FIAT 124 Spider - La Miata d'Italia

2016 FIAT 124 Spider
If you have been anywhere near the internet in the past few months, you'll know there's a new Mazda MX-5 out. What you may have missed is that the new car was acutally meant to be a co-development with Alfa Romeo... no wait, Lanica... no wait, Abarth... no wait, it's not happening at all now... no wait, it's going to be a FIAT. Well, finally, here it is: the FIAT 124 Spider.

Sitting on the MX-5's chassis and using almost all of its interior parts, the 124 is essentially a light re-body of the current "ND" generation Mazda Roadster. The proportions are the same, it's the same size, and so on and so forth.

So what are the differences? Really, there are just two. The most obvious one is of course that body:

It looks... OK? In isolation it's nice, but not spectacular... but if anything the Italian version is a little less curvaceous than the Japanese version, with a comparatively blunt nose and calmer surfacing. Hell, the rear end looks more like previous MX-5 generations than the current MX-5 does! Even the "hip" at the back of the door isn't as nicely executed, if you ask me, and that face is a let-down, almost as reminiscent of the Dodge Dart as it is of the 124 Sport Spider designed and made by Pininfarina half a century ago.

But maybe you love it. That's OK. We need more of these affordable sports cars. Beyond the somewhat uninspiring final design - which doubtless resulted from scores and scores of proposals from almost every design studio the Fiat-Chrysler Alliance has - the thing that concerns me about FIAT is that they are only interested in retro cars now. The Punto seems doomed never to be replaced, while everything else they make is either a hideously inflated 500 facsimile or the Panda, which is itself another revived badge (and is currently just a rounder version of the previous Panda). Do they lack the confidence to come up with a new design language and forge a new path? Are they just aping BMW's successful tactic of pillaging history and playing the nostalgia card, like the Germans do with MINI? I wouldn't mind if they did a retro Lancia Stratos or Alfa Romeo GTA......

At any rate, this is the car we've got, most likely because while a 500 crossover and MPV apparently are fine, a 500 roadster would've just been ridiculous. Inside it's about 95% identical to the new MX-5's interior, which is no bad thing. The trim and badges are the main differences.

The only other major difference to the Mazda lies under the bonnet. Instead of a 1.5 or 2.0 naturally-aspirated engine, you get the 1.4 turbo lump from (guess who!) the 500 Abarth producing 140bhp and 177lb/ft of torque in Europe, but 160bhp and 184lb/ft in America, where a car that isn't fast in a straight line is "for pussies." Both manual and automatic gearboxes are offered, because roadster buyers are either young petrolheads or old retired blokes and nothing in-between. Either such person gets six speeds to play with. There has thus far been no mention of what kind of differential it has, but if it lacks a mechanical LSD then that would be a little disappointing.

The FIAT will probably cost slightly more than the Mazda when it goes on sale next summer - especially if you upgrade from 'Classica' to 'Lusso' spec - and I'd like to believe that a more powerful Abarth version will arrive some time in the future. Either that, or you could take it to a specialist who can upgrade the engine to the full Abarth 695 spec, with 190 horsies or more.

If only it had ended up as an Alfa Romeo after all...