for what's under the hood. That's a very different engine there. So what do we have on our hands here? Let's dissect it and find out, as we drive the new 17 Fiat 124 in Lusso trim. And check the tech. [SOUND] [MUSIC] [SOUND] Now, everyone now knows that the 124 is basically a rebodied, reengined Miata. Look at the body. This is a home run. They did Miata better than Mazda. This beautifully echoes the original Fiat 124 Spider. Absolutely one of the most beautiful, affordable cars ever made. And they did it in a way that's not going to date as badly as I fear the current Miata's going to with its little beady eyes, and its Needlessly angry face. This is a timeless, classy looking ride. [MUSIC] Overall it's about five and a half inches longer than a Miata, most of that in the schaunz, a little in the rump. 95 pounds heavier as you might imagine. Otherwise dimensions inside and in the underpinnings are the same. Now, the cabin of the Miada, sorry the 124, is very Miada. It's snug in here, but it's a little more roomy than some of the earlier cars you may have driven back in the day. I fit, but I don't fit for like a drive for five hours. Need to make some stops, shall we say. Beyond that, extremely Mazda. Fiat badge, that's about all they change in terms of this whole area. You do have a little nicer trim all around the cabin. Very upscale, kind of an Italian feel but not dramatically different. This head unit, you recognize this that straight up Mazda stuff. You've got a nice array of entertainment sources that are generally modern, but notice there's no Carplayer Android Auto because Mazda doesn't support that in this head unit, and the Fiat you connect unit doesn't work in here. The seats are different as well, and I wanna call attention to those. Notice that the back covers kinda are loose. It's almost like a sling you're sitting in. You're either gonna like this and think it's really cozy. Or like me, you're gonna think it's really weird like getting a hug from behind from a really weird uncle. After awhile I just wanted to get away from it. Improved audio's important. It opens up cars. You need a little more muscle, a little more definition helps. And this guy, as you can see, has some speakers in the headrest right next to the Bose badge. And of course, being the nature of this car, storage is at a premium. One of the biggest thigns you'll miss though is no glove box. You do instead Have a storage bin bag here that is supremely inconvenience. Even if you do turn your back this much. Your arms don't reach in there. It's not human mechanically possible. Similarly putting this top down as a little bit. That acrobatic. You gotta make sure you have two good rotator cuffs. I only have one because I blew out the other one, ironically, on a 66 Fiat. Just like on the current Miata, there is no power top option in this generation of car. Instead, you've got a super simple mechanical linkage system that is a miracle of lightweight engineering, a lever on each end to make this thing go one way. Or the other-- I think my phone weighs more than this. 124's don't share an engine with the Miata, they get Fiat's 1.4 liter Turbo 4 with multi air valve technology. As a result the Fiat's got a little more horsepower but it's got a lot more torque Rear-wheel drive, of course. We have a six-speed automatic unfortunately. A six-speed manual is available. Okay, driving this 124 versus the Mazda's Bastuck has one key difference. You've got more oomph when you need it. And with less Having to go fetch it, that's what your turbo does for you and that additional 30 some odd feet of torque. That's your big difference. You don't need to be running this guy in the high RPM range all the time. Which is good and bad. It means you got extra oomph when you need it in kinda a lazy hit the pedal way. It also means you're lacking some of that real linearity and Christmas of the Mazda powertrain So to me this car is much less a crime in a automatic than the Miata. And by the way the suspension is virtually identical on this guy as in the Miata. A little different in terms of some of the framing, beneath the engine because it's a different engine, beyond that, if you know the Miata ride, you know this ride. And maybe, just maybe that extra hundred pounds and Five more inches are giving it a little more of a modulated ride as well. Want paddle shifters? You've gotta get the high trim sport version a bar, otherwise you're left moving this lever back and forth down here. Which is, I don't know, kinda clunky by todays standards. Something else I love about being built on this platform, right there. You've got a nice, low, by today's standards Standards door sale. You can drop your arm over the side, and it's not like this. It's interesting, I didn't measure the foot wells, but I have a lot more leg room on the driver's side than on the passenger's side. I'm not sure what's going on down there. But it's a more comfortable car for a tall driver than a tall passenger. This car's a joy to drive. If I could just keep my creepy uncle back here from Hugging me from behind. [SOUND] Now you can get into a 124 for as little