Fiat 124 Spider
The standard Fiat 124 was a European Car of the Year when it was launched and has gone on in various guises and names (Lada for example) to become the second bestselling car ever in the world. Building on its success Fiat introduced the 124 Spider. I urge you to do an Internet search for it to see if you can resist drooling over its delectable looks. It was made in various guises from 1966 to 1985. And for good reason it was made for a long time because even now the design is very fetching. It is still a highly desirable and collectible car.
Recently, Fiat decided to release a new version of the 124 Spider against a backdrop of very different times. For a start it wasn’t a standalone model but a platform share with Mazda. Even then it wasn’t definite that it would be a Fiat as the powers that be were toying with the idea of releasing it as an Alfa Romeo. So glad they didn’t remembering less fondly the Alfa/Nissan sharing idea that resulted in the Arna – and no, don’t Google that. Don’t let platform sharing dissuade you either seeing as everyone is doing it it seems and if you have to share a platform in the sports car space, then the platform that the current Mazda MX-5 uses is probably the best place to start. The cars are built in Japan using Fiat engines, in this case the 1.4 Multiair a lovely turbo-charged unit producing 140hp that can get you to 100km/hr in 7.5 seconds. It’s a sprightly thing all right.
Fiat obviously had to put their stamp on the car and for a shared platform car the result is quite different and not at all similar to the latest MX-5. It’s curvier than its wedgy cousin. Neither car looks bad and it’s to be celebrated the different style tack they both took. The roof on the Spider is a traditional canvas roof that is one of the easiest and most practical to operate. It is a manual affair and can be opened and closed in seconds. Keeping it simple really is the way to go avoiding complex electrics and hydraulics and it can all be done when sitting in the driving seat.
The 1.4 engine responds well to keeping the revs up and this allows full use of the six nicely spaced gears in the manual gearbox. It invites constant changing to which the engine instantly responds and has a very short shift throw. (Try saying that fast). Find a good surfaced twisty road (has to be bitumen) on a sunny day and traversing it in this car is motoring heaven. It moves and feels fast and with the roof off the sense of speed is always enhanced. With that roof off I wasn’t troubled by much wind noise making it easier to opt to have the roof down more often than I would have expected. With it down I could have a conversation with my fellow passenger without too many “Whats” or “Say that agains”.
Convertibles, due to the absence of a metal roof, are susceptible to scuttleshake as rigidity is reduced. In the 124 Spider you’d find it but not as much as you’d think and certainly not a bother in any way. On the roads where, let’s face it, the drivers of these cars like be seen for longer it was a pleasure to drive. You can drive it sportily enough but carefree wind in the hair motoring is what this car is about and usually this is done at sedate speeds that show off the 124 Spider at it’s best. The steering wheel stands out for being just right in terms of looks, size, and feel to undertake the movements your arms dictate. It’s a light feel but immediately responsive to your decisions be they sharp or slow and without a causing lot of body roll.
The roof simplicity formula is carried through to the inside when it comes to controls layout. It is clutter free and minimalist. The materials are a good mix of quality and practicality - the sort that are not troubled when exposed to the elements. The all black finish works well but you can get your hands on some brown hide with matching panels on the dash and doors. That interior is a mix of parts from Fiat and Mazda, more Mazda really, and the better for it. The infotainment controls are some of the best around and are a bit of a favourite of mine. Spec wise there were some economies made. There was no Satnav fitted, the engine wasn’t stop/start enabled (some buyers might actually prefer this) and no one-touch electric window controls for just the two windows in the car. The 140litre boot was surprisingly spacious and practical and not effected by the roof when folded away.
Prices start at €32,395 for the Classica and you can get a Lusso or a top of the range Lusso Plus that will set you back €36,695. Mine was in red but I’ve seen a white one and I’d certainly not relish facing a decision on which to choose. Either way, I’d opt for the tan leather interior.
The Mazda MX-5 is the current iconic car in this space, ironically an accolade the Japanese firm stole from the likes of Fiat some years ago. They are fighting back and the 124 Spider is as good as the MX-5 in some areas and better in others. Don’t make the mistake of simply thinking I’ll go with the Mazda, you’ll be missing the style, flair and charm of the 124 Spider all of which Italians are rightly famous for. With the 124 Spider we have the beginnings of a bit of history repeating itself and a very desirable little Italian.