Visually, no one will be mistaking a 124 Spider for an MX-5.

Despite extensive similarities both underneath and inside, the two share not a single body panel. Even the proportions differ slightly, with bigger overhangs making the Italian noticeably longer than its Japanese counterpart.

Nic Cackett

Nic Cackett

Road tester
Bravo Fiat, for moving the bootlid catch onto the actual bootlid. If only this spirit of gentle revision had been applied elsewhere

The design is Fiat’s own, and while its relationship with the Pininfarina-penned ancestor is not explicit in the way the 500 relates to the Nuova 500, certain features – particularly the swallowtail rear wings – are clearly intended as a tribute to the vintage model.

Whether or not this equates to bona fide sports car comeliness is up for subjective debate, but for what it’s worth, no Autocar tester was convinced either of its objective prettiness or by Fiat’s attempt to graft retro features onto a design apparently not comfortable with itself from the outset.

But one thing is for sure: the larger overhang that gives a slightly more substantial front end to the 124 is also one of the factors implicated in the undoing of the platform’s previously perfect 50/50 weight distribution.

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Fiat’s claim to the lightest MX-5’s 1050kg kerb weight is already somewhat spurious (after all, along with additional bodywork, the 124 gets more kit and has a turbocharger strapped to its engine), and while the 1125kg measured on our scales is hardly contemptible, there’s no doubt that a significant majority of it – 55% – now sits over the roadster’s nose.

The decision to adopt forced induction is clearly the model’s other substantial alteration. In place of the naturally aspirated 129bhp 1.5 and 158bhp 2.0-litre petrol motors deployed in the MX-5, the 124 gets Fiat’s turbocharged 1.4-litre Multiair unit in 138bhp and 168bhp configurations, the latter used exclusively in the Abarth version.

Understanding that there is a sportier variant waiting in the wings is key to appreciating some of the choices made in the Spider’s spec and chassis tuning.

Like the lower-powered 1.5-litre MX-5, the 124 does not receive a limited-slip differential on the back axle and nor does it share the pricier Bilstein dampers made available to Fiat’s tuning company. Its all-independent suspension, while reconfigured to Turin’s settings, is the same double wishbone and multi-link set-up as that fitted to the Mazda; ditto the dual-pinion electric power steering rack.

Most other mechanical things remain the same, too. Aside from different ratios, the six-speed manual gearbox is a standard fixture (again, an automatic is the preserve of the Abarth), as is the incredibly manual and equally splendid fabric roof.

The car’s steel platform remains unchanged, as does the use of aluminium in some of the body panels and engine frame, and all iterations are manufactured in Japan. 

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