as 26 delivered. This guy, the Lusso, the mid-level which I think is the sweet spot is 28.5. But that's before we add the potential automatic transmission at 1,350. That's your call. But I bet you do want the premium package for 3,800 to get Bose audio, adaptive headlights Blind spot across traffic, GPS navigation, LED lights, parking sensors, and satellite radios. The steal on the sheet may be the Abarth trim. The top of the line. For $700 you get a limited slip rear differential, Rambo brakes in the front and another four horsepower. That seems like a pretty good bargain overall. Though I like the look of the [UNKNOWN] better. In some, the 124 should be a total hit of the same scale of the Miata. Rationally, that's the only conclusion you can come to, except for one problem. They're both fighting for the same market, and it's a small one. And what the Miata brings to the fight is a legendary name plate from a totally trusted car-maker brand. Fiat doesn't bring so much either of those, though I think its looks are absolutely superior and we can argue about the engine. Now, I'm a little nervous about this guy's prospects on the market as a result. Find more on the Fiat 124 at The Road Show dot com. That's CNet's all new automotive site. Now people often say, boy, cars are almost like rolling smart phones these days. When I come back, we're going to see how they literally are. When cnet on cars returns. [MUSIC] [BLANK_AUDIO] [MUSIC] OTA stands for over the air. The idea of sending software over the air, in this case to update your car. It already happens to the OS in your phone. Why? First recalls. More and more of them, and more and more cars affected by them are due to software, according to J.D. Power. Now with nary a wrench to be turned, an OTA serviced recall means no dealer visit. Features. Keeping your car better as it ages, and depreciating a little less. Adding value to the car after the sale? What a radical idea, and Tesla has even taken it further charging for features and functions added after the sale. But don't think that car companies aren't paying attention and thinking about the different business model opportunities. Compliance and security. As vehicle rules change, or as hacks become known, cars could be hardened against them easily. This is something that needs to be in place today. Cars will not be secure until there is an in place, over the air software update capability. Savings. Time, for you, not having to schedule a dealer visit. And money for the car maker. IHS Automotive says by 2022 160 million cars around the world will have ota update ability saving carmakers $35 billion on easier map infotainment and safety updates. But there are two main sandbox's of OTA. Theres infotainment where you refresh things like Map updates streaming services important. Then there's drive control updates. These are things that effect the cars ability to move down the road and they are critical. Tesla has added self-driving features via OTA. GM says it will never make drive updates via OTA. It's an area in need of regulatory standards to say the least. All late model cars are full of ECU, or electronic control units, that run everything from your engine to your sunroof. But to make them updatable over the air, a car needs a little more tech. First a TCU, that can stand for telematics control unit or transmission control unit, not the geared type. It's the main device that oversees anything OTA and the devices that get updated by it. And there should always be an onboard fallback. Fallback. So if the update goes wrong the car doesn't get bricked. Lexus pushed out an update in June of 2016 that bricked a bunch of car's head units. And to detect the problems after it arrives and whether it was properly installed because you may have to do a rollback. So it's very complicated and it's a nightmare. Now hurdles for doing OTA are several. First of all what to do with it Car makers know different owners would value different updates. You can't do them all, they have to know which ones are gonna hit pay dirt. Cost, the data your car throws off is gold to car makers. They should pay you for it, says [UNKNOWN]. Yet, some car makers frequently Charge [UNKNOWN] for the wireless download that powers their OTA updates. Standards and common platforms, those are needed especially on the updates, for the drive system, and the presence of wireless connections. The vast majority of cars on the road today don't have one, and may never. Okay, let's get to your emails from this week. First one comes in from Hayden E., he's in Atlanta, Georgia. He says I have a question about IIHS' small overlap crash test. It's one of their newer tests when they do crash ratings. Some cars, he notes, like the Lexus RC, seem to absorb impact energy around the A pillar and surrounding structures. And the vehicle stops. Other cars, he says, like the Lexus CT200h, instead of stopping, appear to have the vehicle's structure crush more, allowing the car to keep sliding forward. This is what he sees in the crash test videos. He says, I don't understand how vehicles in the second category get the same rating as