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Fiat 124 Spider review 2020

Looking for a two-seat sports car alternative to the Mazda MX-5? Then the 124 Spider could well be the answer.

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4
Out of 5

Pros

  • Stylish looks
  • Great to drive
  • Excellent value for money

Cons

  • Limited boot space
  • Less engaging than MX-5
  • Poor refinement
  • MPG

    0 - 0

  • CO2

    0 - 0 g/km

Model review

The 1960s were a popular time for open-top, two-seater sports cars. Cars from MG, Lotus, Triumph, TVR and Fiat were all hugely popular, but over time sales dwindled, and one by one, manufacturers pulled them from production as margins thinned and consumers began to  want safer and more powerful offerings.

In fact, only a few manufacturers carried on down this path – Mazda being one of them with the hugely successful MX-5. So, when Fiat decided to enter the market, rather than starting from scratch, it decided to use the same platform that had proved so popular with the MX-5. It did, however, add some Italian flair and retro styling, and with that, the 124 Spider name was revived. 

Current model

The modern 124 Spider was launched in 2016 and it carried over with it much of the retro styling from its ‘60s ancestor. The open-top Fiat comes in two forms, there’s the standard 124 Spider, but if you want a livelier version, then there’s a version which Abarth has given a once over. We’ve reviewed that model separately.

After just two years on sale, Fiat decided to withdraw the model from sale in 2018, which was somewhat of a shame. The sportier Abarth model continued for a bit longer, but was withdrawn a year later in 2019.

Value for money

The entry level price for a Mazda MX-5 was around £18,495, but the starting price for the Fiat was around £1,000 more. However, for your money you get a punchier engine and a car that stands out from the popular MX-5.

You also get a car that’s well equipped too including satellite navigation, 17-inch alloys and heated seats. The big frustration though is that Fiat discontinued the 124 Spider early in 2019, so if you have your heart set on one, then you’ll have to find a good used example.

So on the used market, the 124 Spider is available from £11,500 – this buying a 2016 car with around 35,000 miles on the clock. You really don’t have to pay much for a later car, though – 2018 models available from around £13,000.

Looks and image

It’s quite refreshing that the 124 Spider is so different from the car it’s ultimately based on – as you would struggle to tell that it’s a Mazda MX-5 underneath. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but you can really see some of the retro looks from its predecessor. After all, Fiat are one of the masters of reviving brands from the past – just look at the success of the 500. Overall, it’s bigger than the MX-5 and is very well built. You do notice that more when you get behind the wheel. It does feel well put together with lots of soft touch materials and a good-sized leather steering wheel.

Just like the MX-5, the roof folds down easily (manually) with the flick of a switch, but you have to be pretty nimble to put it back up from the driving seat. It is a process though that should mean you can go from open top motoring to protecting yourself from the rain in just a few seconds.

Space and practicality

Let’s be honest, no one buys a two-seater sports car for practicality, so if you’re looking for something with space, then you will be disappointed. There is room for most adults to get comfortable but in terms of finding somewhere to store bits and bobs, there isn’t much space. There’s no glovebox and other storage bins are pretty unusable.   

The boot is also really only usable for a couple of small weekend bags, or a few weekly essentials from the shop, measuring in at 140 litres. While space is at a premium, it is slightly bigger than the boot in the Mazda, but only marginally – 10 litres to be precise. Annoyingly the boot is a really odd shape too, so any bags that do go in there will need to be flexible. But for most petrolheads, concerns over boot space in a sports car is marginal when compared to how it actually drives.

  

Engines

Unlike the Mazda MX-5, which is powered by a naturally aspirated 1.5- or 2.0-litre petrol, the Fiat gets a 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine which is really well suited to the car. In fact, it’s not far off the pace of the more powerful version of the MX-5. With the 124, 0-60mph takes just 7.3 seconds, and it would reach a top speed of 134mph.

On a twisty road, you will notice the lack of the flexibility of the rev range in the Mazda, but the Fiat has a much more progressive feel with power kicking in much earlier. It actually feels slightly more refined thanks to some additional sound deadening, though it takes away some of the character you get from the MX-5.

 

Running costs

Because it’s powered by a 1.4-litre engine, it is better than the Mazda when it comes to fuel economy and emissions.  Drive it carefully and the Fiat should return an average combined mpg in the mid 40s - compared to the low 40s in the Mazda. But let’s be honest this isn’t a car that you’re going to drive with economy in mind. Realistically, you’re more likely to get a mpg figure in the high 30s, though that still impresses for a sports car. . The turbocharged engine also emits less CO2 than the Mazda too, pumping out 148g/km compared to 161g/km in the MX-5.                      

Things to look out for

If you’re in the market for a sporty, two-seater sports car then the Fiat is well worth taking a look at. Even if your final destination is a Mazda dealership. It’s got bags of charm and is individual enough for you to not realise that it’s related to the MX-5.

Find a good example with relatively low miles, and in good condition and the key things to check are that you’ve no problems with the snug cabin, you can easily manage the roof operation without pulling a muscle, and that the boot isn’t going to cause you issues when you do decide on an impulse weekend away.


As for reliability, while the 124’s rarity makes it hard to gauge, given it shares plenty in common with the dependable Mazda MX-5, that works to its advantage.

  

Rivals

As we mentioned earlier, the open top sports car market has dwindled over recent years, especially at the lower-budget end of the class. The natural comparison is with the Mazda MX-5, after all that’s the car it’s based on.

On paper, the Fiat is more expensive than the Mazda though, but that means it will hold more of its value, especially with the lower numbers that were produced.

If you want something a bit sportier, you could look at the Abarth 124 version. An Audi TT Roadster is a credible choice if you’re wanting something more upmarket, though you’ll have to look at older models to get one for the same price as this Fiat.

  

Depreciation

Despite Fiat selling fewer 124 Spiders than Mazda did with the MX-5, it hasn’t made too much of a difference with depreciation. But when you consider the Fiat is more expensive than the cheapest Mazda, you’d like to think it would be worth slightly more, which isn’t really the case. That’s really testament to just how good and how popular the MX-5 really is.

Trims Explained

The 124 Spider is well equipped as standard even compared like-for-like with the Mazda, there are three trims available:

'Classica'

Standard equipment on the Classica model includes 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control cloth seats and air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity as well as four airbags, traction control and electric mirrors.

Priced from £12,000 (used)

'Lusso'

Opt for the Lusso and this adds a seven-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, as well as a reversing camera, larger 17-inch alloy wheels and heated leather seats. It also adds climate control, front fog lights, keyless entry and additional chrome trim.

Priced from £12,500 (used)

'Lusso Plus'

At the top of the line-up, this ‘Plus’ grade brings adaptive LED headlights, automatic lights and wipers and a Bose sound system.

Priced from £13,000 (used)

'S Design'

This special edition came along in 2018, and featured new 17-inch alloy wheels, gunmetal grey styling accents and red exterior stripes. It comes exclusively in white, too.

Priced from £16,500 (used)

Summary

  1. Stylish design
  2. Performance
  3. Comfortable ride
  4. Good levels of equipment
  5. Poor engine noise
  6. Not as fun as the Mazda MX-5
  7. Poor storage space
  8. Good levels of equipment on mid-spec versions
  9. Great driving position
  10. Good economy and emissions

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