New Fiat 124 Spider: first spy shots

After our exclusive story on Fiat’s new 124 Spider roadster was confirmed by boss Sergio Marchionne in February 2015, new spyshots have emerged that appear to show the Mazda MX-5 based model undergoing testing in Detroit.
 
Although very little detail can be gleaned from the heavy body cladding of the roadster, it’s possible to make out a longer bonnet than the fourth-generation MX-5 on which it will be based. The overall dimensions appear similar, but the rear end looks to be raised up and bolder in profile. We still predict the finished product to look very similar styling to our exclusive renderings.

Fiat 124 Spider: what we know so far

After Auto Express broke the news that Fiat two-seater, developed alongside the Mazda MX-5, was likely to wear the retro 124 Spider badge and produced this exclusive image of how the car could look. Fiat Chrysler boss Sergio Marchionne confirmed that the 124 Spider name would be revived.

When asked directly by Auto Express at the Geneva Motor Show if the new Fiat sports car would indeed be badged 124 Spider, Marchionne checked with his execs if the name had been revealed yet, before asking: “Do we want to do it now?”. A brand exec confirmed the 124 Spider name before Marchionne added: “There you go – a world class premiere right in this room!”.

He declined to confirm whether that model would be a Fiat or Abarth, but Auto Express understands that there will be versions wearing both badges based on the Mazda MX-5 platform.

Fiat 124 Spider: background story

As part of the joint venture agreement with Mazda, both the Fiat 124 Spider and the Mazda MX-5 are to be made at Mazda’s factory in Hiroshima, Japan. According to our source, the agreement between Fiat and Mazda is that the MX-5 will launch first and take centre stage in 2015, with Fiat’s alternative offering coming 12 months in 2016.

• Mazda MX-5 first drive review

News also broke earlier in 2015 of a pair of Fiat trademark applications in the US – for the ‘Fiat 124’ and ‘Fiat 124 Spider’ nameplates, suggesting they’re being readied for a return. The 124 first appeared in 1966, using the same front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout the Spider will adopt.

Being based on the MX-5, the new Fiat Spider will, of course, share certain key components such as the wheelbase and chassis with its Mazda stablemate. However, another insider hinted that the 124 Spider’s styling will be more retro than the Mazda’s, with elements inspired by the Fiat 124 of the sixties.

Our exclusive images closely reflect this, with squared-off rear lights, a wide front grille and much more rounded headlamps than the MX-5. The extended flat rear deck is another cue taken from the 124.

Our source revealed that the new roadster will weigh in at less than 1,000kg, with a choice of “small affordable engines”. It’s likely to use the 1.4-litre MultiAir turbo from the Alfa Giulietta in a variety of tunes, while for the Abarth version the same engine could be tuned to “200[bhp] without issue”. On top of the additional power, expect the Abarth to get stiffer suspension, more aggressive styling and bigger brakes.

Given that the basic MX-5 has just 129bhp and does 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds, a 200bhp-plus version could offer genuine Porsche Boxster-rivalling performance.

Our source also hinted that a lightweight, more affordable, Caterham 160-style model could be on the cards. This would have steel wheels and a “mechanically sensible” powertrain. It would be stripped of anything non-essential, though, with a focus on back-to-basics, rear-wheel-drive handling.

We can expect the new Fiat 124 Spider to make its debut early next year before going on sale in the summer of 2016. Prices and specs will be confirmed nearer the time, but given the predicted power increases over the MX-5, we envisage a starting price of just over £20,000.

Evoking the spirit of the Barchetta two-seater

Fiat’s last attempt at a two-seater sports car was the Barchetta – launched in Europe in the mid-nineties. Barchetta means ‘little boat’ in Italian, and given its long overhangs and pointed nose, it’s easy to see where Fiat got the inspiration.

Based on the front-wheel-drive Mk1 Punto, the Barchetta was great fun to drive. It featured a 128bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine capable of 0-62mph in 8.9 seconds and a 124mph top speed.

Although it was officially sold through Fiat dealers in the UK, it was never engineered for right-hand drive. Understandably, that limited its appeal over here, although you can now pick up used examples from just £1,500.

Alfa Romeo to get its own new roadster

At Geneva 2015 Marchionne then went on to confirm that Alfa Romeo’s rebirth plan – announced in May last year – will also include a roadster of its own, although he wouldn’t go into detail on this. He did say, though, that the car will be built in Italy, as is the intention for all the company’s cars.

Until recently, the Fiat Chrysler Group version of the Mazda MX-5 was set to wear an Alfa Romeo badge, but a U-turn from CEO Sergio Marchionne meant that how the roadster would be branded was up in the air, until recently.

Back in February a company insider told us “all Alfa Romeos need to be 100 per cent Italian”. That backs up Marchionne’s earlier comments that no Alfa would be built outside Italy on his watch.

Alfa Romeo’s future plans

Marchionne was more forthcoming about the future of a couple of other Alfa models – the Giulietta and MiTo – under his dramatic plan to turn the ailing brand into a premium, rear-wheel drive proposition.

Both will retain a place in the line-up despite not obviously fitting into the general masterplan. “Whether the Giulietta stays as a front-wheel drive car remains to be seen – it may not,” he said.

“It’s doubtful you could turn the MiTo into a rear-wheel drive vehicle. It just doesn’t have the architecture. But I still think the brand needs a point of attraction for younger customers who don’t have the means to buy a larger car. I have always liked the MiTo – I think it has a future.

“Even BMW, which historically been a rear-wheel-drive story, has front-wheel drive plans.”

Get more of the latest news stories from the 2015 Geneva Motor Show here.

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