vehicles in the first. Well, here's what's going on. Crash test ratings are Are interesting. This is the up and the down of releasing these videos, which the IIHS does and gets ton of media attention, cuz they're amazing to watch, as well as learn the score. But the thing is, to the layperson who's not an engineer and that includes me, you think you can tell a lot by watching how that think deforms when it hits a barrier. But to be honest, that's mostly interesting visuals. And the science is not on the outside of the car as much as it is on the inside with the dummy. The dummy is an amazing high-tech instrument package, and all that really matters is what happens to the dummy, regardless of how much deformation goes on on the outside of the car. [SOUND] You see, when a car is gonna deform, it's gonna deform in its own way. Models will vary. Some of them will have a whole of deforming on the outside. Others seem to have a solid chamber in the middle that doesn't budge. Again, viewing from the outside is hard, it's better to go with the idea that cars will all deform differently, model to model. Even car to car in the real world. But all that matters is you want the crash energy dissipated somewhere in the car and not somewhere on me. If either of us is gonna to the junkyard after a collision, I want it to be car, not myself. Now in terms of the folks behind these ratings, the IIHS of course is best known for the five star crash ratings and such. Very trustworthy organization just because you've got to look at their point of view. They're funded and founded by the insurance industry, and they have one mission in life. It's to shame car makers into safer cars so their clients, the insurance companies, have to pay out fewer claims from injury. So they've got no skin in the game, other than to make sure cars are as safe as possible and service the ones that aren't. Okay, next email comes in from Jared L. from the big D, Dallas, Texas, and he said, I recently got a letter from Kia stating that they were Extending the warranty on his car, on the engine, because it's got a faulty connecting rod. That's pretty serious stuff. We're talking way down in the bowels of the engine. The part that connects the crank shaft to the piston in one of the cylinders. The local dealer said as long as I use Kia OEM or factory filters They'll honor the warranty that they've just extended. Is it even legal, he asks, to force consumers to use specific parts to keep a warranty enforced. Okay, Jared, I'm glad you asked about this. This warranty stuff can be little confusing, we haven't touched on it in awhile so lets go here. It all comes into what's called the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act of 1975. That's a piece of US regulation that says, yes, you can direct your own service on your car except when you're getting free service. When the factory and dealer are doing warranty work, or doing some sort of a repair that's not costing you anything. In this case, Kia, has the right to say where you get the service, and then obviously what parts they're gonna use, because they're providing those as well. So, yes, under warranty repairs, which aren't out of your pocket, it's their game to call where it gets done and what the parts source is. Now, that said, you can go ahead and choose your own parts for any other work, standard maintenance, for example. You can use any kind of filter, not just a factory filter in this case, as long as it's a good part and you're taking it to a real mechanic. Or doing it yourself and willing to take the risk that you can convince them you knew what you were doing. This is an area where it gets a little dicey, but if the part or service that you do on your own causes the car to fail, they can and likely will deny warranty coverage on that part of the car. However, the Onus to prove that is on the OEM. It's on Kia in this case to say, you know what? You use some crappy oil filters and that caused this connecting rod to go. So that's it, you've gotta put a new engine in yourself at your own cost. This is gonna get to be a battle of expertise and lawyers who has more of They do. So you gotta be a little careful here. That means you want to keep really good records of all the service you do, part receipts, and service receipts from your mechanic to be able to document it really clearly use reasonably good parts that are reasonably good mechanic. And your specific case for this question, I would just go on Amazon and buy Kia OEM filters Have those installed at a reasonable shop. Any idiot can do an oil change, so I think any shop is gonna be fine on that. And keep records of that. Then you kind of satisfied everybody. Your need, or interest in choose your own shop. And their interest in having you use OEM filters. [MUSIC] When I come back more of your emails including why crash safety can be a euphemism for almost none at all [MUSIC] Welcome back to CNet on cars. Coming to you from our home at the Mount Tam Motor Club, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Okay, next email comes in from Peter. He's writing in from Thailand. He says, when carmakers