What Makes Fiat’s 124 Spider More Than A Badge-Engineered Mazda MX-5?

Fiat never hid the fact that the new 124 was made in collaboration with Mazda, but just how much of the small Italian roadster is actually Japanese?

FCA officials shed some insight talking to Top Gear about the vehicle’s character and what makes it unique and different form the MX-5.

The main difference lies in the engine bay, where Fiat’s own 1.4-itre turbocharged four-cylinder has replaced the Nippon-grade 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre naturally aspirated mills. An expensive decision, as the engines are assembled in Italy and then shipped all the way to Japan to be fitted to the car.

“We wanted the extra torque and driveability of a turbo”, said Domenico Bagnasco, the 124’s validation manager. The extra torque of the 124 requires slightly longer gears, forcing Fiat to modify Mazda’s original mechanism. The suspension was revised as well, according to product manager Piergiorgio Di Miscio.

“We have retuned the dampers, got new springs and a slightly stiffer anti roll bar. We wanted a car with a more classic Fiat feel – an Italian flair – but not be so uncomfortable that you can’t pick up a beautiful blonde and take her to the beach.”

Fiat has gone for a different steering feel, too, but it wasn’t that difficult to implement. “That’s the great thing about electric power steering”, Bagnasco explained. “With a different fuse and some new algorithms, we have achieved a more progressive weighting of the steering. I did not like the rate the steering weight increases in the Mazda. Too light. It’s not Italian.”

Bottom line: different styling, new engine, re-calibrated steering… Pity the cabin is all but identical to the MX-5, with imperceptible changes like door handles with a chrome finish, soft-touch leather door tops and a thicker steering wheel giving the game away.

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