The Fiat 124 Spider is a new comer to the roadster market but one that comes with an established driving experience due to the fact the chassis and many components are that of the Mazda MX-5.
This best selling roadster from Japan is one that I drove recently and loved immensely, however Fiat have taken what is a proven entity and somehow managed to improve on it. Partly due to the fact that when adding their Italian flair and design, Fiat have not only made the 124 Spider longer than its sister but also made it much more butch looking.
However the vast improvement in my mind is mainly due to the fact Fiat seem to have ‘softened’ the drive, making it much more pleasurable than its sister car and one that suits our undulating country roads much better.
Engine wise Fiat have added their own stamp too with the addition of their rather punchy little 1.4 petrol turbo unit which not only increases power over the sister car but also massively increases torque and torque is what wins races.
Thanks to Donnelly Group in Mallusk we managed secure a new Fiat 124 Spider for a few days over the New Year and during what was a relatively dry spell enjoyed a full tank of fuel with the roof mostly down.
On the road this little Fiat is a complete head turner, predominantly due to the fact that they are not a common sight as yet, meaning other road users and passers by simply have no idea what it is and as such, stare inquisitively.
Or maybe the volume of stares were accompanied by words of ‘look at that eejit, driving around in the middle of winter with his feckin roof down, he must be baltic or maybe just clean mad’ and I guess they could be right, however with heated seats and a hat on it was rather quite enjoyable.
Spec wise there are three main models available which start with the base model ‘Classica’ from around £21k which comes with alloy wheels and Bluetooth, the ‘Lusso’ adds leather and a touch screen infotainment system with pricing starting from just shy of £24k.
The model tested, a ‘Lusso+’ starts from just shy of £25k and adds a Bose speaker system, Sat Nav and 17” alloy wheels whilst a range topping, stand-alone model is available for around the £30k mark with a decent spec, this model is the performance obsessed ‘Abarth’.
LED daytime running lights as well as adaptive headlamps come as standard which light the path in the most effective way due to them turning alongside the steering angle. On this model tested a rear camera, combined with rear sensors keep things safe when parking.
With its canvas roof and glass rear window in place, rear / blind spot visibility isn’t great and approaching an awkward T junction meant coming to it at an odd angle to safely see what’s coming towards you, with the roof down or a passenger on board, no such issues can be recalled.
The roof is one that can be dropped, locked in place, unlocked and raised again from the comfort of the driver’s seat, all in a matter of seconds. It is honestly one of the most simplistic designs around which works fantastically, so much so that if the notion takes you when stopped at traffic lights the roof will be dropped quicker than you could select gear and let the handbrake off before moving off.
The 17” alloy wheels are wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza tyres for ultimate grip whilst aesthetics are helped outside with the satin chrome mirrors and windscreen surround with a dual exit exhaust system poking from the rear bumper.
Inside the 124 Spider is far from spacious but offers just enough room for two occupants with the floor mounted seats giving the perfect ‘sports car’ feeling when behind the wheel. Heated seating is essential in such a car and the vents inside provided enough heat to melt an ice cap so going topless mid-winter is not an issue.
One thing I think the 124 could benefit from is a heated steering wheel, this may well be an option but I simply forgot to ask when returning the car. Luggage wise there is enough room for a week’s shopping for a small family, two cabin bags and surprisingly, my larger than life camera bag.
Infotainment in this 124 Spider provides enough for most possible owners with Bluetooth, DAB Radio, USB input, AUX input and Sat Nav as well as the fantastic BOSE speaker system which also incorporates speakers into the headrests.
With steering wheel controls, touch screen ability when stationary as well as a drive wheel and controls close to the handbrake, the system is convenient to use and understand with the added convenience of reading out text messages whilst in motion.
Engine wise the 124 Spider comes with just one option a 1.4L petrol turbo unit producing a healthy 138bhp with just shy of 180lb/ft of torque and at present is only available attached to a six speed manual gearbox with an automatic option, currently available in the Abarth, expected to roll out across all models by summer ’17.
I adore turbocharged engine and this one is no different, very progressive power means there is no dramatics when coming on boost and unlike the MX-5 there is absolutely no need to drive at ten tenths to achieve optimum fun as with the impressive torque on tap, the 124 Spider can be enjoyed 100% of the time without the need to drive it like Lewis Hamilton.
Real world economy will see mid 30’s mpg and the Fiat 124 Spider is one of those cars that you just want to drive all the time, one of those cars that you need no excuse to drive and one of those cars that will encourage you to take a 100 mile de-tour cross country when you ‘nip out for a pint of milk’.
A fantastic package that is more tailored to the daily commute and fast road driving as opposed to track type use like its sister, I say this as the MX-5 feels very highly strung and a little nervous on some of our roads, where as the 124 feels much more settled and more at home on our terrain which in turn results in much more confidence when driving the little Fiat in a hurry.
One thing that is not available to spec across the range that I feel would transform the driving experience greatly is a limited slip differential, I feel that with more power and an LSD the Fiat 124 Spider would go from being an absolutely fantastic car to one that would be hilariously outstanding.
Fiat have a solution for this dilemma though as this is where the Abarth model steps in. It comes to the market with 170bhp and an LSD as standard and if Donnelly’s ever have a manual one on demo, I really do hope that I can bring you a review of it as I do feel it would be the ‘perfect 124’.
Fiat have taken the proven MX-5, made it better looking and added a turbocharged engine, what more could a petrol head possibly want from a roadster?
All in all, even as a big fan of the MX-5 over the years, I think the Fiat 124 Spider is where my hard earned would be going and the driver in me would mean it would have to be of the Abarth variety.
Words and Photos: Graham Curry