The reborn 2016 Fiat 124 Spider, perhaps the most hotly anticipated model confirmed for this week’s Los Angeles Auto Show, has now been unveiled.
It started life as an Alfa Romeo, confirmed way back in early 2012 as a platform sharing and manufacturing tie-up between the Fiat Chrysler group and Mazda.
In its original form, the deal would see Mazda produce an Alfa Romeo-powered and styled version of its own new MX-5, allowing both companies to more easily amortise the high cost of developing an authentic sport car.
But, things changed. Fiat Chrysler chief Sergio Marchionne decided later that, as a matter of brand integrity, all Alfa Romeo models should be built in Italy – a romantic notion that gave rise to a new, if easily resolved, problem.
The Italian and Japanese companies had already agreed on a plan to produce a new Fiat group model in Japan, off the MX-5 base.
But if wasn’t to be a new Alfa Romeo Spider, what would it be?
The Abarth and Fiat brands quickly became the most popular options punted in the press, with the former long rumoured to be hoping for a dedicated model of its own and the latter laying claim to a fondly remembered roadster badge from the 60s.
In the end, it was the Fiat badge that would feature on the new roadster, and so we have the revived 124 Spider revealed today.
Ignoring the new name and history-honouring looks, the new 124 is otherwise true to the original Fiat-Mazda plan: the platform and interior are MX-5, and the engine is Fiat.
Styling is clearly inspired by the original 124 Spider, which wore large round headlights set back into a sugar-scoop space, with a broad grille sitting centre.
Simple fare, but an iconic look for the era and one that Fiat has worked to revive here.
The new headlights are longer, but the smaller LED halo lighting recreates that original look, and the feel of the original 124’s grille is neatly executed in its new form.
Changes through the profile are less distinct, although subtle tweaks in the soft curves and folds can be discerned by the eagle-eyed when the Fiat roadster is lined up alongside its Japanese brother.
Those changes are most evident toward the rear, where a lightly pressed door-top reaches back into a flat-top rear deck made notably squarer than the MX-5’s back end, terminating at an upright tail flanked by larger and more rectangular tail lamps.
The 124 Spider’s significant external changes are contrasted against a cabin which is entirely MX-5, from the dash and steering wheel to the roll-over hoops and, yes, even Mazda’s MZD Connect infotainment system.
Of course, that’s all in the name of cutting costs, and those identical cabins can likely be thanked for giving the Fiat a more unique exterior look than might have otherwise been the case.
Under the bonnet, though, we return to different strokes. While Mazda’s MX-5 is driven by 96kW/150Nm 1.5- and 118kW/200Nm 2.0-litre engines, the 124 is powered by an engine of its own design.
Instead of the naturally-aspirated options offered with the MX-5, Fiat has specified its turbocharged 1.4-litre MultiAir engine, producing 119kW and 250Nm of torque.
That’s just one extra kilowatt than the MX-5’s 2.0-litre option, but a neat 50 newton metres more. Very handy, in a car that – in its Mazda form – weighs less than 1000kg. (Fiat has yet to reveal the 124’s kerb weight.)
There may be more on the way, too, with Fiat Chrysler Australia president Pat Dougherty today teasing fans with a promise that “this is only the beginning of the Fiat 124 Spider story”. That’ll be an Abarth version.
Mechanically, the Fiat and Mazda cars are otherwise identical, as far as today’s limited announcement reveals. There’s a double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension setup in both, and electric-assisted steering is likewise shared.
Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions will be offered with the 124, again mirroring the MX-5’s arrangement.
Fiat Chrysler has confirmed the 124 Spider for an Australian launch in 2016, although exact timing and specifications are still to be revealed.