124 is a real blast from the past

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THE AFFORDABLE two-seater sports coupe was an endangered species.

THE AFFORDABLE two-seater sports coupe was an endangered species.

It went into seemingly terminal decline in the 1980s and 1990s with only Mazda MX-5 remaining where MG, Triumph, Fiat, Alfa Romeo and plenty of others once stood.

The more versatile but less charming hot-hatch took its place but lacked the style, grace and elegance of the ‘proper’ sports car.

The fact that this very European type of car is still in existence is ironically down to the Japanese. The MX-5 bucked the trend and paved the way for the return of the one of the most famous models of all to make a return: the Fiat 124 Spider.

Whisper it quietly among Fiat tifosi but the new 124, which harks back to a famous model of the 1960s, has Mazda roots. It is based on the underpinnings of the long-established and highly successful MX-5 but has enough Latin panache to appeal to Fiat loyalists.

It is as charming as the famous 124 model (1966-1980) but very much a modern machine.

So, how exactly does the 124 Spider tested here match up in the two-seater market?

It’s a good-looking car, prettier and more distinctive than the Mazda version. It costs from £21,000, a couple of thousand more than the MX-5, but is still reasonably priced. This is a beautifully balanced car which is well equipped and has a fine 1.4 litre engine which sounds good and offers coupe performance.

Shortcomings? It has a couple. Access for a six-footer is difficult but not impossible and the gearbox takes some getting used - you must hold it in first for longer than you might imagine to have enough power to make full use of second gear. And vision, particular out of the side windows, with the hood up isn’t ideal.

But those are minor quibbles with a car with gives you more smiles per hour than any other for the money.

So, what are its plus points? The ride and handling is brilliant. It feels like a go-kart and corners beautifully and sound of the engine is great. It’s hard to believe that a 1.4 litre unit which returns 55mpg on a run can sound so good.

Once inside, it is a cosy and comfortable car with well-placed controls and finely balanced steering.

Fiat call it an authentic sports car and it’s hard to disagree.

It is as charming as the famous 124 model (1966-1980) but very much a modern machine. The test version Lusso has satellite navigation, beautiful leather seats, electric windows and mirrors and cruise control. Oddly enough, for such a compact car, it also has a reversing camera and parking sensors, which are useful.

The ride and handling will appeal to the purists but it’s the style of the car which draws second glances. The lines are very 1960s but it is a car built with 21st century quality.

The profile is classic roadster, with its long wheelbase, low cockpit and a long bonnet.

The nose takes its inspiration from the 1966 original with the style and position of the LED headlamps and the hexagonal upper grille all drawing heavily from the details of the classic roadster.

Yet it is a versatile car with a deep and wide boot holding 140 litres of luggage. And the hand-operated folding roof can be taken up or down in a few seconds without having to get out of the driving seat. The hood is manual to save weight and expense.

The cabin is simple, which again harks back to its roots. It is well designed to ensure the perfect layout of pedals, steering wheel and gear lever with a clear view of the three-dial instrument cluster with a purposeful central rev-counter.

Three trim levels are offered: Classica, Lusso and Lusso Plus.

Fiat 124 Spider Lusso Plus

THE CAR FACTS

Price: £25,050. Range starts at £21,050

Engine: A 1,368cc four cylinder unit

Power: 140bhp

Torque: 240Nm

Transmission: Six speed manual

Top speed: 134mph

0-62mph: 7.5 seconds

Insurance: Group 26E

Economy: Town 33.2mpg; country 55.4mpg combined 44.1mpg

CO2 emissions: 148g/km

Warranty: Three years’ unlimited mileage