Warning, I’m going to use the F word a lot in this review.
Yes, it’s hard to write about Fiat’s little retro-inspired roadster without breaking out the fun bomb over and over. As far as cars designed to put a smile on your face go the 124 Spider is motoring nirvana.
In fairness, it had a good base to start from, borrowing the chassis from the Mazda MX-5 – a car that has for years carried the flag for small, nimble open-top sports cars.
But Fiat have gone their own way with the basic ingredients. Out go Mazda’s naturally aspirated engines and in comes a turbocharged 1.4-litre. The Fiat also has a unique suspension setup that’s not quite as hard-edged as the Mazda, giving it its own handling characteristics.
Fiat 124 Spider Lusso Plus
Engine: 1.4-litre, four-cylinder, turbo, petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Top speed: 134mph
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
CO2 emissions: 148g/km
The result is one of those cars that turn a five-minute run to the shop into a 45-minute blast as you seek out another few minutes of unadulterated fun. More than once in my week with it I “accidentally” missed my turning home and ended up out in the countryside.
The pleasure of the 124 Spider isn’t in raw acceleration or gravity-defying levels of lateral grip, although 0-62mph in 7.5 is quick enough and there’s plenty grip to keep you safe. No, what really makes it a car you’ll want to drive is how light and nimble it feels in comparison to most modern machines.
At the same time as it was with us we also had a Ford Mustang on test – another front-engined, rear-driven sports car. But where the Mustang bludgeoned any road with noise and power, crushing it beneath its fat tyres, the Fiat floated delicately over the surface, flowing with the road and urging you to shift through the gears to keep the little turbo four-pot in its sweet spot.
They’re both great fun but I found myself repeatedly reaching for the Fiat’s keys as you can exploit more of what it has to offer safely. Our narrow, twisting back roads are what this car was designed for and it slips and dances along them.
It’s slightly softer sprung than many sports cars, which means a hint of body roll when you’re really powering through corners, but it’s never unsettling and means that on poor surfaces it doesn’t crash and bounce like more tightly sprung models.
Away from the driving, the looks haven’t been to everyone’s taste. They’re designed to evoke the original 1960s 124 Spider and are certainly more traditional than the sharp futuristic styling of the MX-5. At first sight I loved them, then began to question the slightly bug-eyed headlights and long snout before coming around once again to the blend of cutesy looks with just a hint of aggression.
The car does have its weaknesses, though, many shared with its Mazda cousin. Some of the cabin plastics aren’t great, the media system could be better and there’s no storage. The cabin is cramped and with the roof in place there’s still noticeable wind and tyre noise.
The thing is, though, this probably isn’t a daily driver. Even if it is these are problems you’d learn to live with just to revel in the unadulterated fun you experience every time you slip behind the wheel.