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Don't Be Afraid Of Spiders - Fiat's New 124 Is Set To Thrill
Andy Harris, Motoring and Property Editor
For the past 25 years or so, anyone looking for an affordable two seater sports car would naturally be drawn to the Mazda MX-5. I owned an early example and it was a fun and trouble free car to own. Family duties saw it give way to something more practical.

The competition has been sparse to say the least, with the MGF being the UK's best effort.

Fiat produced the rather delightful Barchetta, but as it was only produced in left hand drive, very few were sold here. That's a pity as it was a hoot to drive, though perhaps a little fragile.

Fiat has now rejoined the sports car fray with its new 124 Spider built with a little help from Mazda.

Scratch beneath the surface and you will find the capable MX-5 chassis. Changes to the body panels give the Spider a more purposeful and chunky look - I'm a fan.

Out goes the naturally aspirated Mazda engines and in their place is a feisty turbocharged 1,400cc power plant.

It revs with gusto and propels the diminutive sports car to 62mph in 7.5 seconds.

It also packs a firm punch when called upon blast past a line of slow moving traffic. The only black mark is the lack of aural excitement.

If you are not in a hurry the 124 Spider is fairly parsimonious too, returning up 44mpg on the combined cycle. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that I did not come close to that figure. Blame the wonderful traffic-free roads of The Yorkshire Dales and a tight schedule (well some of the time).

Fiat also chose to tamper with the brakes, steering and suspension - to good effect. The Spider boasts a softer ride than the MX-5, ideal for the UK's poorly surfaced roads. There is a little more body roll in the corners, but this simply adds to the fun.

The steering is light but full of feel and the brakes strong and reassuring. As such the Spider feels alive and responsive.

Aiding swift progress is the slick six-speed manual gearbox, a delight to use. If you must, an automatic gearbox is available.

The 124 Spider is a compact two-seater sports car and space in the cabin is at a premium.

The seats are comfortable and accommodating, but anyone over six foot tall will feel somewhat cramped especially with the roof up.

I ended reclining the seat a little more than I would like in order to fit. Storage space is limited to a lockable cubby between the seats.

The boot has a capacity of 140 litres, enough for a weekend's luggage or a trip to the supermarket.

All three 124 Spider variants are well equipped, with my mid range Lusso test car being the best choice. With it comes powerful heated leather seats, climate control and satellite navigation, all for a reasonable £23,745. Do without these creature comforts and opt for the Classica model will save around £2,500.

A top Lusso Plus model will set you back £24,995 and gains an upgraded sound system and LED headlights.

Despite near freezing conditions during the test period, I drove everywhere with the roof down. There's no excuse as the manual top stows quickly and why buy a convertible car and not make the most of the chance to enjoy the sights and sounds of the countryside?

The car attracted admiring glances wherever I went, helped in no small part by the bright red paint. The general consensus was that the Spider was better looking than the MX-5 and I wholeheartedly concur with the sentiment.

Two mornings running I got up especially early to go for a drive before the working day began, a clear a sign as any of the fun to be had. On one of those mornings I encountered a little light snow and then some rain on my travels, but keeping moving ensured that I stayed dry.

So given the choice, would I buy the MX-5 or the 124 Spider? The MX-5 will suit the keener driver perhaps, but most (me included) would plump for the sporty Italian. It's a more rounded and better looking car and one which should suit a broader cross section of buyers.

So is that my verdict? Well not quite, as Fiat's tuning arm Abarth produce their own version of the 124 Spider.

Priced at just under £30,000 and sporting an extra 30PS, this may just be the one to own.

I've not driven one yet. Time to make that call...

Fast Facts (as tested)

Fiat 124 Spider Lusso
Price: £23,745
140PS 1,368 4-cylinder turbo petrol engine
0-62mph in 7.5 seconds
Top speed 134mph
Combined economy 44.1mpg
Emissions 148g/km CO2
Insurance Group 26E
Don't Be Afraid Of Spiders - Fiat's New 124 Is Set To Thrill, 20th March 2017, 17:04 PM