Fiat Spider 124 Road Test

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Over the years Fiat has usually had an open top two-seater within their range. Never a high performance model but one that typified stylish, rag top motoring for an affordable price and a car that appealed to a wide audience and a cross section of owners. Usually called the Spider, Fiat’s drop tops personified Italian chic, how the car actually went a secondary issue although it was a given that they usually handled reasonably well, after all it was a Fiat. But after a run of fourteen years, 2005 saw the Fiat Spider sink slowly into oblivion to be replaced by the wedge shaped and not overly loved X1-9 and in 1995 by the Barchetta. Only available as a left-hand drive and the 1.8 engine sending its power through the front wheels, whilst it was a nice little car, it never quite hit the mark especially here in the UK.


The good news is the Fiat 124 Spider is back, the looks, the layout and the price exactly as they should be. If this two-seater has a problem is that it launched just after Mazda’s new MX5 along with the fact it shares certain things in common. The knock on effect is that the new Spider has been branded nothing more than a re-badge. Well let me set the record straight, whilst Fiat’s new 124 shares the same floorpan, rear suspension uprights, gearbox casing and certain aspects of the interior, the vast majority is Fiat especially the engine.


When the new Spider was conceived to ensure it was right the design team had an example of the previous model parked in their studio. Their instructions were basically take the last 124 Spider and turn it into a car for the 21st Century. The end result is a two-seater, open top car that in my opinion personifies the model; the three versions all powered by the same engine the only variations being trim.


The Classica comes with cloth trim and smaller 16” wheels which tends to indicate you’re not serious about things whilst the Lusso and as tested the Lusso Plus come with both black or tan leather and 17” rims. There are also two solid colours, one pearl and five metallic body colours to choose from all of which means narrowing down your selection is a relatively easy process.


Externally, twin honeycomb grilles separate the raked LED headlights; a long sculpted bonnet and curved wings ease rearwards into the contrasting screen surround, the shoulder height doors rising slowly into the more elevated rear wings that fold inwards towards the boot. The single latch twin skinned roof folds neatly and quickly to the rear of the seats, the boot shutting neatly between the horizontally elongated rear lights. Sat on double wishbone suspension at the front, multilink at the rear both featuring a stabilizer bar, the Spider displays a purposeful stance without being to low to clear the ever increasing number of manmade obstacles that now litter our roads.


Inside the passenger compartment Mazda influences can be found although it isn’t especially detrimental. The rev counter dominated instrument binnacle, the large central dial flanked by the speedo and combined fuel and temperature gauges are quick and easy to read, the seating position meaning the pod just below the driver’s eye level just to the rear of the multi-function thick rimed leather wheel.


All other readouts are taken care of by the centrally mounted 7” touch screen satnav/infotainment/Bluetooth screen, the main controls located conveniently just to the rear of the stubby gearlever. The rotary switch is quick and simple to use, a gentle push on the knob activating which ever menu the driver requires. It also controls the nine speaker Bose music system, four of which are located within the head restraints of the high backed and comfortably contoured seats.


For a two-seater roadster the interior has been efficiently and sensibly laid out all apart from certain omissions. There’s no 12v outlet, glovebox or door bin, the only stowage being a very small cubby between the seats along with a pair of rather inconveniently located cup holders and an infinitesimally small centre storage bin, to small even to hold a modern smartphone. There are however two USB sockets so problem solved! For a car of this type, boot space is reasonably generous, the near oblong space providing 140 litres or more than enough for a decent shop or a decent touring holiday.


Sending its power to the rear wheels via the Spider’s electronic stability control, the MultiAir Turbo petrol engine wrings a respectable 140hp and 240Nm of torque from the free revving 1,368cc unit, keeping the turbo spinning an easy enough task using the short throw, 6-speed manual transmission, a top speed of 134mph and a 7.5 seconds 0-62mph once again inkeeping with this type of car. Fuel economy meanwhile is a passably decent 34mpg which in turn means around 500 miles per 45 litre tank of unleaded.  


But Fiat’s new 124 Spider is about putting the pleasure back into driving and that’s what it does. If you’re looking for a sportscar that’ll blister tarmac or force you back into your seat, the new Spider isn’t the one to go for. It’s lightweight to drive; the electrically assisted power steering is well weighted and provides ample feedback from the 205/45R17 Bridgestone rubber. Two and a half turns lock to lock allowing effortless maneuverability along with the 9.4 meter turning circle, the only criticism being it can at times be fractionally over assisted when cornering hard at higher speeds. And a fraction more rasp from the twin tailpipes wouldn’t go a miss either!


Like all rear-wheel drive cars the Spider displays a mild propensity towards under steer during more spirited cornering, the attitude virtually neutral under more normal driving conditions. All in all Fiat’s new 124 Spider fulfils its aims of providing enjoyable, open top motoring at a reasonable and in my opinion excellent value for money. At £23,295 for the top specification Lusso Plus as tested, there’s little if anything else out there to compete that is unless you’re able to spend considerably more money. If you’d prefer one of the alternative versions the entry level Classica is all yours for £19,545, the mid-spec Lusso £22,295 whilst the no compromise Abarth model is still a passable £29,565. But whichever Spider suits your pocket the one main inclusion is Fiat’s now ever increasing quality.


Fiat has succeeded in retaining the Spider’s classic looks, the modern lines still able to more than echo the model it now emulates. It also means that unless Fiat become overly enthusiastic about updating their new Spider, the looks will remain as classic as those that went before. Fiat brought back their 124 Spider to put a smile back on drivers’ faces and some wind in your hair. Take it from me they’ve achieved exactly what they set out to do.            


                         

By; Mark Stone



All New Fiat Spider 124 Road Test