The latest Mazda MX-5 is the affordable sports cars to have right now. Not outrageously expensive to run, fast enough for UK roads and the most finely balanced chassis £20,000 can buy.
It’s an ideal starting point if another carmaker wanted to build a top roadster.
And that’s exactly what Fiat has done, reintroducing the iconic 1960s 124 Spider name at the LA Motor Show this week after striking a deal with the Japanese manufacturer.
While Mazda has stuck with the traditions of naturally aspirated power units, the Fiat 124 Spider uses the same turbocharged 1.4-litre MultiAir II petrol motor that currently powers the fast, but extremely dinky, Abarth 500.
What is lacks in cubic capacity compared to the range topping 2.0-litre engine in the Mazda it makes up with turbo-assisted grunt – launched with an output of 138bhp and an MX-5 bettering 177lb ft of torque. It should be a match for a seven second sprint to 62mph.
Like the Mazda, the 124 Spider is rear-wheel drive and comes with a short-shifting six-speed manual gearbox.
Although it’s also being launched with an automatic transmission in the US – there’s no confirmation we’ll get that option for UK-spec cars.
The American version also gets more power – 158bhp to be exact. But with a hotter Abarth version expected in Europe, don’t be surprised to see more horses added to the 124 Spider range.
Mechanically, just about everything else is expected to be carried over from the Mazda, including brakes and suspension, so the drop-top Italian should prove to be a thoroughbred in the bends too.
So is it enough to tell it apart from the Mazda? In a word, yes.
Does it look better than the MX-5? That’s down to personal taste.
What could dictate many decisions is the image associated with each carmaker – and the view of their reliability, as Mark Norman, operation development director at pricing specialists CAP Automotive, explained.
‘Image is vitally important when it comes to cars such as the 124 Spider and Fiat will have to work hard to match that of the Mazda MX-5,’ he said.
‘Fiat used to have quite a strong reputation for producing small, affordable, fun-to-drive roadsters but it’s been over 20 years since the brand last launched such a car and in that time the MX-5 has firmly established itself as ‘the’ car to have in this sector.
‘However, the Fiat 124’s retro styling will appeal to many and so it stands every chance of at least matching the MX-5’s popularity, especially if it can latch onto Mazda’s reputation for reliability and build quality.’
Prices are yet to be confirmed for the Fiat 124 Spider, but it is expected to cost in the same £20,000 region as the Mazda