4-litre turbocharged engine delivers a unique feel that provides this model with much of its unique character.
This Fiat may share a lot of its underpinnings with a Mazda MX-5, but a crucial difference lies beneath the bonnet. The Italian has a zesty turbocharged 1. 4-litre engine that delivers 140bhp and drives through a six-speed manual gearbox. Make the most of its power, along with 240 Newton metres of shove, and it cracks 0-62mph in 7. 5 seconds before heading on to a top speed of 134mph. That’s brisk enough by today’s standards and feels even swifter thanks to the open-top experience you get when the roof is lowered. Use the 124 with a bit more restraint and it can give a combined consumption of 44. 1mpg and 148g/km of carbon dioxide output. The more potent 170bhp Abarth model produces the same emissions when coupled to its six ratio manual ’box, but economy drops to 33. 2mpg. With both variants, a 6-speed paddleshift auto gearbox is optional.
That extra pulling power of that turbo engine gives the Fiat a torquier, more relaxed feel than you get from its more urgently-orientated normally aspirated MX-5 design stablemate and the Italians have also changed the springs, the dampers, the anti-roll bars and the steering calibration in a further effort to give this car a shift in character. The end result is probably closer to the kind of authentic Sixties sportscar feel that Fiat was setting out to replicate: it’s certainly closer to the feel of an original 124 Spider. What’s not up for debate is the fact that this roadster is huge fun to drive, with precise steering and a lovely snappy gearbox, though ride quality can get easily unsettled on poorer surfaces.
Lowering the roof is easy and quick, so you can enjoy the open air all the way to motorway speeds without being blown about in the cockpit. Raise the hood and the Fiat is actually acceptably refined, so you can listen to the stereo or chat with your passenger without the risk of impending deafness.
It’s from the side that you appreciate the extra length that Fiat has added to this design – it’s 139mm longer than an MX-5. That might not sound much but in the metal, the change is enough to visually reposition this car - to the point where at first glance, you might well see it less as a dinky, nippy little MX-5 rival and perhaps more as a competitor for something like a Mercedes SLC or a BMW Z4. Key visual tweaks include the prominent lower side skirts and the ‘swallowtail’ rear haunches that directly reference the previous model. It’s perhaps more significant though, to note that the alterations made have spoiled the standard MX-5 design’s perfect 50:50 weight distribution.
After all the changes made to the panelwork and the engine bay, it’s something of a shock to find a cockpit carried over from the MX-5 virtually unchanged. There’s a Fiat badge on the steering wheel, revised door panels and a softer touch, plusher material is used on the top of the dash. Otherwise, everything you see is exactly as it would be in the Mazda. We can understand why purists might object to that, but then a purist is unlikely to be considering an Italian sportscar built in Hiroshima anyway. Pragmatically speaking, there was really no need to change an interior that Mazda spent years in perfecting, offering as it does a driving position tailored to fit you like a glove.
We should also talk about the hood, another feature that was unnecessary for Fiat to redesign in creating this car. It isn’t electrically operated and it doesn’t need to be because the opening and closing process is so simple – you just reach behind and pull up with one hand, a process that only takes a few seconds and requires activation of a simple roof rail clip-on catch.
One thing the roof doesn’t do is compromise your bootspace – which is just as well since, as with any roadster, there’s not very much of it. The extra length of this Fiat has freed up 10-litres more trunk room than you get in an MX-5 – there’s 140-litres in total – but that’s not going to make very much difference to the limited amount you can carry. If that’s a problem, go and buy a hot hatch.
It’s easy to be critical when it comes to platform sharing but it’s an approach that’s always been hard to get away from. The original 124 Spider was based on a humble 124 saloon, just as the MK1 model MX-5 borrowed plenty from a Mazda 323 hatch. So why shouldn’t this modern-era Fiat sportscar share its fundamentals with a more credible donor model, its Japanese arch-rival? After all, if the Turin brand had developed this car from scratch, we’d all have compared every nut and bolt of it to an MX-5 anyway.
Ultimately, every love story has its own soundtrack. If this is yours, then we think you’ll like this car very much.