MOTORS REVIEW: Fiat 124 Spider

IT would have been easy to assume that Mazda had blown it when it gave Fiat access to the platform of its ever-popular MX- 5 roadster and allowed it to put a 1.4-litre turbocharged engine under the bonnet.

A “blown” four-cylinder unit is what many petrolheads have pondered might make the little Mazda a real performance gem, with the promise of greater torque delivering even greater adjustability in corners and effortless pace when the mood takes you.

After a second spell in the Fiat 124 Spider, though — the first being on the UK launch two years ago — it is easy to see that the two cars should appeal to a rather different kind of driver.

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Prices for the 124 Spider position it between the existing 1.5 and two-litre Mazda MX-5 models, starting at £21,055 for the Classico and topping out at the £25,055 for the range-topping Lusso Plus, tested here.

That 1.4-litre turbocharged MultiAir petrol delivers 138bhp, enough to get the featherweight roaster to 62mph in 7.5 seconds and on to a 134mph top speed.

As in the Mazda, that 1,070kg weight also makes it pretty efficient.

Fiat claims 44.1mpg fuel economy — which I saw on a motorway run but nowhere near during spirited driving — and 148g/km CO2 emissions.

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Despite the fact that the MX-5 and 124 Spider now share exterior panels they were designed at the same time and are now built, by Mazda, on the same production line in Hiroshima, Japan.

Among the standard equipment on all 124 Spiders are 16-inch alloy wheels, keyless entry and engine starting, air conditioning, cruise control, Bluetooth phone connectivity and the same fastfolding fabric roof as the MX-5.

Lusso specification adds 17-inch alloy wheels, leather heated seats and a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satnav, DAB radio and a rear parking camera.

Lusso Plus introduces a Bose sound system with speakers in the seat headrests which are a huge bonus for anyone wanting to make telephone calls on the move, making callers audible even with the roof down.

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Incidentally, the roof is as easily operable as in the MX-5 for those with long arms.

One lever pulled, simply throw it back over your shoulder and press it into a locked position.

From that point on, it’s wind in your hair motoring.

Bespoke tuning for the suspension and steering distinguish the 124 Spider from the MX-5 and the differences are quite subtle.

The Spider is less prone to roll in corners, settling more quickly over humps and imperfections, but feels a bigger, less lively car.

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This trait plays well with the more muscular turbocharged engine, making it a more relaxed and comfortable cruiser than the Mazda, but the Japanese contender feels more of a livewire sports car, making you work the engine and a short-throw six-speed gearbox for your thrills.

The 124 Spider’s levels of refinement are good at non-motorway speeds too, the 1.4-litre turbocharged engine proving more audible with the roof in place.

Mazda build quality is another boon.

That Bose stereo I’ve already mentioned — a feature of many- a Mazda nowadays — but the intuitive dash-top sat-nav system and solid-feeling cabin are superior to most Fiat offerings.

Overall, the 124 Spider is a car that has seen Fiat benefit greatly from its partnership with Mazda.

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It’s a quality, grown-up feeling roadster and one I’d give the nod to over a vastly more expensive Mercedes-Benz SLC-Class.

Fiat’s aggressive approach to customer finance also means that the Italian brand has been able to deliver its sports car to potential customers for less, with monthly PCP payments of less than £200 available.

That said, if old school sports car thrills are what you crave, the MX-5 is still the star of the show.

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