2016 Fiat 124 Spider review

The Fiat 124 Spider is the result of a joint collaboration between Fiat and Mazda. It has the same basic underpinnings as the Japanese firm's MX-5, but is it as convincing to drive?...

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Nic Cackett
8 Jun 2016 14:35 | Last updated: 30 Aug 2018 15:04

The Fiat 124 Spider signals the Italian firm’s return to the roadster market, and is a product of its collaboration with Mazda. That means there’s a rear-drive platform under the two-seater body (courtesy of the MX-5), hence the hat-tip to a model name last used by the manufacturer in the 1960s and 1970s.

Homage to that 124 Spider is paid in a host of styling details on the completely redesigned body – sufficiently altered for it to measure up slightly larger than Mazda’s effort. Underneath, the engine has changed, too, with Fiat opting to use its turbocharged 1.4-litre MultiAir petrol instead of the MX-5’s naturally-aspirated petrol engines.

 

2016 Fiat 124 Spider review

What is the 2016 Fiat 124 Spider like to drive?

Alongside the standard 124, Fiat has had its in-house tuner Abarth develop a more powerful, sportier version of the car, allowing its own engineers to concentrate on perfecting a more mature, almost GT-style roadster. It differs from the MX-5 in several important respects, but at its base retains the exceptional handling and lightweight agility that makes its Japanese sibling so likeable to drive.

Both cars have the same suspension, but Fiat’s tuning of it has made the 124 a slightly more restrained prospect than the MX-5. The Mazda’s long-established tendency to merrily bob on its springs is curtailed; the Italians have opted for a more controlled ride quality, one that retains a good deal of the comfort – but does introduce a very minor shimmy when dealing with a troublesome road surface.

 

2016 Fiat 124 Spider review

Similarly, the 124’s steering has moved away from the MX-5’s fingertip-light feel, requiring a tiny bit more effort to move the same combination of wheels and tyres. Much like the suspension, the result is less easygoing, yet it offers a bit more assurance when pressing on – and with plenty more torque available from the Fiat's turbocharged engine than the Mazda's naturally aspirated ones, that is something the Spider feels the better for.

Throughout the mid-range of its revs, the 124 feels quicker than the MX-5, but predictably it’s less interested in being revved hard - although that suits the Spider’s steady-cruise style. It’s more refined than Mazda’s engines, too and benefits mightily from the same snappy six-speed manual gearbox.

It’s amenable then, but not faultless: the MultiAir engine suffers from turbo lag lowdown in the revs, making downshifts on the short-throw lever almost as frequent as in the MX-5.

 

2016 Fiat 124 Spider review

What is the 2016 Fiat 124 Spider like inside?

The tiny interior remains largely unchanged, as Fiat has carried much of the architecture over from the MX-5. This is a good thing, chiefly because it’s very natty, well thought out and well made, but also because a layer of Italian style has gently lifted the ambience too. Our mid-spec Lusso test car, for example, featured tan leather seats. The same material appears on the dash, too – an instant improvement on the plastic-dominated Mazda.

The other notable upgrade is in the boot, where the Spider’s marginally larger size means it boasts a slightly - only 10 litres - bigger load space. It also gets a more significant boot lid – which, mercifully, gets a proper button on it to save you fumbling about under the bumper as is required by the MX-5. Negligible improvements, but they enhance the impression of greater usability.

Otherwise, the experience is familiar – not least because both models share the pleasingly low slung driving position and Mazda’s infotainment tech, which also appears on the Fiat, with the same interface. It's odd to see the same rotating menu (and controller) next to a Fiat badge, but it does explain the neutrality of the look, and doesn’t stop it from being, in the main, very easy to use.

 

Should I buy one?

All told, the Spider makes a convincing argument. Fiat has done a neat job differentiating the car from the MX-5: it looks different, sounds different and drives in a style that could credibly be called its own. Of the three trim lineup, the mid spec Lusso we drove is almost certainly the one to choose, as its well-stocked equipment list includes niceties such as sat-nav, a rear view parking camera, 17in wheels, heated leather seats, automatic climate control and keyless entry.

However, its list price of £22,295 makes it slightly more expensive than the equivalent MX-5, and its turbocharged motor isn’t quite as economical or as efficient as the less powerful 1.5-litre engine that underpins Mazda’s lineup.

Nevertheless, the Spider has nicely broadened the range of options for sun-seekers. Its lightweight, leisurely attitude is, at first glance, assuredly more desirable than a bucket-load of similarily priced top-down rivals. We’ll confirm that in the UK in the coming months, but for now, it’s a welcome return to roadsters for Fiat.


What Car? says...

Rated 4 out of 5


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Rivals:

Mazda MX-5


Fiat 124 Spider

Engine size 1.4 turbo petrol

Price from £22,295

Power 138bhp

Torque 177lb ft

0-62mph 7.5sec

Top speed 134mph

Fuel economy (official combined) 44.1mpg

CO2/BIK band 148g/km/26%