By Patrick James on 2017-01-22 - The author has been a motoring writer for more than 16 years. Formerly motoring editor at the Coventry Telegraph, he now produces motoring copy, on new car launches and road tests on a freelance basis.
Fiat 124 Spider 1.4
MultiAir Lusso Plus
THEY say, whoever they are, that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
In the case of Fiat's brilliant blast from the past, Mazda must feel immensely flattered.
But the Fiat 124 Spider is not just some carbon copy convertible, despite it being based on the Mazda MX-5's underpinnings in yet another collaboration between major car companies.
It is just as engaging a drive and has that touch of Italian elan which makes it look, well, beautiful.
For the purists, it is also rear wheel drive for the most electrifying of drives - if you don't mind the back end twitching a bit.
The first Spider made its appearance 50 years ago, but is a world away from the latest model.
Slightly longer than the Mazda, it features a simple fabric drop top, a high quality interior, a superbly efficient engine and jaw dropping looks.
The two-seater is the latest piece in the Fiat renaissance jigsaw of models.
To bracket it with the formerly incomparable MX-5 is inevitaible given the collaboration, but this is a car that ticks virtually all the boxes, and while it is not necessarily better than the Japanese thoroughbred, should, over the fullness of time, prove to be equally good.
Slightly bigger, it is slightly more expensive for the base model, but features good levels of kit including electric windows and mirrors, climate control and traction and stability control. The tested range topper hear adds radar assistance and rear camera.
The styling is inspired by some details of its 1966 predecessor with the low centre of gravity and the stretched, sculpted bonnet.
The whole car, with its creases and curves has a chiselled look and the rear features horizontally developed rear lights, twin exhausts and slight lip on the bonnet to enhance the sporty appearance.
The interior shows where Fiat has moved ahead in leaps and bounds with quality. Fiat says the ergonomics of the car were painstakingly designed to enhance the driving experience, and that goes down to the layout of pedals, the position of the steering wheel and the feel from the transmission.
The 124 Spider is certainly comfortable and sporty at the same time. There are leather seats, steering wheel controls, a central touchscreen which controls major functions like navigation, audio, connectivity and neat and logical dials and controls on this range topper.
There is also leather stitching throughout and nice brushed metal trim finishes to doors and controls and steering wheel.
The fabric roof can be lowered with one hand in just a couple of seconds and slots into a compartment behind the seats, putting it back up again is equally speedy.
It looks and feels like a sports car and Fiat's own 1.4-litre turbocharged engine ensures it drives like one with pace and flexibility. Yes, there may be quicker hot hatches, but the 140bhp has bags of grunt and plenty of torque at low revs means you are not forever changing down.
It can hit 60mph in just over seven seconds, all achieved with the help of short throw, super slick six-speed gearbox which is a delight to use.
Red line it and there is a delightful rasp from the twin exhaust pipes. Economy is not bad either, with a claimed 42ish mpg, which worked out at around mid 30s for this test.
Handling is also excellent with the rear wheel drive allowing you to really push it through corners and sweeping bends.
But the suspension, a double wishbone and multilink architecture, is not so stiff that it becomes uncomfortable for day to day use. It is equally at home pottering around town as it is being thrashed through the gears.
Despite being low to the ground it is a pretty comfortable motorway cruiser as well, although the rag top means sound insulation is not the greatest when close to huge juggernauts.
Like the Mazda, the Spider does have a serviceable boot, not just room for a pair of slippers and a couple of envelopes.
The space is not compromised by having to store a roof so 140 litres become available, enough for a couple of overnight bags or two to three bags of shopping.
This really is a superb alternative to the excellent Mazda, just as engaging a drive, but in a slightly more composed way.
Fiat 124 Spider 1.4 MultiAir Lusso Plus
Mechanical: 140bhp, 1,368cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving rear wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox
Max Speed: 134mph
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Combined MPG: 33.3
Insurance Group: 26
C02 emissions: 148g/km
Bik rating: 26%
Warranty: 3yrs/unlimited miles
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