are in foreign markets like Thailand, what standards do they follow for the rules on crash safety? The home market, or the sale market? And, when they're planning for autonomous cars, he continues, do they account for the kamikaze driving conditions like here, where driving laws are viewed as optional, and the laws of physics are the only real limit. And, there are so many tuk-tuks, rickshaws and scooters. Okay, last question first. Automakers are still trying to get self-driving cars to reliably recognize things like big trucks, and buses. They'll deal with rickshaws and scooters later, We hope. Now let's get to the meatier question which is this idea of whose standards apply where when a car is sold. This is about NCAP, the new car assessment program. Which is a program that was begun in the US in 1979 and has since spread to different regions of the world. So there's a regionalized NCAP just about everywhere, or close to it. For example, where you are, there is a Southeast Asian Chapter of NCAPs that will cover cars sold in Thailand. You can check their site to find ratings on vehicles there, which would be analogous to any other region of the world. Here's the thing, though. NCAP in your part of the world's only been operating about five years. So it doesn't quite have the history and the legs Than other chapters do, but it's the best bet you've got going and they are the ruling authority on safety of new cars sold, officially, legitimately in Thailand. There are many other chapters of NCAP. ANCAP covers Australia and New Zealand. The Euro NCAP for the Eurozone. The Latin NCAP for South America. C-NCAP for China. In India they're just getting started with Bharat New Vehicle Safety Assessment Program, but that's not even gonna be up and running until 2018, which leads to one problem There are a lot of complaints that globally standards are uneven and very soft in some places. India for example, as I mentioned, they're just getting started there with their first testing programs. Some real sketchy cars sold in that market. Similarly, some cars that are totally safe cars sold in Europe, are then exported as a slightly different version to South America and some of them can be a disaster by the results that we have seen. Same car, but boy, underneath the skin there's something missing. So you've got some unevenness, the UN has been decrying for about a year now, very loudly wanting a single global standard. And we don't have that right now. It can vary quite a bit. The bottom line is, check the southeast Asian site of MCAP, where cars in your market. If you really want something you know is safe, maybe you got to grave market the thing in from Europe. Or America, where the standards are just about the highest. Okay our last email comes in from Thomas, he's in Las Vegas. And he says I want to point out that there's one other alternative to tweak your VW speedometer. The topic we talked about last episode, with a viewer who had a problem with his speedo reading high and he wanted to recalibrate it As I mentioned about a four or five hundred dollar solution that could do that. Thomas says, OBDeleven, which is another technology will do it and do so for about 60 bucks, about 55 euros cuz it is a European market product. It's wireless, he says, through the OBD2 port via Bluetooth, to your phone. The only downside he points out is that you have to use an Android device. It's not available on iPhone. And its only for VAG cars. That's the Volkswagen automotive group, which is VW, Audi, Skoda, and [UNKNOWN]. That's a lot of cars. Now thanks for the tip, Thomas. We have a lot of Volkswagen Audi drivers in the audience. What you're mentioning here is a much more affordable solution than that, 3, 4, $500 rig that I pointed out last episode. Which is a really good one, but a little rich for some folks' blood for occasional use. The broader issue you're pointing out here, though, is a magical combination for anyone who wants to either diagnose their car, clear trouble codes. Tune it for performance or efficiency, within emission laws, of course, and that is this idea of an OBD-II port which is under dashboards since 1996 in just about any car, certainly in the US. Bluetooth dongles that you plug into that port that interface the car's data signals To your smartphone, running a Bluetooth-enabled app, which connects all this together for an amazingly powerful set of tools. Whatever you wanna do to your car electronically, you can probably find a combination of these three that will let you get Get in there and do it. Now if you want to know more about this world of hacking and or modding your car by OBD. We did an episode on this about a year and change ago. You can find that at CNETonCars.com or just Google CNETonCars OBD and our car tech 101 on this will come right up. Thanks, Thomas. Thanks for watching. Hope you enjoyed this episode. As usual, keep those emails coming. It's OnCars@cnet.com. They all come to my inbox. I read every one of them, reply to as many as I can, and put as many as the show as we can as well. I'll see you next time. We check the tech. [MUSIC] [NOISE] [BLANK_AUDIO]