With all the buzz generated by the Mazda MX-5 this year, we almost forgot it had an Italian brother. Fiat calls its version the 124 Spider, reviving a name last used around the time our 50-year-old team publisher was born.
"There’s no better way to celebrate 50 years of the Fiat 124 Spider than to bring back this iconic roadster, pairing its Italian styling of the past with all of the modern performance and technology of today," said Olivier Francois, head of the Fiat brand. "The 124 Spider expands the Fiat family, bringing to market yet another head-turning, fun-to-drive vehicle for our customers."
The most notable difference between the Fiat and Mazda roadsters is that the former has what some customers have been clamoring for--a turbocharger. It is perhaps appropriate that the 124 Spider was launched at the Los Angeles Auto Show, to a market that will incessantly look at power figures.
Under the hood is a 1.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder engine. While the 124 Spider only trumps the 2.0-liter MX-5 by 5hp with its 160hp rating, its 249Nm of torque far outguns the MX-5’s 200Nm. Expect comparos to pop up online about which powerplant is better. Customers can choose between a six-speed manual transmission and a six-speed automatic gearbox.
Like the MX-5, the 124 Spider has a soft convertible top that’s easy to operate and requires minimal force. To make sure passengers still have comfortable NVH levels, an acoustic front windshield and insulation treatments have been incorporated into the Fiat. Safety features include adaptive front headlights, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, and rear backing-up camera.
Entertainment comes in the form of a seven-inch touchscreen that is part of Fiat’s Connect 7.0 system. Like our top-spec MX-5, a nine-speaker Bose system--including dual-headrest speakers--lets the driver cruise to crystal-clear music.
Of course, in the end, no one will buy this if it isn’t good-looking. Based on photos alone, it’s easy to say we don’t mind Fiat not having an official presence in our market. But Kudos to the Italian carmaker for stamping its convertible with a face and a rear end that are distinct from the Mazda's. It is only when you stare at the 124 Spider from the side do the similarities between it and the MX-5 are noticeable.
The 124 Spider’s look is based on the original that came out five decades ago, which was widely considered one of the most beautiful cars to have a Fiat badge. The hexagonal upper grille and grille pattern, power dome on the hood, and sharp horizontal taillights are throwbacks to the original Spider. And its Datsun Z-like headlights certainly don’t look bad.
It’s intriguing what this Italian Miata will be like on the track and on the streets. With no Fiat presence here in our market, we’ll just have to wait for the foreign reviews to come out.