Spider an MX-5 with more venom

The new MX-5 has gone turbo for extra pep – but it’s not Mazda’s doing. Say ciao to the 124 Spider, Fiat’s version of the world’s best-selling roadster.

IN North America it’s the Miata – and for all of the world, there’s now also a ‘Fiata’.

The 124 Spider, Italy’s long-expected take on the Mazda MX-5, was revealed at the Los Angeles motor show and is expected to arrive in New Zealand in the second half of 2016.

So what’s new? For Fiat itself, it’s an exciting new opportunity, this being a rebirth of an icon car they haven’t had in decades, even though the original had an extremely long production life, from 1966 through to 1980.

A chance to experience wind-in-the-hair driving is great for Fiat fans, too, especially those in right-hand-drive markets.  Though bestowed icon status, more on the strength of its looks than how it drove, the original is something of a rarity here because it was only made in left-hook configuration.

For Mazda, it’s a great deal too: They get to build the 124 in their Ujina plant, alongside the MX-5. It’s a good way of keeping the production line pumping, though perhaps demand for the Mazda alone is such that it was already buzzing anyway.

For MX-5 fans? Well, perhaps they won’t get their noses out of joint.

While the 124 Spider is not exactly a whole new design venture –Fiat has chosen its own seats, but that aside the cabins of both cars are identical –  and these makers swear there is no sheet metal commonality, so even though the basic dimensions are close, you’re not going to be confused about which is what.

Also, they go in distinctly different directions powertrain-wise, with Fiat delivering something Mazda has even ever meted past MX-5’s in low-volume special edition form: A turbo.

Not a turbo SkyActiv: Fiat has ditched Mazda’s sweet-revving naturally-aspirated 1.5 and 2.0-litre engines for its own 1.4-litre turbocharged MultiAir petrol engine from the 500 Abarth.

That’s an enterprising idea that might will immediate interest when outputs are compared. The Fiat engine, though small in capacity, is very big-hearted in its first ever north-south application (to suit rear drive).

The Italians are claiming outputs of 119kW and 240Nm of torque, which compares favourably with the 2.0-litre MX-5 arriving in early 2016 with 118kW and 200Nm and is rather more energetic than the current 1.5, which puts out a fizzy 96kW and 150Nm.

So could the 124 Spider become known as the quickest ‘MX-5’ yet? Fiat has yet to present in-depth performance figures but you would have to think it might well win that standing, especially since there’s also going to be an Abarth performance version.

This has yet to be seen in final production form, but photos of mules suggest it is up to snuff as a racy roadster. It’s thought to be powered by the 1.8-litre turbo four that powers the Alfa Romeo 4C.

As with Mazda, the Fiat powerplant runs through a six-speed manual, with a six-speed automatic as an option.

The design of the Mazda and Fiat became a hot topic the moment the dust cover was pulled at LA. Both brands have definitely gone in different directions, Fiat drawing inspiration from the rounded appearance of its current line-up while the Mazda has a more angular, some might say origami, approach.

With the 124, the most noticeable feature is the front end. A significantly longer bonnet than the MX-5 lends it similar proportions to a BMW Z4, though the styling imprint of a jutting jaw line, hexagonal grille and caved-in LED headlamps are obviously not how Munich prefers it. Neither does Mazda: the MX-5 has more narrow lights and a tighter air intake. 

The rear end is completely different to the Japanese roadster, too, with hints of the old Dodge Viper in the design. Fiat says it is defined by two main features: the 'seagull' wings that fall inwards towards the boot lid, and a sharp horizontal tail lamps, which echo those on the wee 500. A small spoiler and twin exhausts remind of the sporting potential.

Fiat Chrysler New Zealand has not said anything about pricing or specification, but chances are the 124 Spider will carry a premium over the Mazda.

Equipment-wise, the US-spec 124 will come with adaptive front headlamps, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection and a reversing camera. 

A repurposed Fiat Connect 7.0 system – based on Mazda’s system – with a 7.0-inch touch screen display, multimedia control, Bluetooth connectivity, heated seats and keyless entry will also be offered, along with a nine-speaker Bose audio system with headrest speakers.

Two variants, known as Classical and Lusso, will be available initially, while a total of 124 limited edition Prima Edizione Lusso cars are also being built, but apparently only for certain left-hand drive markets.