Fiat 124 Spider 2016 review

We've driven Fiat's 124 Spider in the UK, and now we're sure it's one of best sports cars on sale right now

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5.0 out of 5

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The Fiat 124 Spider is a brilliant sports car: it looks great, is brilliant fun to drive and is great value for money. It rides well, so even very bumpy British roads don’t get in the way of the fun, and the turbocharged engine gives it the flexibility to be fun for longer trips too.

We were very impressed with the Fiat 124 Spider when we tried it for the first time in Italy earlier this year. We particularly liked the Fiat’s flexible turbo engine and compliant ride. Now we’ve driven the car in the UK, though, we’re even more sure that it’s one of Fiat’s best ever sports cars.

For a start, the ride quality doesn’t disappear on our lumpy, pitted tarmac. In fact, the compliant suspension set-up means that on a fast but badly-surfaced road it feels very composed, without any of the skittish progress some stiffly-sprung sports cars bring.

As in the Mazda MX-5 it shares a platform with, the smooth ride of 124 Spider comes at a cost of some body roll in corners. A sharp S-bend will upset the balance most but on a long, fast curve the Fiat feels great. It’s a superb cruiser, perfect for a coastal drive or scenic route through mountains where the grippy Bridgestone tyres mean it feels planted in those sweeping corners, too. The steering is short on feel for a sports car, but it is nicely weighted and quick enough to make the 124 Spider feel alive at your fingertips.

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As it’s rear-wheel drive, you can use the throttle to help bring the car around bends as well, which is great fun. The progressive power delivery of the Mazda MX-5’s naturally-aspirated engines means they’re better at adjusting a cornering line so that car is slightly more fun when you’re pushing hard. The Fiat’s 1.4-litre turbocharged unit feels more powerful most of the time, however, thanks to a higher torque output that sees the peak coming in nice and low in the rev range. It means you can leave the Fiat in-gear and enjoy the punchy performance. On a great road you’ll miss the high-end zip of the Mazda, but most of the time the turbo unit is a better fit. 

The engine sounds sporty in the middle of the rev range, but thanks to extra sound deadening in the Fiat the note is much quieter overall than in the MX-5. Peak power is at just 5,000rpm, so you’re better off changing up before the redline and thanks to the wonderful gearshift action, changing gear is always a delight.

In fact, the Fiat is fun almost all of the time you’re driving it. At any speed you can enjoy the tactile controls, plus the view out over the long bonnet makes it feel special from behind the wheel.

Looks are clearly a matter of taste, but it’s worth pointing out that we feel the 124 Spider is more handsome in the metal than it looks in pictures. While it’s bigger than the Mazda MX-5, it still looks - and feels - small on the road. That adds to the fun as you’ve got more space on the road to give you confidence. 

Inside, the Fiat feels very well built, with soft-touch materials all around and a leather steering wheel as standard. The leather seats on our top-spec test car look great as well, although the seats themselves do feel a little thin when you sit down. The convertible roof arrangement is the same as in the MX-5, which means it’s very easy to operate and keeps things reasonably civilised inside once it’s up by suppressing the noise from outside. 

Equipment on the Lusso Plus model includes heated seats, a seven-inch touchscreen sat-nav, a premium sound system with nine speakers, a rear-view camera, LED headlights and 17-inch alloy wheels. It’s great value, and the smart-looking interior makes the Fiat feel more expensive than it actually is. 

Nobody expects a roadster to be massively practical and the 140-litre boot isn’t exactly cavernous but it’s good enough for a couple of bags for a short holiday for two. There’s also a lockable storage space between the seats and cupholders that can slot into a few different locations around the cabin to keep your drink ideally positioned. 

Sports car buyers are really in luck at the moment, as the Fiat 124 Spider offers something different to the Mazda MX-5. While the Mazda will appeal more to keen drivers, the Fiat’s superb balance of ability means it will suit even more people perfectly.

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