It’s the first Fiat roadster since the left-hand-drive Barchetta. We’ve driven it to see if it’s been worth the wait
What do we have here?
It may be the first two-door roadster that Fiat has produced since the Barchetta in 1995 but the name of the new car stretches back even further and marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the legendary 124 Spider.
The first 124 Spider was built between 1966 and 1974 and the new one takes styling cues inspired by the original, with its headlights and bonnet creases, while there’s a hint of modern day Maserati in the taillights.
However, it’s not all Italian flair, there’s some Japanese expertise under that flowing body. It’s based on the latest Mazda MX5, so much so that they are built in the same factory, have the same interior design and even the same key. Fiat has installed its own powertrain and have tweaked the suspension and steering setups.
Unique to the 124 is the 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine nestled under the rippling hood. It develops 138bhp and 177lb ft of torque and is connected to a six-speed manual gearbox. A six-speed automatic will be available in 2017.
It comes in three trim levels; Classica, Lusso and Lusso Plus with prices starting from £19,545 and rising to £23,295.
We’re testing the Lusso Plus which gets LED headlights, Bose sound system, 17in alloy wheels, a 7.0in infotainment screen, sat nav and heated leather seats.
How does it drive?
If you are familiar with the latest MX-5, you’ll instantly notice that the 124’s ride is softer and more compliant. It’s not a bad thing either. The Spider becomes a more comfortable car to use on a daily basis.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a sports car, far from it. The 124 has poise and finesse to allow you to really attack corners. There’s a hint of body movement but it’s limited and nowhere near enough to rub the smile from your face.
Through town, the ride can be a little jittery but once on the open road it’s brilliantly judged for comfort and entertainment. Under harder braking into a corner the back end can twitch as the weight shifts to the front of the car.
Its steering has a slightly lighter feel to it but does everything with aplomb, giving decent feedback and allowing you to precisely position the car through corners.
Want some tail sliding fun? Well, the 124 is more than happy to oblige. Switch off the traction control and it’ll become tail happy, and it’s relatively easy to control.
The 1.4-litre engine is a delight. There’s accessible torque from low down the rev range and it’ll pull through to around 6,000rpm. At full bore it’ll hit 62mph from standstill in 7.5 seconds, which in today’s world of hyper-acceleration doesn’t sound particularly heroic but in the 124 it feels just right, though.
Accelerating away from towns in 4th and 5th gear is easily done and there’s no need to shift down as there’s enough torque on hand to give you decent progress.
It’s got a peppy little growl which makes those bursts of acceleration ever so much more enjoyable. On a motorway in 6th gear, however, it’ll become contained and will sit quietly in the background as you cruise along.
Adding to the joy of driving the Spider is the six-speed manual gearbox. It has a short throw between gears and a little stout lever which you can grab and flick between gears with ease.
What's it like inside?
As mentioned, it’s essentially a Mazda MX-5 in design but Fiat has looked to make it more luxurious. Leather wraps the top of the dash and doors and there’s Ferrari-esque tan leather (our test car came with black leather).
The driving position is low and your legs sit straight and flat, in true sports car style. The wheel is small and grippy, while the seats offer plenty of support and comfort.
As in the MX-5, the dials and switches are well sized and have a quality feel while the infotainment system is clear and simple to use.
Storage is at a premium, with only a few smaller cubbies for your driving essentials and there are a couple of drink holders but there’s no glove box.
To open the roof, you’ll need to unclip it by the rear view mirror and then simply pull it over your head and click it into place behind you. It’s easy enough to be done one handed.
The boot lid opens like a luggage case, so you have to lift items up and over the back of the car to place them in the trunk. It’s deep and will take a good size weekend case.
This 1.4-litre petrol is said to return 44.1mpg on a combined cycle and emit 148g/km of CO2. That means a year’s road tax costs £145 while company car users face a 26% BIK tax banding.
Insurance groups are yet to be confirmed.
Servicing – Fiat offers Easy Care Servicing packs which range from one to five years cover with prices starting from £99 and rising to £799.
You get a three year, unlimited mileage warranty that includes three years of roadside assistance.
It’s simply an excellent, fun to drive, sports car that looks the part, and has a supple ride and is likely to have Mazda’s excellent build quality.
There’s clearly scope for a more hardcore Abarth version but for now the 124 Spider is different enough to be a real alternative to the MX-5, with its own character rather than being a copycat version. The MX-5 though is the more dynamic of the two cars and likely to be more favourable with driving enthusiasts.