2017-fiat-124-spider

Fiat plays Mazda at own game…with the new Fiat 124 Spider, based on Mazda’s MX-5. James Disdale drives a pre-production prototype almost 50 years to the day since the original Fiat 124 Spider made its debut, Fiat has revived the badge. However, while it’s packed with retro cues – the headlight fairings, grille and bonnet bulges – and an interior that gets more upmarket materials, under the skin it’s almost 100% Mazda MX-5.

Almost, because the Spider uses Fiat’s own 138bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre MultiAir engine, mated to a six-speed gearbox with tougher internals. There are also stiffer springs and dampers, plus thicker anti-roll bars, and remapped electric steering to give greater weighting. There’s not much in the way of mechanical fettling but it’s just enough to give the Fiat Spider a character of its own.

That turbocharged engine serves a muscular 177lb ft of torque – 30lb ft up on the peakier 2.0-litre MX-5 at a usefully low 2250rpm. The 0-62mph sprint takes 7.5 seconds, an academic 0.2sec slower than the Mazda, and while the 1.4-litre doesn’t have the same appetite for revs as the MX-5’s naturally aspirated units, it’s smooth and responds eagerly to throttle.

Turn into a corner and you’ll discover a meatier feeling to the steering and less body roll than in the Mazda, while the extra torque makes it easier to trim the Fiat’s line through a corner using the throttle. And though there’s a firm edge to its low-speed ride, the Fiat takes bigger bumps in its stride.

Ultimately, the Fiat has a more grown-up feel than the Mazda, yet it has lost none of the Japanese car’s ability to involve the driver. Crucially, fans of fun and affordable roadsters can rejoice in the fact that there’s finally some competition for the MX-5. Even if it is closely related…