We’re Having Big Fun
If Richard Linklater’s semi-biographical coming of age film, Dazed & Confused, had been set not in Austin Texas, but in Farnham Surrey where I grew up, it would have been full of teenager’s driving two seater convertibles, such as the Triumph Spitfire, MGB & MGB Midget, plus a spattering of Triumph Vitesse & Herald’s large enough to seat four. The better-off parents of some of my sixth-form colleagues, were in 1981-83, to be able to buy a classic British sports car for as little as £300 & to insure their 17 year old for even less to drive one. I was lucky enough to enjoy being a passenger in some of these & I always vowed that when I got older & had a garage, I too would have one & in my case my I lusted after the Sunbeam Alpine, which had a starring role in gloomy Britsh thriller, Get Carter. Alas, now I am older & have a garage, I have not fulfilled my wish, partly because in my job, I am driving a press vehicle 46 weeks of the year, but mostly because those old rag tops are, compared to modern cars, not very good especially when it comes to safety.
Despite my lethargy, Mazda successfully resurrected the two-seater sports car in 1990, with the MX-5 which has gone on to sell over 1 million units & is still part of the Mazda line-up today. So successful has the MX-5 been, that Mazda recently allowed Fiat, the once proud makers of their own sports car the 124, to take the current MX-5 & to re-badge it as a latter day 124, with slightly altered body panels, a 1.4 turbo-charged engine & some Italian touches to the interior.
From the outside, the 124 does remind me of later versions of the Americanised Alfa Romeo Spider, with the extended body panels making it look un-gamely compared to the smaller MX-5.
Inside, the layout is identical to that found in the Mazda & because of this feels very well built, with soft-touch materials all around, plus a leather steering wheel as standard. The leather seats in a fetching hide-colour look great & the upholstered instrument cluster hood & upholstered lower dashboard, also add a touch of class to the proceedings. The clever one-touch open & close retractable roof is also carried over from the MX-5 & this is simple to operate.
Equipment on the Lusso Plus 1.4 MultiAir Turbo 140hp is pretty extensive. Premium silver windscreen frame, electrically adjustable, body coloured door mirrors, 17″ alloys, chrome double exhaust pipe, Mazda’s very own 7″ touchscreen DAB radio with multimedia control knob, Bluetooth, WiFi connectivity, 2 USB ports & AUX-in, SatNav including 3D maps, a Bose audio system with 9 speakers, 4 of which are integrated in the headrests, automatic climate control, heated leather seats, rear parking sensors, LED headlights and daytime running lights & a parview rear camera. All of these add to the comfort of the 124 which take the interior many galaxies away from those 1970’s two-seaters.
A two-seater roadster is never going to be spacious.There’s a 140 litre boot, just large enough for two overnight bags. There’s also a lockable storage space in the centre, which is located behind the seats & a couple of hidden cubby holes, one behind each seat, plus two cup holders which sit between the front seats. There’s a token covered storage space large enough for your phone or wallet, in the central binnacle. Passengers in excess of six-feet tall will struggle to get comfortable in there, despite a four-way adjustable drivers seat whilst the steering wheel only adjusts up or down.
What a sports car should be is fun & the 124 doesn’t disappoint. The 140hp turbocharged engine makes all the right noises when accelerating & the car will hit 62mph from zero in a pleasing 7.5 seconds & it will go on to reach a top speed of 134 mph. On the open road the rear wheel drive 124 grips the tarmac well, with only a little noticeable body roll. It’s surprisingly good over bumps & pot holes too, the suspension making many larger load carriers look bad. The rear wheel driver set up also makes negotiating tight curves hugely enjoyable. On the motorway, the inclusion of adjustable cruise control makes life easier & when your driving at speeds under 70mph the cabin is quiet enough to make or receive a hands-free phone call. Any faster though & the rag-top does let the outside noise in & you will have to turn your chosen music up to hear it properly. On one occasion, I drove the 124 in monsoon rain & unlike those 1970’s car’s, not a drop of water leaked in.
Company car drivers will want to know how the 124 performs on their wallet. Fiat claim 44.1mpg on the combined cycle, whilst I averaged 36.8mpg in my week driving it, which I think is a more realistic figure. Emissions aren’t great either at 148g/km, so choosing one will be with the heart rather than the head, but that would always be the case with a small two-seater roadster anyway.
Like the latest MX-5, the 124 has grown up & offers sports car handling as well as a the=benefits of a right-up-to-date, safe, well equipped, modern car. Although a car this small is not that practical, it really is great fun to drive & most certainly took me back to the halcyon days of my late teens. It’s also good to see Fiat back with a two-seater sports car, even if it comes with a huge dollop of Mazda on top.
The Party’s Just Begun 3.5/5