An Italian convertible with elegant Pininfarina drawn lines, independent race inspired suspension and a luxurious, if slightly basic, wood and leather interior, plus an Aurelio Lampredi designed dual-overhead cam engine, a five speed manual transmission, four-wheel disc brakes, and lightweight Cromodora alloy wheels. A description of the latest FIAT roadster perhaps? Afraid not.
The above describes FIAT’s inspiration behind their all new 124 Spider Lusso Plus. A sports car from way back in 1966, a true wild child of the sixties with appropriately gorgeous styling, proportions and performance to match. When you consider that us Brits were still ‘enjoying’ the delights of the MGB and Triumph Spitfire, cars that were old even when new and it becomes rather easy to see the appeal that such Italian exotica would have had upon consumers of the day. And then comes the bad news. With a lack of decent rust protection from new and the Italian car industries perceived issues with reliability issues, means that there are less than 8000 original 124 Spiders left on the road today. And that’s from a production run lasting from 1966 up to 1985.
Good God I miss it.
Forward wind 50 years and we have an all new FIAT 124 Spider showing up in dealerships throughout Europe, a roadster in the grand tradition. Two seats, rear wheel drive, styling to die for and an engine that is perfectly suited to the chassis and an overall look that respectfully references the past whilst creating a story all of its own.
FIAT themselves take great pride in their automotive history and are keen to directly link the two different iterations of the Spider stating that: only the great icons of the past are able to reinvent themselves without losing those details that made them immortal. It is with this spirit that the new FIAT 124 Spider fully reinterprets the lines of the 1966 model in a modern vein, with it’s svelte silhouette, perfect proportions, low centre of gravity, passenger compartment moved back and long bonnet true of an authentic sports car. Looking at the 124 and you just get it. FIAT have spent time getting the look just right for the modern audience, taking care to present the new Spider as a thoroughly modern take on the cult of the roadster, a car that declares it’s intent the moment your eyes linger upon it.
But stand awhile and drink in the details that make up this sports car, starting at the front with superb looking headlights and daytime running lights which include an adaptive front-lighting system including rain and dusk sensors, the hexagonal-shaped front grille inspired by the air intake of the 1966 original, the horizontal line emerging from the front wing, kicking up over the rear and flowing toward the rear light. My favourite piece of eye candy? Those stunning 17” alloy wheels on each corner and that emotive chrome double exhaust pipe which offers aural highlights so sublime as to enhance the driving experience ten fold and further forge your bond with the car.
Inside the cabin and the first things to grab your attention are the gorgeous tobacco leather seats and trim followed swiftly by the 7″ touchscreen sat prominently in the centre of the dashboard, right where you need it. And it’s this touchscreen that gives the first clues as to how far we have come from those halcyon days past. Back in the day, the most you could expect with regard to equipment in your brand new sports car was a steering wheel and some seats, a rudimentary heater if you were really lucky, after all, the car was sold on the driving experience, that visceral connection between road and machine. But now we expect more from our purchases, a level of sophistication and comfort brought about by the application of technologies to make the drive better in every way from the original 124.
Specifications are seriously impressive for what is, in essence, a drivers car, with the infotainment system available in both the Lusso and Lusso plus models featuring DAB radio, Sat Nav and applications, WiFi and Bluetooth® connectivity, two USB ports and aux input With all systems and options being controlled by a central multimedia dial, touchscreen or steering wheel controls, you’re able to adjust and cajole the FIAT until it’s set up perfectly for the drive and conditions available. The technology works well with menus that are simple to navigate, an intuitive Navigation system offering both 2D and 3D views of the route ahead and an upgraded BOSE® stereo that also includes headrest mounted speakers and such clear sound that even top down driving doesn’t hamper the quality available. There’s also climate control, rear parking camera and sensors and keyless start. Did I mention that it even has a decent boot? Excellent indeed.
Opening the solid feeling front door and sliding down into the comfortable leather seat gives you another clue as to the differences between an original Spider and one from today, a sense that the car has been designed around the driver to allow them to become part of the machine itself. Indeed, FIAT themselves confirm: The optimum driver’s position is guaranteed by the vertical steering wheel and floor hinged accelerator pedal. The rev counter placed in the centre of the instrument cluster and the position of the gear knob with short lever designed to enhance sports driving and benefit the car’s handling. And you can feel this thoughtful design the moment you unclip the easy to retract roof and push it back behind your head, adjust the mirrors and reach forward for the steering wheel. Everything is to hand and logically set out, switches click with a reassuring quality, dials feel solid and hardwearing and there’s a very real sense of purpose exuding from the fixtures and fittings surround you.
But a roadster has one reason and one reason only for its existence, driving and if it doesn’t deliver that sports car experience then all the styling and technology in the World won’t be enough to save it. With it’s 1.4 MultiAir Turbo, 4 cylinder engine delivering 140bhp at 5000rpm and 170 ft/lb torque at 2250rpm and 0-62mph in 7.5s, the Spider is certainly powerful enough when you put your foot to the floor, the 124’s lack of weight allowing it to rapidly shrink distances between corners and accelerate through them once conditions open up. The steering offers plenty of feel from the front wheels allowing you to place the FIAT exactly where you need it to be whilst the traditional rear wheel drive set up of the roadster means that the steering doesn’t need to fight against anything other than your input through the wheel making the 124 a delight along a long and winding road.
What really works in the Spiders favour is it’s ‘real life’ power output. 140bhp may not grab the headlines but it is more than enough as it allows you to really drive the FIAT hard. You can really feel the limits of grip from the rear as the engine comes on song and you balance the revs and steering input to gain maximum traction and directional change and as the revs continue to rise, you can sense the strengthening of the delivery as the turbo comes on song. And it’s a delivery that becomes incredibly addictive the more time you spend in this jewel of a car encouraging you, as it does, to exploit it’s abilities as and when it is safe and appropriate to do so.
The FIAT 124 Spider Lusso Plus is that very rare thing, it successfully and respectfully pays homage to its heritage whilst not being limited to slavishly recreating the past and those historical deficiencies. FIAT realised early on that what it’s customers wanted in a sports car was something that combined a nod back to their heritage with drop dead gorgeous looks and all delivered in a thoroughly modern package. A traditional roadster with compact dimensions, light weight, rear wheel drive and power enough to be thrilling but not enough to intimidate. Technology that enhances the drive rather than detracts, technology that delivers a powerplant able to deliver 140bhp whilst still delivering up to 44.1mpg combined and CO2 emissions of 148 g/km. And don’t forget a roof that’s simple and quick to put up or down.
If you want one, and you really should do, FIAT will sell you the base Classica for £21,050 whilst the 124 Spider Lusso Plus on test comes in at £25,050 and that, my friends, is an absolute bargain.
Where will you go?