Expert Reviews

First drive: Fiat 124 Spider

Wednesday 28 September 2016

First drive: Fiat 124 Spider

The Fiat 124 Spider isn’t exactly the newest car on the block. Why, you ask? Peel back its rather pretty exterior and you will find that it shares an incredible amount with the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 – a car that went on sale in 2015.

Its distinctly Italian look is inspired by the 124 Spider of old, a car that went out of production in the early ‘80s, yet has been fashioned in an incredibly modern way. Round headlights and a wide, vertical grille help to make the new 124 Spider a fairly dramatic looking thing.

From a technical point of view, the 124 is largely the same as the hugely popular Mazda. The only large differences are a slightly altered suspension set-up, and a new powertrain. The 124 calls upon a turbocharged 1.4-litre engine, while the Mazda is offered with a choice of either a naturally aspirated 1.5- or 2.0-litre engine.

This new engine sits in the middle of the two Mazda units when it comes to power output, however, the added turbocharger allows for greater torque and improved shove in the mid-range.

Looks & Image

The 124 Spider is an incredibly beautiful car to behold. Rounded headlights, sharp creases in the long bonnet and a squat-looking face all add to its visual appeal.

Move into the cabin and you’ll find that it is pretty much exactly the same as the MX-5. There are the same rounded air vents, as well as the seven-inch infotainment system housed on the top of the dash. However, the Fiat differentiates itself from the MX-5 through a slightly different gear lever, and our test car was also specced with the optional Tobacco leather upholstery exclusive to the 124.

All of these minute changes lend the 124 a delightful Italian character that leaves the MX-5 feeling slightly soulless. While the MX-5 might be more attractive as a driver’s car, the 124 is certainly the cooler choice.

Space & Practicality

Like its Japanese counterpart, the 124 is rather tight on space. There are only two seats, and while there isn’t a glovebox, you do have access to a lockable box in between the seats as well as a smaller cubby hole in the centre console.

Opening the boot doesn’t reveal much additional storage space either, with only 140 litres of room on offer. Unfortunately, the boot’s opening is narrower than the boot itself. This, coupled with a tall boot lip makes loading heavier items in something of a chore.

The limited amount of storage space isn’t the only factor that makes the 124 rather unpractical, as there is also a fairly significant lack of adjustability. While the seats can go backwards and forwards with ease, adjusting the backrest isn’t an easy process, and there is no height adjustment. Topping all of this off is the fact the steering wheel can’t be adjusted for reach, making it difficult for taller drivers to find a comfortable driving position.

Behind the Wheel

Seeing as the 124 shares most of its underpinnings with the MX-5, it shouldn’t come as a shock that it is a fantastic car to drive. That said, it does have a markedly different personality to the Mazda.

Although the Fiat’s 138bhp engine doesn’t boast the same level of power as the Mazda’s 2.0-litre unit, performance is fairly similar. The dash from 0-62mph is done in 7.5 seconds, which is only 0.2 seconds slower than the Mazda’s. The Fiat also has a greater top speed of 134mph.

That said, the Fiat actually feels much faster than the Mazda. The turbo packs a proper punch, and means you don’t have to downshift so much when you pull out to overtake. The only niggle is a small amount of turbo lag, although trying to keep the Fiat’s engine spinning at the optimum number of revs is a fun way of avoiding this.

A different suspension set up has changed the Fiat’s handling characteristics as well, making it a much smoother car through the corners than the Mazda can ever hope to be. It also deals with lumps and bumps much better as a result. These changes have not compromised the supreme handling, however.

Value for Money

An entry-level 124 Spider in Classica trim will set you back £19,545. This represents a premium of £1,100 over the 1.5-litre MX-5, yet this extra money does buy you a more powerful engine, 16-inch alloys and keyless start to name a few standard features.

For £22,295, you can get your hands on the Lusso spec model, which adds 17-inch alloys, climate control and a seven-inch infotainment system. This includes satellite navigation, and a reversing camera.

The Lusso Plus model, which costs £23,295, gains leather upholstery, automatic lights and wipers, and a sublime Bose surround sound system.

Who would buy one ?

Those looking for a convertible sports car that can be used every day will likely find the 124 Spider to be a much more manageable option than the MX-5, but only just.

When it comes to which of the two you should actually buy, you really need to consider what you want from your roadster. Whereas the MX-5 is arguably a more competent driving machine, the Fiat is far more appealing on an emotional level.  It’s all a matter of personal preference.

Facts at a Glance

Model: Fiat 124 Spider 1.4 MultiAir Lusso Plus (£23,295)

Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol producing 138bhp and 177lb/ft of torque

Transmission: Six-speed manual, driving rear wheels

Performance: Top speed 134mph, 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds

Economy: 44.1mpg

Emissions: 148g/km

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