Fiat 124 Spider review
Fiat has a proud history of building fun-to-drive two-seater sportscars, with the 124 Spider the latest in a long line that includes the likes of its predecessor the Barchetta, and its namesake from the 1960s. The styling harks back to the original 124 Spider, and the two-seater convertible set-up is classic roadster; all looks good then for the Fiat.
Review by Chris Lilly
Under the bonnet of the 124 Spider is a turbo-charged 1.4 litre petrol which provides 140bhp and 240Nm of torque to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox. With plenty of torque available low down the rev range, the Fiat proves remarkably easy to drive for a roadster. Normally, small two-seater sportcars rev-freely, but you have to work both engine and gear stick hard to get the most out of them. With the 124 Spider, when you want to the car can be thrashed - and make rapid progress too. But for those more common situations where you need to run to the supermarket or drive to work, the 124 Spider can offer a fairly sedate drive too. When you do find an open road, drop a cog and put your foot down and the Fiat can overtake with the best of them. It's not sportscar fast, but it will have plenty of performance for most.
For those that don't know, the Fiat 124 Spider and Mazda MX-5 share a number of parts. The engine is not one of those common systems, but the chassis is. It's a bit of a double-edged sword for Fiat, since using the underpinnings of the best car in its class means you have very good foundations on which to base your roadster, but equally it is always going to be compared to said class leader. Like the engine though and the styling, Fiat's handling set-up is a more muscular affair than Mazda's. Where Mazda uses naturally-aspirated engines, sharper styling, and a finely balanced suspension set-up, the Fiat has a stronger, beefier take on all three elements. As such the 124 Spider is a bit more supple and forgiving on a bumpy road, with the Fiat able to cope with pot-holes and the like without transmitting every pebble through to your hands and bum. That translates well to town driving too, and on the motorway the 124 Spider will settle down more comfortable than the Mazda. The steering has good weight and feel to it, and it's precise too, allowing the driver to accurately guide the car through a series of bends. The MX-5 is a sharper and better car to drive, but many buyers will find the 124 Spider a better option, more comfortable in everyday driving, but still a hoot down an open road.
As mentioned, the 124 Spider's styling is both somewhat retro - with its links to the 60s' original - and quite muscular. It's a design that seems to work better in the metal than photos where it can seem a little 'off'. Stand in its presence though and there are no such thoughts, with Fiat looking every inch a proper roadster. As such, expect practical space to be limited and you won't be disappointed. The boot space is modest to say the least, and there are few spots in the cabin to post a phone, keys, bottles, a packet of generic gummy infant-styled sweets, or a notebook. Pack light then and everything will be alright. The boot will deal with a couple of overnight bags or one more considerable suitcase without problem, and a week's worth of supermarket shopping is fine too. Just don't plan a big trip to Ikea in one. Interior space is alright too - up to the task but hardly capacious. There's no feeling of claustrophobia even for taller occupants, though those long of limb might have a problem putting the seat far enough back.
COMFORT & CONTROLS
Where as before I have mentioned the differences between the Fiat and Mazda offerings, moving on to the interior provokes comments on the similarities. The 124 Spider is effectively a re-badged MX-5 inside, with the same infotainment system, controls, dials, vents, gearstick, and even the same steering wheel. This is no bad thing though since the MX-5 has a very nice interior and it's well built - attributes the Fiat shares. With a clean design and high transmission tunnel, you feel as though you are driving a sportscar as soon as you get in, an attribute that can often be overlooked. Cars like this are designed to offer an enjoyable drive, and that starts before the engine is started. A push button engine start always helps with that sportscar feeling, and the wheel is of a good size - compact but not too small. The gearstick has a short, slick throw to it with an action that encourages it to be worked hard.
MPG & RUNNING COSTS
Despite the 124 Spider being a car with sporty intentions, one benefit of a compact, lightweight car is that its efficiency scores aren't too bad. With an official fuel economy figure of 44.1 MPG, this entertaining-to-drive car isn't going to break the bank in terms of fuel costs. Even the Fiat's tax will cost £200 for the first year (included in the car's OTR) and then £140 each year after because of the changed VED regime. Driving in the real-world, you aren't likely to see 44 MPG, though that's a positive indication of how fun it is to drive. Instead, I managed to average a far from shabby 39 MPG during my time with it, but saw a best figure of 47.6 MPG with some frugal driving techniques employed.
Fiat's 1.4 litre MultiAir engine uses a number of clever techniques to be moth powerful and frugal at the same time. The four-cylinder unit has 10% better fuel consumption and CO2 emissions figures than the previous engine, while power is improved 10% and torque 15%. There's also a fuel economy monitor as part of the infotainment/trip computer system. Other than that, the 124 Spider's focus on sportiness shows through at the cost of efficiency features. For a sports car though, it's pretty good, with CO2 emissions of 148 g/km. According to our calculations, the model tested has a Next Green Car Rating of 49.
Fiat has equipped the 124 Spider well, with plenty on offer to make sure comfort is maintained for occupants. The range starts in Classic trim which includes the likes of 16-inch alloy wheels, leather steering wheel, 3-inch radio display with Bluetooth and USB connectivity and cruise control. It's definitely worth paying the extra £2,750 for Lusso trim though if funds stretch, since the specification is much better. The 7-inch touchscreen infotainment set-up is added with DAB and sat-nav on top of the other connectivity systems. As well as that, the wheels are upgraded to 17-inch alloys, heated leather seats are included, as are a rear parking camera and sensors, keyless entry and start, and climate control. Top of the range Lusso Plus includes features such as a Bose stereo and LED headlights.
Fiat's 124 Spider might share a lot with the MX-5, but it is quite a different proposition to drive. Despite lacking the outright precision of the Mazda, Fiat's offering will appeal to many buyers with more muscular looks and an easy to drive nature. The 124 Spider will still put a huge grin on your face when driven, and for those not looking for a pure driver's car but who still want roof-down thrills, Fiat has the answer.
Model tested: Fiat 124 Spider
Engine / CO2: 1.4 litre turbo petrol engine / 148 g/km
Trim grades: Classic, Lusso, Lusso Plus
On-road price: From £21,050.
Warranty: Three years / unlimited mileage
In the showroom: Now
Review rating: 3.5 Stars