Fiat is hoping to continue its previous success of reinventing classic cars with its latest model - the Fiat 124 Spider. Unfortunately, the 124 is based on the hugely successful Mazda MX-5, so is facing some tough comparison from its Japanese relative.
What is it?
It's a two-seater convertible sports car, that will appeal to a weekend driver who wants to use their car during the week too. It's not the fastest or loudest, but it is enough to put a smile on your face with a decent stretch of road and the roof down. Its name is derived from the Fiat 124 produced from 1966 to 1985, making it one of the longest running models through various forms. However, the design for the new model is inspired by the classic Sport model, which shared the convertible roof and sweeping lines.
What's under the bonnet?
The 124 Spider gets a turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine as your only option. At the moment it's also only available with a six-speed manual gearbox, however Fiat has said an auto will be joining the line-up in the future. It produces 138bhp and maximum torque is 240Nm at 2250rpm. Despite being a turbo while the Mazda remains naturally aspirated, the Fiat's MultiAir engine is less economic at 44.1mpg on a combined cycle - but the 124 knocks almost a second off the 0-62 time.
The engine is never going to win any performance awards, but it is capable. Because of the turbo the 124 doesn't get a particularly racy engine note and means it's not as responsive as you might like.
Climbing steep hills in Italy, torque was lacking in the lower revs and it punished you for not being spot on with your gear changes. However, the setup of the suspension and handling feels spot on and the car as an overall offering does feel smooth and enjoyable.
What's the spec like?
The quality of the interior materials is usually boasted about but it does feel like Fiat has brought up the standard from the MX-5. That said it's an undeniably Mazda interior apart from the Fiat steering wheel and sportier seats. In a very Italian style the spec levels are called Classica, Lusso and Lusso Plus. Entry-level spec is good, offering you air-conditioning, leather trimmed interior, cruise control, 16-inch alloys, Bluetooth and USB. Starting from £19,545 puts it at the pricier end and the end will see you paying £23,295.
Although from the outlook most people might not make the connection to the Mazda until they're sat inside, it's hard not to compare them. The styling is hard to argue with, as while the MX-5 has taken more striking lines the 124 has a more retro look, the defining difference is the engine. The naturally- aspirated Mazda means power is more readily available in lower revs, and the MX-5 is also cheaper. The poor Fiat is in a difficult position because it also faces fierce competition from the Abarth 124 Spider, which is faster and more track orientated but also £10,000 more expensive.
If you take the Fiat 124 Spider on its own, it's an impressive car and enjoyable to drive although it was never going to win any racing titles. However, cost-conscious buyers might find it difficult next to the cheaper and extremely competent MX-5.
Those choosing the 124 will most likely be looking for the exclusivity and slightly higher quality feel that comes with this car. If your priority is performance though, it's worth holding out for the Abarth 124 Spider. However we'll hold out judgement on whether it's worth the extra money until we've driven it later this year.
Model: Fiat 124 Spider
Engine: 1.4-litre MultiAir
Max Speed: 134mph