Are you considering the Fiat 124 for your next car?
Find out what Motoring Journalist John Swift thought when he took one out for a test drive.
With fun motoring being ever harder to find on our crowded and cratered roads there is still one type of car pretty much guaranteed to give you a feel-good factor on any journey, the two seater convertible.
Fiat has wisely chosen the collaborative route to having its own soft top in the showrooms and the Spider has much in common with the Mazda MX-5 which is as good a start in life for a sporty two seater as you will find. It does though have Fiat’s engines, interior, its own chassis tuning and perhaps its trump cards, that gorgeous styling.
And if you are wondering where the Spider name comes from, it refers to a lightweight two seater carriage from the days of horse drawn power and has stuck ever since. Useful to know if ever it comes up in a pub quiz…
Come on, just look at it. It’s a beautiful car with a low and wide stance, has a strong `face’ with those big and wide eyed headlamps framing and that belt line sweeping back from the front to the gentle rise over the flanks around the back wheels. Run your hand along that line and feel it. Italians are the best in the world for elevating form into motoring art and the 124 is in that tradition. It is balanced and harmonious in its proportions and one aspect flows seamlessly into the next, a harder trick to pull off on a small car than you might image. No disrespect to the Mazda which has a character all of its own, but next to the Fiat is just looks gawky.
It is not just in the looks that the two differ because they feel quite different on the road. The MX-5 is a much harder, more overtly sports focused car while the Fiat is a little bit softer and in my opinion, better suited to our roads and driving conditions. It absorbs bumps better, is a more comfortable ride and yet at its core you will still find a proper sports car.
Nestling under the bonnet is Fiat’s 1.4 MultiAir turbo engine which produces plenty of punch, 140 hp to be precise, and left to me I would opt for the sweet manual gearbox rather than then semi-automatic you find on the top spec car. It feeds its power to the rear wheels and with that near perfect balance it is an absolute delight to point into a bend or series of fast sweeping curves and between the sensitive steering and the great chassis you can control its line and attitude through them as much on the throttle as by your inputs at the wheel. Honestly, the Fiat is such great fun and proves once again that you don’t need lots of horsepower to enjoy that shot of adrenalin a sports car should deliver.
That said, if you do want something more Maranello than Milan (the homes of Ferrari and Fiat respectively!) you can move up a grade and go for the Abarth version and that, I can assure you, is a very different beast altogether.
The beauty is more than skin deep because Fiat has taken its styling flair and worked its magic on the interior and while it may be a cliché, the only way you can describe the feeling as you slip behind the wheel is that it fits like a glove.
It has soft touch materials, a leather trimmed steering wheel, attractive and instantly legible instruments and a fair bit of room for the occupants. Storage is a bit restricted but hey, this is a two-seater and not a practical family car.
But a great big tick in its favour is the ease with which you can raise or drop the fabric roof. It’s a one hand operation and you don’t even have to leave your seat to do it. I once owned a Lotus Elise and the same operation was a major engineering project in comparison.
Value/running costs 5/5
Retail prices start at around £21,000 and I think that is good value because I’m sure Fiat could charge more and still sell them.
Depreciation is the big but often silent component in owning and running a car but it is much less of a factor with the 124 Spider than others. This protects your money and makes those monthly PCP payments more affordable. Fancy one of these on your drive for less than £250 a month? You can and I wouldn’t mind…
Regarding the running costs, you don’t buy a sports car and then tootle around in it at 30 or if you do, you’ve been sold the wrong car. Anyway, the 1.4 turbo is an excellent engine for this car with a strong mid range and a nice exhaust note which encourages you to open it up a bit. Which is why its claimed 44 mpg average should be treated with a degree of scepticism!
How can you not fall in love with this car? It’s got the automotive equivalent of a catwalk model’s looks, has a chassis sensibly and realistically set up for our roads, a good engine and the rear wheel drive that signals a proper sports car and it’s affordable.
My only issue with it is that every day I go past a Fiat dealership and see one and think how nice it would be to trade in my old Ford Focus and drive home in that instead. Except that I have three children.
Test Drive Info:
- Fiat 124 Spider 1.4 MultiAir
- From £21,050
- 0 to 60 eight seconds
- Top speed 134 mph
- Average mpg 44
- CO2 148 g/km
- Warranty three years/100,000 miles