By Brendan McAleer
Details and photographs of the Mazda MX-5-based Fiat 124 convertible have leaked out before its planned Los Angeles debut and to be blunt, it’s not the “wow-factor” we were hoping for.
It is more of a “wannabe” car; focussed on trying to be something else instead of being true and unique to the Fiat brand. Longer than the MX-5 by some 140 mm, the Fiat 124’s larger, fatter silhouette attempts to pay homage to the delicate original, and doesn’t quite pull it off. There’s a certain element of Chrysler Crossfire going on here, and that is not a good thing.
However, this is more than merely a bloated Miata. Underneath the hood, Mazda’s revved-up little Skyactiv four has been replaced by a turbocharged Fiat 1.4L. While you can expect everyone to complain that the new engine only makes 5 more hp than Mazda’s 155-hp naturally aspirated engine, it’s the 184 lb-ft of torque that’s the bigger story here. This is the same engine you get in the Fiat 500 Abarth, so you can expect good low-end power and some delightful backfiring. The grunt enforced-induction motor may be a nicer pairing for the six-speed automatic than Mazda’s four.
So, if it’s not pretty, at least it’s noisy. Compared to the MX-5, the 124 is intended to be a more upscale sort of small convertible, and to that end they’ve fitted acoustic glass to the front windshield, and smoothed out the NVH for a smoother, quieter ride. However, bizarrely, they haven’t tried to figure out how to fit a power folding hardtop as the old NC-chassis Miata had. Yes, the enthusiast driver would rather have the weight savings, but it’s a missed opportunity to further differentiate the car.
The good news for Fiat fans is that you can now buy a car that looks a little bit like the classic 124, but comes with Miata-like reliability; apart from the engine, of course. It has Mazda suspension, Mazda transmissions, Mazda infotainment, Mazda seats, and a Mazda steering wheel with the word “Mazda” pried off and a Fiat badge stuck on instead.
If you like the looks and want a very slightly softer, automatic-transmission Miata, then the Fiat 124 is a perfect choice for a test drive or short rental or lease. For all other occasions, just buy the Mazda MX-5 instead and move on.