Softer character makes Fiat 124 Spider great all-rounder

Fiat 124 Spider is based on the Mazda MX-5 but has a different driving character.

Fiat 124 Spider is based on the Mazda MX-5 but has a different driving character. - Credit: PA

Fiat's take on the Mazda MX-5 has finally arrived in the UK. We find out how the 124 Spider compares.

What's new?

The 124 Spider shares little more than a name with the old 124, which went out of production in the 1980s, but shares much with a far more modern roadster – the fourth-generation Mazda MX-5.

The bodywork takes cues from the old car, launched 50 years ago, with round headlights and wide, vertical grille given a modern slant. Most of the underpinnings are pretty much straight from Mazda's much-acclaimed drop-top, the major change being Fiat's 1.4-litre turbo petrol engine.

Looks and image

The 124 Spider is stunning to look at while, inside, it's basically identical to the MX-5, with the circular air vents, driver-focused cockpit and seven-inch infotainment system. Optional Tobacco leather on the test car and a slighly more ergonomic gear lever are just enough to give the 124 a charming Italian character. The Mazda may be a pure driving machine but the Fiat is more stylish.

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Space and practicality

It's only a two-seater and the 140-litre boot is 10 litres bigger than the MX-5's but you're hard pushed to get much in. The opening is far narrower than the boot itself and there's a huge boot lip.

The driver's seat has plenty of fore and aft adjustment, but the backrest adjustment is notchy, the seat base doesn't move up and down and the steering wheel doesn't adjust for reach so taller people might struggle to get comfortable.

Behind the wheel

With the MX-5 as a baseline, it's no surprise the 124 Spider is a great car to drive, but with a very different character.

The 138bhp engine is less powerful than the MX-5's larger 158bhp 2.0-litre unit but offers similar performance and feels quicker with the turbo giving real punch.

Tweaked suspension improves the Fiat's ride – it's more supple and smoother – but has affected handling. The MX-5 is pin-sharp but the Fiat is a little woollier with more body roll and the steering a touch less direct.

Although the 124 is a half-step behind in terms of excitement and involvement, it's a better all-rounder.

Value for money

The 124 Spider starts at £19,545 for the basic Classica trim, £1,100 more than the basic 1.5-litre MX-5, but you do get the more potent turbo engine, 16in alloys, keyless start, air conditioning and cruise control. Above that are £22,295 Lusso and £23,295 Lusso Plus trims.

Who would buy one?

Buying the Fiat is very much an emotional commitment, rather than a rational one. You'll always respect the MX-5 for being a technical masterpiece, but you'll love the 124.