What is it like to drive?
While the 124’s core structure is pure MX-5, the driving experience is convincingly different. Fiat has tuned the suspension to be softer and more comfortable, and in everyday life – the dull stuff through town or on motorways – this is as easy going as a sports car can be.
Up your speed and there’s plenty of body roll, but there’s body roll in the Mazda, too. It’s just a bit more evident here, and the 124 largely encourages a smoother, slower driving style; lapping up a bit of sun at a gentler pace, not tearing around trying to work its driven rear axle.
Yep, while it’s rear-wheel drive, the Spider’s no drifter in disguise. The rear snaps quite suddenly if you’ve switched the stability control off and been greedy with the throttle. The Abarth 124, with a limited-slip differential, is more accurate and predictable in this regard, though swapping the Fiat’s standard Bridgestone tyres for something a bit more serious does improve its handling.
The engine encourages a smoother, slower style too, though. There’s loads of torque low down in the revs, so you rarely need to work the car hard to move about briskly. You could get away without changing gear too often, but you will anyway: the six-speed manual is fabulous, with a short lever snicking very satisfyingly and making the optional automatic almost redundant. Choose that only if you have to: it has a manual mode, but it doesn’t come with steering wheel paddles.
All told, we’re impressed with how different Fiat has made the 124 feel compared to its base car. Yeah, it’s softer than an MX-5, but making something that felt identical would have been a missed opportunity. As it is, Fiat’s made a car that’s fun yet also brings something new to a genre whose scant few options arguably lack diversity.