Fiat 124 Spider

Lusso Plus

Fiat 124 Spider, front quarter
Fiat 124 Spider, profile
Fiat 124 Spider, dynamic
Fiat 124 Spider, rear quarter
Fiat 124 Spider, interior
Fiat 124 Spider, engine

FOR its first foray into the two-seater sports car market for more than a decade Fiat decided to enlist the help of the current best in the business.

Hence, the handsome 124 Spider shares its architecture with the hugely popular Mazda MX-5 - both cars even rolling off the production line at the same factory in Japan.

However, Fiat has added a distinctly Italian flourish to give their version its own identity and, despite sitting on the same chassis, every single panel of bodywork is unique to the Spider.

Slightly longer than the Mazda, it has a fuller, more rounded figure in contrast to the sharp nose and angular lines of the Japanese car.

And whereas the latest MX-5 is a thoroughly modern interpretation of the roadster Fiat, just as it did to great effect with the 500, has revisited its heritage to give the 124 Spider a retro feel.

Not only is the name resurrected from the iconic two-seater drop-top the company first produced in the sixties, but there are several design cues taken from the original too in the style and position of the LED headlamps, the broad hexagonal grille and the horizontal character line that runs from the front wing, kicking up over the rear haunch, toward the horizontal tail lamps.

The expansive bonnet also features twin ‘power-domes' like those which appeared later, on the second generation car.

Beneath that bonnet sits the other main differentiating factor between the Spider and its Japanese cousin - Fiat's 1.4-litre turbocharged MultiAir petrol engine.

Mazda offers naturally aspirated 1.5 and 2.0-litre units in the MX-5 and the addition of the turbo means the Fiat compares favourably even with the latter performance-wise, shifting from 0-62mph in 7.5 seconds and feeling genuinely pacey on the way to a top speed of 134mph.

It also offers much more mid-range torque, meaning you don't have to reach for the short-throw, six-speed manual gearbox as often for a bit of extra punch - a sharp dab on the gas pedal will do the job nicely.

Given the shared underpinnings, though, it will be little surprise that the Fiat is not entirely dissimilar to the MX-5 in its drive and handling.

The suspension is a little more supple and relaxed, giving the Spider a slightly smoother, more grown-up feel - but only slightly, the Fiat still offers plenty of excitement.

The archetypal rear-wheel drive, front engined roadster set-up and low centre of gravity provide great balance and the fast, well-weighted steering makes driving it a totally immersive experience.

While the exterior is strictly Italian thoroughbred, slipping behind the wheel will be familiar territory for anyone who has sat in an MX-5.

Fiat has used some upmarket materials and there are more soft-touch surfaces but the interior is pretty much identical - with a minimalist dashboard built around a central touchscreen infotainment system.

It's a compact space but all but the tallest should be OK and the boot, at 240 litres, is marginally bigger than the Mazda's and will cope with a weekly shop or a couple of weekend bags.

The lightweight manually-operated fabric roof is also shared by the two cars and can be easily opened and closed with just one hand, even while on the move.

Fiat offers three trim levels, Classica, Lusso and the range-topping Lusso Plus I drove which comes equipped with sat nav, reversing camera, automatic lights and wipers, heated leather seats, and a premium Bose sound system with speakers in the seat headrests.

There's really so little between the 124 Spider and the MX-5 that the choice will come down to whether you prefer the Italian or Japanese styling - but at least there is a choice.

FAST FACTS

Fiat 124 Spider Lusso Plus

Price: £25,050

Mechanical: 140ps, 1,368cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving rear wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox

Max Speed: 134mph

0-62mph: 7.5 seconds

Combined MPG: 44.1

Insurance Group: 26

C02 emissions: 148g/km

Bik rating: 26%

Warranty: 3yrs/100,000 miles

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