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Fiat 124 Spider vs Mazda MX5

By raccars Published

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The Fiat 124 Spider is on the way. Will this engineered version of the latest Mazda MX-5 cut it?

From Alfa to Fiat

There's a fairly convoluted genesis to these badge engineered siblings. The forthcoming Fiat 124 started life destined to be an Alfa Romeo; in fact the latest version of the Spider. It was to be developed with Mazda alongside the Japanese firm's latest generation MX-5 and was to be built in Japan.

Under the skin they were to be pretty much the same car but each would be given its own distinct aesthetic finish by its parent company. Along the way, corporate restructuring at Fiat Chrysler headquarters saw Alfa Romeo restricted to manufacturing cars in Italy, leaving the future of the proposed Spider in doubt.

Rather than write off an already substantial development investment, Fiat decided to adapt the project by re-branding it - somehow. Industry rumour swirled around the Abarth nameplate for a while but eventually it was confirmed that the Mazda MX-5's brother would become the Fiat 124 Spider, named after a 2+2 sports convertible from the Sixties. The Mazda arrived on the scene to great applause last year, praised as the embodiment of the original MX-5 blueprint in a more evolved form.

Fourth generation Mazda MX-5

The MX-5 was designed return to the purity of the sporty roadsters of the Sixties; compact, lightweight, entertaining and beautifully minimalist. It became the best-selling roadster in the world and the latest version looks set to continue its success.

There's nothing there that doesn't need to be. It's affordable, simple but not Spartan, pretty rather than athletic and designed to offer delightful handling instead of sheer speed. Its performance statistics are tame compared with the Italian version but the MX-5 has always been great fun. It comes with a reliable if somewhat ponderous pair of naturally aspirated, 1.5 litre and 2.0 litre engines that don't quite offer the thrills they could and should.

Fiat 124 Spider

By contrast, the Fiat 124 Spider, displayed in production format at November's LA Motor Show, is a slightly heavier and far spikier prospect. In appearance it is rather more macho than the Mazda, more Latin if you like. It uses a 1.4 litre MultiAir turbo engine, from which Fiat has managed to squeeze 138bhp to make it livelier than the MX-5. The 124 Spider also has more torque to play with, so while purists might complain about tedious turbo lagging and lower redlines there's still plenty of entertainment on offer.

Of course the Italians do have a flair for rear wheel drive two seater roadsters which appear to be designed specifically to race along the Italian Riviera. The 124 Spider is a very modern looking beast for a car inspired by its Sixties predecessor, and on the surface at least is a smoother and more sophisticated prospect than its corporate sibling.

The 124 Spider is certainly a departure from the Fiat 500 and its variants which make up the vast majority of Fiat's model line-up and sales, however there are some design elements in common which help to create a brand identity.

The interiors of the two cars show more similarities, with some shared switchgear including a seven inch colour screen. Both cars feature a manual soft top.

It's due to arrive in the UK after the summer and is expected to be priced from about £20,000, making it temptingly affordable and on a par with the MX-5. A racy Abarth variation will be added later on, with Fiat's MultiAir engine offering plenty of capacity for extra tuning.

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