The Fiat 124 Spider is the Mazda MX-5’s direct rival. Some would argue it’s even better than the Japanese legend. Motoring journalist, Tim Barnes-Clay, reports.
Over the last 25 years, if your emotions told you that a budget sports car with awesome rear-wheel-drive handling was what you should buy, then the MX-5 was the obvious choice. But then the Fiat 124 came along – and its launch means the MX-5’s dominance has come to an end.
Take a can-opener to the Fiat 124 and you’ll see it has the same chassis as the Mazda, and this is what makes it so good. The Italian firm has rejigged the suspension, steering and brakes, though, to give the Fiat a grand tourer feel. Other than the aesthetics, the power unit has been changed. The MX-5’s naturally aspirated 1.5-litre petrol engine has been swapped for a 1.4-litre turbo, and it’s this little lump that gives the Fiat 124 the edge.
Like the MX-5, the 124 Spider is a two-seater car, so there isn’t a lot of room in the cabin or the boot, but the materials are solid and the seats very comfortable. The Fiat, although near identical inside to the MX-5, has an air of Italian flair that’s very seductive. The major touchpoints are covered in softer plastics than the Mazda’s. If you go for a higher end Spider, as I did, you get leather seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. A sat-nav is also added the higher up the range you go. Factory-fitted kit includes air conditioning, cruise control, and attractive alloy wheels. The convertible fabric roof is simple to activate and it keeps things hushed enough inside once it’s up.
Performance & Ride
Behind the wheel, you sit low to the ground, but it’s easy to get a good driving position. It’s also very satisfying to see the stretched bonnet of the Fiat 124 Spider. It’s much longer than the Mazda MX-5’s and gives the 124 a more masculine demeanour. The Italian sports car also delivers power well, due to the turbo fastened to the engine. Thanks to lots of low-end torque, there’s no need to stir the short-throw gearstick frantically to get up to a good lick. Zero to 62mph arrives in 7.5 seconds, making it quicker than the Mazda MX-5 in 1.5-litre guise. Top speed is 134mph, but the 124 will also behave in a mellow way, due to its good suspension. It’s stiff enough to hoon around corners and have a laugh in, but it’s forgiving enough to soak up the worst of our scarred road surfaces. This means you can cruise on motorways or go for Sunday jaunts in the countryside without feeling knocked around.
The Fiat isn’t just about looks, fun and performance; it’s about sound and efficiency, too. There’s a lovely warble from the 124 Spider’s dual exhausts at low revs, and the car is capable of 44mpg on average, while pumping out only 148g/km of CO2.
The Fiat 124 Spider comes in a trio of trim levels – the entry-level 124 Spider Classica, followed by the Lusso and the Lusso Plus. I drove the Fiat 124 Spider Lusso, which comes with 17-inch alloys, that aforementioned leather-clad cabin, rear parking sensors and climate control. The Fiat 124 Spider Lusso Plus adds LED headlights and a formidable nine-speaker stereo system.
The Fiat 124 Spider offers something refreshingly different to the MX-5. Its muscular-looking long nose, the turbo-charging under the bonnet and its suppler suspension make it a more chilled-out car to cruise in, but it’s still hugely entertaining on snaking backroads. Why not contact Perrys to find out more?
Pros ‘n’ Cons
- Appearances √
- Performance √
- Efficiency √
- Fun √
- Room X
Fast Facts (LUSSO 1.4 MultiAir Turbo 140hp – as tested)
- Max speed: 134 mph
- 0-62 mph: 7.5 secs
- Combined mpg: 44.1
- Engine layout: 1368cc 4-cylinder petrol turbo
- Max. power (PS): 140
- CO2: 148 g/km
- Price: £23,745