£21,055 - £27,075 Price range
42 - 44 MPG
Over the past few years if you wanted a cheap-to-buy and fun-to-drive sports car your choice was limited to one – the brilliant Mazda MX5. But the launch of the new Fiat 124 Spider marks an end to its monopoly.
Peel away the Fiat 124’s retro Italian curves and you’ll find it shares the Mazda’s chassis, although Fiat has fettled the steering, suspension and brakes to give it the more comfortable feel of a small grand tourer.
Aside from the looks, the only major change is the engine – Mazda’s non-turbocharged 1.5-litre petrol has been replaced with a turbocharged 1.4-litre and it’s this that gives the 124 its own unique character.
Practicality isn’t a Fiat 124 Spider strong point. From the off it’s a two-seater and one that will feel pretty tight on a long journey for anyone over six foot tall – even the boot is small. While it’s a shame the interior isn’t unique to the 124, what’s carried over from the MX-5 feels robust and looks sporty.
Standard equipment levels cover all the basics including cruise control, air conditioning and 16-inch alloy wheels.
Fiat has taken an ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ approach to the design of the 124 Spider’s interior, copying it almost entirely from the Mazda MX-5. Go for a higher-end model and you get a seven-inch display that sprouts from the top of the dashboard, just like in the Mazda.
The small changes that are there bring improvements. Soft-touch plastics are more abundant and classy trim pieces give the Fiat a premium edge.
Fiat 124 Spider passenger space
You sit nice and low, and there are plenty of sporty touches to be enjoyed, such as gazing down the long bonnet and taking in the heavily cowled dials. Getting a comfortable driving position should be simple unless you’re really tall, but driving a car as low as the Fiat might take a little getting used to – your view can be restricted by taller vehicles.
Fiat 124 Spider boot space
Boot space is not the 124’s forte, although its 140-litre size means it’s 10 litres bigger than in the Mazda. That’ll be big enough for a couple of soft bags, but not a lot else. For comparison, the Volkswagen Up city car’s boot has a 251-litre capacity. Trips to Homebase will likely strike fear into the hearts of 124 owners – but it’s amazing what you can fit by dropping its easy-to-operate manual roof.
With the extra torque from its turbocharged engine, the Fiat 124 can play the comfy cruiser card rather well. It doesn’t need (or want) to be revved hard to get the best performance – in fact the engine works best in its mid range. There’s enough power to overtake without having to frantically change down gear, not that that’s a chore because the gearbox is slick to use and has a short-throw action.
Moving on to more open roads the engine’s healthy torque levels make it easier to kick the back end out on long sweeping corners. However, it’s not as fun to drive flat out as you might expect – the steering is down on feel and could be quicker.
The suspension remained comfortable even on the poorly surfaced roads we encountered on test, but didn’t prove too soft for tackling corners with gusto. The scuttle and shake (vibrations sent through the body and steering wheel) that convertibles often suffer from when traveling over bumpy or cobbled streets is evident, but not in a way that detracts heavily from the drive.
While the 124’s engine gives it a laid back character, it’s hard to argue with a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds, making the basic Fiat a quicker sprinter than the entry level Mazda MX-5.
Such observations don’t give the full picture though, and if you’re pressing on down your favourite country back road the news isn’t all golden. Chief complaint is that the engine has little interest in revving – at lower speeds it struggles until the turbo comes on song, while at the top end power tails off long before you reach the rev limiter. Keep it working in the mid-range and all is well, but this is not a plucky little sports car that loves to be thrashed.
It’s not the most aurally pleasing of units, either. There’s a nice burble from the twin exhausts at low speeds, but the rest of the time it sounds ordinary – even somewhat strained at higher revs.
Drive with care and it should be able to return fuel economy of 44mpg and CO2 emissions sit at 148g/km.
From launch the 124 can be had in three trim levels – the basic 124 Spider, Lusso or Lusso Plus.
Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
Lusso is arguably the trim to go for if you want to bolster the 124’s more luxurious grand tourer aspirations. It comes complete with 17-inch alloy wheels, a leather interior, climate control and rear parking sensors.
Fiat 124 Spider Lusso Plus
Lusso Plus models only get you two additional pieces of kit – bright-shining LED headlights and a powerful nine-speaker stereo. The latter will be handy for drowning out noise at higher speeds, particularly as there are no plans to offer the 124 with a folding-metal roof.
Option packs are there if you want, although they have yet to be priced. They include the Pack Radio, which adds a seven-inch touchscreen, a Bluetooth phone connection and DAB digital radio; the Pack Premium – with a rear camera, keyless entry and sat-nav; and finally the Pack Visability. It adds LED headlights that follow the angle of the steering wheel, plus auto lights and wipers.
Fiat was sensible not to aim the 124 directly at the MX-5 – given that it’s consistently seen off the competition, any attempt to overthrow the Mazda was surely doomed. Instead the 124 offers something different – from its more conservative styling to its torquey engine and softer suspension – it’s a more relaxing car than the MX-5 was ever meant to be.
Whether that’s what UK buyers want from a rear-wheel drive sports car remains to be seen, but with little in the way of competition the 124 could prove to be the shot in the arm that Fiat so desperately needs.