Fiat has returned to the roadster market after more than a decade absent. The fondly recalled Barchetta was actually the last open-top two-seater made by the Italian firm, but as that was essentially a Punto underneath (and the new model is rear-drive), the naming convention harks back to the Pininfarina-penned 124 Sport Spider of 1960s vintage.
Where the Mazda MX-5 is all sexy curves, sharp Japanese detailing, and functional touches, the Fiat is, well, classically Italian. Those corners Mazda sacrificed on the altar of light weight are yanked out and squared-off front and rear, taffy-pulled into a modern interpretation of the original Fiat Spider’s natty design.
Fiat decided to ditch Mazda’s naturally aspirated 1.5 and 2.0-litre engines for its own 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder.
“We wanted the extra torque and driveability of a turbo” explains the 124’s validation manager (i.e set-up wizard) Domenico Bagnasco.
Fortunately, the dollop of torque gives the Spider a totally different character to the MX-5, so the logistical nightmare of building it has paid off.
Look past the Fiat’s badge-engineered roots and you’ll discover a talented and desirable roadster. With its turbocharged engine, suspension tweaks and slightly more upmarket interior, the 124 Spider has a more grown-up character that’s all its own. It’s slightly easier to live with than the Mazda MX-5 day-to-day, which for many buyers will make it a more attractive proposition. More importantly, fans of fun and affordable roadsters should celebrate the fact that there’s now an alternative to the Mazda MX-5, even if it’s effectively the same car under the skin.
The Fiat 124 Spider is one of the most exciting roadsters launched in recent years. Previous Fiat sports cars have been beautiful and desirable, but they’ve also been somewhat compromised: the Fiat Barchetta from 1995 was only available in left-hand drive, for instance.
With the 124 Spider, Fiat has built a car that not only looks great and offers the driving thrills a roadster should, but as it’s based on the Mazda MX-5 roadster, the 124 Spider is a also well-built and useable car for everyday driving.
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