The Fiat 124 Spider and ND Mazda Miata share a common Mazda platform, however unlike most badge engineered vehicles, that’s about the only thing they have in common. Fiat was keen to make sure their 124 Spider was far from a clone of the successful Miata, changing every little bit they could to give the roadster its own Italian character.
Top Gear recently sat down with the team behind the 124 Spider and had them lay out everything they changed in moving from Miata to 124 Spider. First up: the engine. Rather than using Mazda’s naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder, Fiat opted for their barky 140 horsepower turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder from the Fiat 500 Abarth, citing the additional torque as reasoning.
“We wanted the extra torque and driveability of a turbo” 124 Spider validation manager Domenico Bagnasco told Top Gear.
Another big change was the gearbox. While the Miata’s six-speed manual transmission is still present, Fiat has applied longer gear ratios to match the torque-filled character of the turbocharged engine. Top Gear says the 124 Spider’s shifts don’t feel quite as slick as the Miata’s, but they drove a prototype model, mind you.
Fiat of course worked over the styling of the Miata to give it some Italian flare. The car was deliberately designed to look bigger than it is in order to attract male customers, hence the long hood and curvaceous and exaggerated rear haunches.
“We build a car that men will want to drive, not a car that looks like a toy you’ve borrowed off a five-year old”, product manager Piergiorgio Di Miscio told Top Gear.
The suspension tuning was another major aspect of the Miata Fiat felt it needed to change. Di Miscio says his team wanted to negate the body roll in the Miata, stiffen the ride and adjust the steering to feel heavier.
“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,” he said.
Finally, there’s the interior. Everything in the Fiat 124 Spider is a bit more upscale than the Miata, from the carefully stitched gear knob to the carpeted underside of the trunk lid. There’s also a chunkier steering wheel to enhance the overall sporty feel of the car.