Car manufacturers are thought of in many different ways, but kindred spirits is probably not a description that readily springs to mind.
All the more astonishing, then, that Mazda has agreed to hand over the underpinnings of its fabulous MX-5 roadster
to help Fiat build the all-new 124 Spider. This philanthropic attitude is all the more amazing when you consider Mazda has effectively built an MX-5 dynasty and completely dominated the two-seat roadster class for decades, whereas Fiat has simply floundered in this sector.
You have to think back to the last time England won the World Cup to recall the introduction of the original 124, while more recently, the pretty-as-a-picture Barchetta fell from grace, spectacularly. Priced to compete against the MX-5, the Barchetta was based on the humble front-wheel-drive Punto hatchback and was available in left hand-drive only. To its credit, it did offer stylish, wind-in-the-hair motoring for the masses, but unfortunately, it also suffered from epic levels of body shake and variable valve timing failure.
So much for the history lesson.
Mechanically, the new Fiat 124 Spider is near-identical to the latest and much lauded version of the MX-5, but there are some key differences. Although the two cars run side-by-side down Mazda’s production line, the exterior metalwork is completely bespoke, so they bear little visual resemblance to each other. The Fiat is also a smidgen longer and a tad wider around the derriere, so you get a slightly larger boot, but it’s still only big enough to store a couple of overnight bags.
Additionally, instead of employing the Japanese company’s 1.5- and 2.0-litre naturally aspirated engines, the 124 is powered by the same 1.4-litre 138bhp turbocharged engine that’s found in the 500 Abarth. What’s more, unlike the Mazda, which sticks with a six-speed manual transmission, the Fiat will be available with the option of a six-speed automatic gearbox when it launches a more powerful 168bhp version of the 1.4-litre engine later this year.