★★★★ | Fiat 124 Spider Lusso Plus 1.4 MultiAir Turbo
On Days like these…
Have you ever bought an album because of a car before? While I understand that he isn’t Italian, he is synonymous with an Anglo-Italian classic movie so having been given the new Fiat 124 Spider I had to get myself a Matt Monro album to go with it.
In a month that saw the shed leak, the garage leak, a roof tile fall off the house narrowly missing my Fiat Tempra and the trusty hatchback take in water quicker than the Titanic, I decided that testing the open-top Spider would be quite fitting. When faced with so much water and chaos what can possibly go wrong with a car that has a fabric roof? I’ll tell you, it snowed!
Fiat were once makers of great small sports cars. The range was made up of humdrum saloons, estates and coupes topped off with a little something cheeky for the weekend. The last time Fiat tried this was with the Barchetta. It was cheeky alright, just let down by the use of the last generation of Punto chassis.
Not so anymore with the new Spider. Underneath it is a Mazda MX-5. Now take that with a pinch of salt because the chassis was a joint development between Mazda and Fiat. While that doesn’t sound very exotic I can tell you that it translates into a beautiful chassis that never fails to satisfy.
What Fiat have given you over the MX-5 is their own 1368cc multiair engine. It’s not as rapid as the MX-5 or as lustful in its revs. The MX-5 we tested last year would scream to 7000rpm, the Fiat is all done by 6000. Once wound up above 2700rpm, it will trounce the MX-5.
In performance terms that translates into 140bhp at 5000rpm with 240Nm of grunt being delivered at 2250rpm. All this power and fun for over 40 miles to the gallon if you’re good. A little less if you are not. The paper spec to the actual driving feel doesn’t quite come out like that and this is probably not helped by the high gearing in all but first gear. The dashboard gauge will tell you to change up keeping it below 2000rpm. Totally pointless in almost every situation. Even crawling in traffic requires first because second is too high.
The multiair has 2 modes. Gutless city poser below 2500rpm or manic mayhem over 3000rpm. You can drive it 2 ways, cruise and enjoy the views or allow it full range and have it try and kill you on wet roundabouts. I’ll accept that is a little bit of an exaggeration. It needs to be respected in some situations though you can have some naughty fun with it. The traction control kicking in more readily than in the MX-5. The level of adhesion even in the wet was good. The chassis allows for this however if you are too lead-footed, when the engine comes on tap at 3000rpm it will give you a wake-up call. Thankfully it doesn’t make you too nervous all of the time. A little release of adrenalin over a journey is quite rewarding.
Get over this little annoyance and the Spider behaves in a civilised way. It’s not your all-out road rocket. The original never was and it’s nice to see this one isn’t either. It’ll take you places with wind-in-the-hair excitement and comfort. It’s a sports car at the end of the day, and not a lazy man car. The joy of a proper sports car is twirling the short throw gearstick back and forth. What it lacks in this department is a little rorty exhaust note.
As with any car with a removable top, it is easy to fold down manually in seconds and there is almost no buffeting at any speed. I was still able to keep dry in what felt like a monsoon above 45mph. I looked a prat but what the hell. The heating and heated seats doing a fine job on a winter’s weekend in keeping me warm.
It’s a win lose win situation with the Fiat 124 Spyder. Finally, it is a Fiat product that doesn’t look like a 500. It looks bloody lovely. Sadly the inside is Mazda. Thankfully it has that joint venture chassis so it handles like a dream.
So only thing that lets the Spider down really is in how Mazda it is inside. The original had a dashboard screwed to the dashboard made of wood with some dials. You wouldn’t want to recreate that however making it look different would have been a bonus. Like the 3 facia dials. The digital one for temperature and fuel look out of place. It needs dials with needles. What it needs are more dials. Changing the dashboard really would make it feel such a different car. Again on the model I had, the tobacco leather strip runs short across the dashboard. For visual pleasure, it needs to run across the entire length.
The other thing the Spider really needs is Fiat’s own infotainment system. Most certainly on the DAB radio. The one fitted is from Mazda and it is far too fussy and clumsy to select stations. The one I tried in the new Tipo was joyous because it simply worked so well.
Style wise it is beautiful. Some have bemoaned the size of the overhangs. I like them. It is in keeping with the original lines. What Fiat have managed to do is finally tidy up the rear. Whatever they did to it back in the 60s and 70s always looked like a job your dad did in the shed. If anything they could have exaggerated the upper flicks of the rear wings a bit more. The front is a pleasure to look at. Somehow it also manages to look wider than the MX-5.
To sum up the Spider over the MX-5 is easy. The Spider isn’t your all out sports car. It’s a touring car with the ability to go very quickly. What it needs is the option of the limited slip rear diff as fitted to the MX-5. If that was fitted it would sharpen an otherwise Bellissimo dressed package.
If I had the money right now I’d be putting down a deposit for a Lusso Plus in magnetic bronze metallic with tobacco leather and adding historical alloy wheels. In the meantime, I’ll just play with the model I bought in my bed instead.
Lack of an exhaust note
Car – Fiat 124 Spider Lusso Plus 1.4 MultiAir Turbo
Price – £23,295 (as tested)
MPG – 44.6 (combined)
Power – 140 bhp
0-62mph – 7.5 seconds
Top Speed – 134 mph
Motoring nurse or medical motorist? It’s a difficult one. By day l nurse and by night l drive.
Fingers have always been grease deep in attending the motoring of an ageing fleet. And now l write about new and old.
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Member of the Southern Group of Motoring Writers. (SGMW)