First Drive: Fiat 124 Spider
Fiat’s chic roadster is the perfect retro stablemate for the 500, reckons Alex Grant.
SECTOR Roadster PRICE £19,545-£31,605 FUEL 44.1mpg CO2 148g/km
Isn’t it strange how things come full circle? Almost 30 years ago, Mazda took inspiration from European sports cars to create the first MX-5, and reinvigorated the sector. Today, one of the most iconic European sports cars is being reborn, and it’s based on the MX-5.
And who can blame Fiat? Compact roadsters are a relative niche, and Mazda’s platform is the best there is. It could easily have been based on one of FCA’s hatchbacks, as the Barchetta was in the 1990s. Instead, Italian chic is now Japanese-built, shipped to the UK with a pared-back option and trim list to avoid lengthy order times.
You wouldn’t know it. MX-5 drivers will recognise the pokey cabin, the tiny boot and the limited seat and steering wheel adjustment, but none of the body panels are shared, and the seats and door panels are unique to the Fiat.
It’s not just a visual overhaul; the Spider has its own steering and suspension settings and uses a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine instead of Mazda’s revvy non-turbo units, with the gearbox uprated to match.
All of which might make you wonder whether this heavier, slightly larger roadster lacks the purity of design and driving experience of its Japanese stablemate. But you’d be wrong.
It’s more softly sprung and genuinely comfortable for motorway miles, yet, when the road winds into the countryside and the well-insulated manual roof is pushed back, the tiny engine delivers a rorty, high-revving burst of power without the usual mid-rev spike of torque you get from small turbocharged engines. It feels every bit as pinned to the road despite the more compliant suspension settings.
In other words, it’s the best of all worlds. All of the character and style of classic Italian roadsters, but with the leak, rattle and breakdown resistance of their Japanese counterparts. You’ll love it.