Fiat 124 Spider

2 years ago

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Fiat 124 SpiderCar Specification

Engine

1368cc turbocharged four-cylinder petrol

Torque

138bhp at 5,000rpm/ 177 lbs ft at 2,250rpm

Transmission

Six-speed manual

Fuel

44.1mpg

Acceleration

7.5 seconds

Emissions

148g/km

Price

£23,295 (as tested)

Tax

£145 per year

Fifty years ago if you wanted to look cool and sophisticated, one of the cars to drive was Fiat£€™s stylish 124 Spider. Along with the gorgeous Ferrari-engined Fiat Dino Spider, the Sixties were the golden years for convertible Fiats.

The pretty and affordable 124 Spider was a huge success with more than 197,000 sold across Europe, and even today the car is so loved that some 5,300 are still in use.

In the seventies came the mid-engined Fiat X-19, a personal favourite; and in 1995 the Barchetta whose sales in the UK were hampered by it being available only in left-hand drive.

But now, with help from Mazda who provide the car£€™s chassis floor pan to reduce costs, and assemble the car at their Hiroshima factory, the 1966 icon from the days of Audrey Hepburn and Peter O£€™Toole has been reborn.

It could have been so different as initially the car was going to be a new Alfa Romeo. Thankfully it£€™s not a direct copy of the Mazda MX-5 and though good looking its proportions aren£€™t quite right.

It£€™s too long ahead of the front wheels and the silver windscreen frame jars with some colours, but at least it has a happier face than the Mazda. The cabin is tiny and especially short of legroom on the passenger side.

Following two 6ft 3in plus colleagues produced a few smiles and I noticed they did not put the roof up. Even with the side windows and rear wind deflector in place, the cabin is breezy.

There£€™s a choice of three trim levels: Classica for £19,545, Lusso at £22,295 and Lusso Plus at £23,295. Equipment on the Lusso Plus includes heated seats, touch screen satellite navigation, nine-speaker sound system, rear-view camera, LED headlights and alloy wheels.

The Italian-made engine is only four-cylinders but turbocharged so that it produces 138bhp and crucially more torque at half the revs of the 2-litre MX-5. So you need fewer revs to achieve similar performance. The engine revved pretty freely for a turbo but the rev limit is low for a sporty car.

The gear change is stiffer than the MX-5£€™s because the gearbox had to be toughened up to cope with the extra torque available. For every day motoring the Spider has a refined ride and it is fun snicking between gears using the light clutch and short movement gear change.

On a twisty road, the throttle is not as sharp as a non-turbo engine and the steering a bit wishy-washy and imprecise. It is far better than a boulevard cruiser but over Welsh roads that included the £€˜evil triangle£€™ £€“ the name has been changed to protect the guilty £€“ there were moments when the 124 didn£€™t feel strapped down enough.

Over some small rises, the traction control warning light would flicker. Of course, stiffening it up without making the car skittish would be difficult. For those wanting more performance and sharper handling an Abarth version is on the way but this car was still fun.

A mixture of driving saw 27.2mpg according to the onboard computer. You can flip down the fabric roof at traffic lights, or while on the move, but it takes a firm press down to locate it properly.

Storage space is poor with no door pockets or glove box. There is a small lidded compartment on the centre console suitable for a few packets of Polos and a larger, lockable one, in the rear bulkhead. Whether that would be large enough for the hair products, sunglasses, sun cream and other convertible user£€™s kit remains to be seen.

Also consider: BMW Z4, Lotus Elise (used), Mazda MX-5.

Verdict Very welcome alternative to usual suspects.