IS THIS the Mazda MX-5 you’ve always wanted?
The 2016 Fiat 124 Spider was revealed at the 2015 LA motor show as the start of Fiat’s renaissance, and comes with a more powerful turbocharged engine and Italian dressing inspired by its classic 1960s namesake.
The highly anticipated soft-top convertible, which is based on the Mazda MX-5 and built in the same Hiroshima, Japan, factory, was launched in the prime convertible market at the LA motor show.
That shark nose, undulating waistline and slanted rear-end of the LA show car were taken from this car’s inspiration: the 1966 124 Spider, which lends the 21st century edition its name.
Despite the Mazda MX-5 platform, which means it shares the same hard points and overall proportions, Fiat exterior design chief Felix Kilbertus says that the team didn’t reference the MX-5’s styling as it developed the 124, nor was the look an abandoned Alfa as parent company Fiat-Chrysler decided which marque would get the new roadster.
“Whether this is based on another car or not didn’t really matter, mostly because we didn’t even see the car,” he said. “This car was designed specifically to be a Fiat, designed from the beginning to be based on the vintage Spider for the 21st Century.”
That means that not a single body panel – not even the doors – are shared with the Mazda, with the windscreen and that clever, lightweight roof mechanism carrying over from the MX-5.
Inside, elements of the Mazda remain, such as the air vents, infotainment system and that steering wheel, wrapped in Italian leather and treated to an embossed Fiat logo. The seating, door trims and other major elements have been worked on by Fiat.
“We put a lot of effort into the things you interact with directly – the door handles, the shifter which was then covered with beautiful leather, the steering wheel which has a unique section,” Kilbertus said.
Under that bonnet is the same rorty, rev-happy 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that we’ve enjoyed in the Abarth 595. It makes 119kW – a cheeky 1kW more than the most powerful version of the MX-5, the 118kW 2.0-litre – and comes with a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic. The 124 Spider sees this as the first rear-drive application of the 1.4-litre MultiAir driveline.
There’s double-wishbone front and a multi-link rear under that body, which at 4054mm is 139mm longer than the MX-5. It’s also 5mm wider, with broader front and rear tracks, and weighs in at 1105kg for the manual entry-level model, making it 96kg heavier than the Mazda.
Two trim levels will be offered overseas, the Classica and higher-spec Lusso. Mechanically identical, the Lusso can be identified by its silver anti-roll bar, chrome dual-exhaust and inch-bigger 17-inch alloys. It also gets features such as adaptive lighting with LED DRLs, a reversing camera and leather upholstery.
Fiat-Chrysler Australia is yet to confirm the 124 Spider for this market, however it salivating over the opportunity the car may present. “It will provide a huge boost to Fiat here,” said a company spokesperson. “It’s a hugely exciting car for Australia, and more exciting still because it’s just one part of the 124 story, and one part of the Fiat story.”
If it does make it here, the 124 Spider is expected to command a premium over the MX-5, with pricing estimated to start around $40k. The Mazda starts at $31,990 with its 96kW 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated engine, the 2.0-litre offered from $34,490.
The Fiat 124 Spider goes on sale in North America in the second-quarter of 2016, and may be in local showrooms later next year.
Who do you think deserves to win the 2017 COTY title? Cast your vote for a chance to win $1,000.
Sign up here to receive the latest round-up of Wheels news, reviews and video highlights straight to your inbox each week.