We had enjoyed good weather for much of the week leading up to the Fiat Chrysler Alfa driving event in Cardiff in late January but it was all about to change. A selection of 13 cars, Jeep, Fiat and Alfa, were lined up in front of the St. David’s Hotel, Cardiff, ready to be put through their paces. Because of weather conditions and early fading light, we only got a couple of cars under our belts on Friday afternoon.
These driving events are always tight when it comes to available time behind the wheel, especially if you take your own photos of each car that you drive. The Welsh capital has some real surprises when it comes to locations, what with the picturesque Cardiff Marina for example.
Fiat 500X 1.4 MultiAir DCT Cross
What with the limited time and the tasty selection of cars on offer, it was always going to be a bit of a bun fight to get behind the wheel of some cars, but in the end we bagged the cars we had planned to drive. First off on Friday afternoon was the Amalfi Yellow Fiat 500X. This has always looked to me like a 500 that has a compressed air lead connected to it, and it has just ballooned up to a bigger size. However, getting up close and personal, it is anything but. It is important in a case like this to ask those for whom it is intended, what they think about it. My wife, who is used to being around cars and dealing with motoring images on a daily basis, was highly impressed with the 500X. It is just the right size inside and out, the higher driving position suits her, and the car is really easy to drive especially with the DCT auto gearbox. With this car being in ‘Cross’ spec, it is a 2WD, but it is also available in 4WD.
The 1.4-litre petrol MultiAir engine develops 140bhp and so in a vehicle this size, it is sufficiently perky and certainly very frugal with a combined fuel consumption of 49.6mpg. Interior space is more than adequate and the higher driving position makes this a comfortable town car. A good feature on the 500 X is the front fog lights with cornering function, useful for finding the edge of the curb, and an added bonus was the steering wheel heater function!
Jeep Wrangler 4DR 75th Anniversary 3.6 V6 Auto
Having driven a number of Jeeps over the years, it was good to climb aboard this 75th Anniversary model. Design is typical Jeep, which is angular and rugged, and the front fender carries the ‘1941’ badge signifying its heritage. This is not a small vehicle and driving it around in the city is not for the fainthearted, or then again, perhaps it is the ideal vehicle for the city with few having the courage to challenge you for space on the road. Talking of space, there is plenty of head room and body room in the cabin but the space around the pedals is surprisingly cramped for such a large vehicle.
Finished in Sarge Green, this is a no-nonsense go-anywhere vehicle that is hugely capable. Driving it within city limits, the Wrangler is very quiet and the V6, which develops 280bhp, has plenty of urge. The interior is well aid out, and this is a vehicle that I could easily get used to, so if I had the choice, I would definitely leave some space for it on my driveway.
Abarth 595C Turismo 1.4 TJet
When I was handed the keys to this little pocket rocket, my journalist colleague asked if I had my teeth all firmly secured, as they would need to be. To be honest, I didn’t find that the car was unreasonably harsh, and the suspension was fairly compliant for what it is. Traversing ‘sleeping policemen’ was a bit of a challenge, but in ordinary city driving it was perfectly comfortable. The interior is cosy for sure, and the boot space will accommodate little more than a couple of shopping bags and an umbrella, which was needed this day.
The styling department have really done a good job on this iconic model, and with a maximum output of 165bhp, the Abarth 595C is a real charger. There is little doubt that this model is aimed at the younger generation firstly because of its sporty nature, but also because of the firm suspension. An attractive throwback to its earlier days, is the two-tone paintwork, which gives the car a certain elegance.
Fiat 124 Spider Lusso Plus 1.4 MultiAir Turbo
This is a favourite of many folk, myself included. The 1970s model 124 Spider was an extremely attractive and elegant cabriolet, and so the current model has some very big shoes to fill. Although the current Fiat 124 Spider shares the same platform as the Mazda MX5, thanks to a joint venture between these two manufacturers, the 124 Spider importantly retains a style and elegance worthy of its name.
When the Spider came back in from a drive around the city, we were ready and waiting to jump in and head off for a quick spin. A short burst along the motorway confirmed this car’s eager character, and with the top down and the heater on hot and full blast, the swift drive was certainly pleasant and invigorating.
It is important to acknowledge that this new Spider will occupy a significant place in the model range, and it must be marketed as such. Back in the 1970s the 124 Spider fulfilled a different role, that of the brand’s halo model as evidenced by the success of the 124 Abarth Rally, essentially a performance version of the 124 Spider fitted with a detachable hard top. The 2016 Spider will not mirror its predecessor in this respect, but it will naturally be compared to the earlier car.
In many respects, the 2016 Spider is very different from the 1970s model, primarily because the market has moved on. Today, the customer demands comfort and reliability with a host of accessories at his/her fingertips. In the days of old, the emphasis was on power and performance, with scant regard for comfort. Today’s car cannot be compared with its forefather, as the 2016 model is bristling with electronic aids, satnav and connectivity – the landscape is just different.
Another nine cars awaited our attention but there just wasn’t enough time in which to drive all of them. These included: Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.0 CRD V6, Jeep Renegade 2.0 MultiJet II (with 9-speed auto ‘box), Fiat 500 CS 0.9 TwinAir, Fiat Panda Cross 0.9 TwinAir, Fiat Tipo Hatchback 1.6 MultiJet, Alfa Giulietta 1.6 JTD M-2, Alfa Giulietta 1.3 JTD M-2, Fiat Fullback 2.4 D-Cab, and Fiat Professional Talento 1.6 LWB.
It is always good to get behind the wheel of modern equivalent cars that were icons in your youth, and to compare them. In our family, we owned a number of Fiat and Alfa models back in the day, so this opportunity was for me a special occasion. Thanks to the FCA Group and their effervescent staff for a memorable two days!
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale (for more images check out our website)