By on 2018-01-21 -
Fiat 124 Spider 1.4
MultiAir Turbo Lusso
LET'S get over this bit quickly. Yes, the Fiat 124 Spider is based on the suspension and underbody of Mazda's world-conquering MX-5.
Yes, it's built in Japan and, yes, some of the interior is familiar too.
But, the similarities - apart from both being extremely good fun to drive - really do end there.
The Spider is slightly bigger and is powered by its own engine - a turbocharged 1.4 pinched from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
And, because the Italian has turbo power rather than the Mazda's naturally-aspirated 1.5-litre engine, the driving experience is noticeably different.
For a start, you don't have to work the six-speed manual gearbox so hard and there's plenty of turbo power on tap for overtaking lorries and slower vehicles on our major roads. It's a very comfortable cruiser.
Get out of town and, like the MX-5, the 124 Spider comes alive. To be driven hard on Britain's rolling roads are what both these cars are made for and there's very little in it.
The question is, would you prefer an enjoyable thrash of Mazda's naturally-aspirated roadster, or the more powerful punch of the Spider's turbocharged unit and its 240Nm of torque?
The difference is that marginal.
However, Fiat has tweaked the roadster's suspension very slightly for greater stability during braking and turning while its electric power steering system has been specifically tuned for a more direct ‘feel'.
The set-up means it does away with the skittishness of some firmly-sprung sports models and instead feels composed on bumpy B-roads.
Push it hard and it feels easy to control with plenty of grip and, as it's rear-wheel drive, you can use the accelerator to lean on those rear tyres and help bring the car around bends as well. Superb fun.
The 140bhp, 1.4-litre engine officially returns 44.1mpg so it's good to report I managed a healthy 37.1mpg.
Where the Fiat also edges it is in looks. Whereas the latest MX-5 has a sharp, modern shark nose, the styling of the Fiat harks back to the lovely looking 124 Spider of the mid-60s.
There's a real dash of classic Italian flair to its retro-lite finish. With its long bonnet, and cockpit hunkered low near the rear axle, the profile view is pure classic roadster.
Time and time again during the time I spent with the Spider, the word used was ‘pretty'. It's hard to disagree on that score. Just the view out over that long bonnet makes it feel special.
Just as in the Mazda, the lightweight, multi-layer canvas hood can be operated manually, one-handed from the driver's seat in seconds. When it's up, the outside world is kept out very impressively. But, let's face it, it's with the roof down that two-seater roadsters are at their best.
Fortunately, air flow over the top of the Spider is smooth so even if the weather is a little wintry you can fold the hood back. And turn up the heater.
As you would expect the cockpit is snug but comfortable even for my large frame. In fact, even my 75-year-old mother was comfortable and found it easy to get in and out - easier than me with the roof up.
The cabin feels well-built and is finished with a variety of good quality soft-touch and classy looking materials. Everything useful is within easy reach where it should be and there's a wonderfully clear view of the three-dial instrument cluster.
Naturally, there's little storage space in the cockpit - just a small lockable compartment between the seats - and only enough luggage space for a weekend away. Isn't that what you want from a two-seater roadster?
Leaving aside a tuned Abarth version, the Fiat 124 Spider comes in three trims in the UK - Classica, Lusso and Lusso Plus - all well-equipped.
Standard equipment on the entry-level Classica version includes four airbags, air con, a leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio controls, a leather-trimmed gear knob, cruise control with speed limiter, 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless engine start and an infotainment system with USB, AUX and Bluetooth connectivity.
The mid-range Lusso version is equipped with a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with DAB, Wi-Fi, two USB ports and satnav, and rear parking camera as well.
It is also equipped with 17-inch alloys, heated leather upholstery, automatic climate control, front fog lamps, keyless entry and chrome exhaust tips.
The top Lusso Plus model adds adaptive LED headlamps, automatic lights and wipers and a nine-speaker BOSE sound system.
Fiat 124 Spider 1.4 MultiAir Turbo Lusso
Mechanical: 140bhp, 1,368cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving rear wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox
Max Speed: 134mph
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Insurance Group: 26
C02 emissions: 148g/km
Bik rating: 28%
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