Cap­ti­vat­ing Spi­der

The Chronicle - - Chronicle Motoring - By PETER HAYWARD

I’M ONE of those peo­ple who, when driv­ing a car with a fold­ing roof, has it down all the time if the weather’s dry - what­ever the time of year.

As long as I’m wear­ing a coat, gloves, scarf and hat I’m rarely cold - even in the depths of win­ter.

Some up-mar­ket open tops like Mercedes keep you warm with air con­di­tioned seats and have hot air com­ing out at neck level to min­imise the out­side tem­per­a­ture.

This re­ally works, al­though most own­ers would never think of hav­ing the roof down in the win­ter.

The de­light­ful Fiat 124 Spi­der has just a nor­mal heater, but I drove it top­less with­out feel­ing cold at all.

This spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor to the Barchetta of a few years ago and of the orig­i­nal 124 Spi­der from the 1970s, is hugely en­joy­able to drive, with light weight and a rea­son­ably pow­er­ful en­gine giv­ing great ac­cel­er­a­tion.

But that light weight also tells in the han­dling and road hold­ing, which are ab­so­lutely su­perb.

The Spi­der is the re­sult of a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Mazda and Fiat and un­der­neath that beau­ti­ful body lurks the ex­cel­lent MX-5’s chas­sis and sus­pen­sion.

But no body panels are com­mon be­tween the two cars – an ef­fort by Fiat to sep­a­rate its sport­ster from the all-con­quer­ing Mazda.

Un­der the bon­net is the well tried and tested Fiat/Alfa 1.4 turbo petrol en­gine and it feels very dif­fer­ent to the Mazda to drive.

The power comes in much ear­lier – as you might ex­pect with a turbo en­gine – in­stead of at high revs as with the MX-5.

This will suit many driv­ers be­cause it’s the kind of re­sponse they are used to. It means you can progress with fewer gear changes if you want to – even though the short throw, de­light­ful gearchange just begs to be used.

The en­gine is smooth and re­fined and has enough power for just about any need.

And the han­dling is su­perb, with very di­rect, point and shoot power steer­ing and an abil­ity to change di­rec­tion as quick as thought on dry roads.

It was pure joy to drive and I couldn’t get enough of it, with easy over­tak­ing on ev­ery straight stretch and not much buf­fet­ing from the pass­ing air with the hood down.

The ride is jinky and un­set­tled in town – it is a sportscar af­ter all - but it smoothes out by 40 to 50mph.

Out in the real world, I got an average of 37.7mpg, which is very good for such a sport­ing car.

And the man­ual hood can be put down or up from the driver’s seat and takes about three sec­onds.

I drove the Lusso, which is in the mid­dle of a three trim range, and it comes with touch screen sat nav, elec­tric win­dows, key­less en­try and start­ing, park­ing sen­sors, hip hug­ging heated leather seats, trac­tion con­trol, au­dio re­mote con­trols and al­loy wheels.

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