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Fiat’s MX-5: is the 124 Spider sacrilege or genius? CAR+ January 2016

Published: 08 December 2015

► CAR magazine is split over Fiat's new 124 Spider
► Greg Fountain loves it, Chris Chilton hates it!
► Join the pub debate here 

'I love it!' - Greg Fountain

As soon as I saw what Fiat had done to the MX-5 I knew they’d got it right. They didn’t mince into this, wishy-washily trying to appease purists who seem to think rebodying a Japanese roadster is akin to drawing Groucho Marx glasses on the Mona Lisa. No, they really went for it, sledgehammering the Mazda’s chintzy lines with macho bonnet bulges, rakishly wind-tunnel-averse front aero and fat lamps that make the donor car’s look, err, a bit oriental?

To me Fiat has done to the MX-5 what blokes immediately do to slim smartphones, ie, stuck a chunky case on it, making it – yes – bigger and heavier. Conceptually compromised, but now a proper Man’s Phone. 

Then the crucial bit, the engine. Chris is fretting about turbo lag and red lines, but come on, the MX-5’s 1.5-litre engine is a bit feeble (if admittedly suited to the car) and the 2.0-litre heavy and charmless, whereas Fiat’s 1.4-litre MultiAir turbo (66lbft torquier than the MX-5’s 1.5 at 177lb ft, and 9bhp up at 138bhp) is a feisty little buzzbox. Turbo lag be damned, it can’t be any slower than the Mazda, which arrives at 62mph the Tuesday after next. And anyway, it’s not about speed. I do admit it’s rather a shame the pubs opened just as Fiat’s team were thinking of sprucing up the MX-5’s cabin, but if it ain’t broke… 

So, however much Pininfarina might be tutting, can’t we just enjoy the arrival of a new Fiat that’s not some kind of 500?

'I hate it!' - Chris Chilton

Arachnids don’t normally faze me, but I feel a strong urge to flush this Spider down the plughole with some scalding water and a bleach chaser. Let’s remind ourselves what makes the latest Mazda so great. It’s smaller than the original and weighs as little, despite cramming in 25 years of progress in safety technology. There’s no sport button, no turbocharger, not a gram of weight added that doesn’t serve a practical purpose. It’s the purest embodiment of a true sports car this side of a Caterham.

Now Fiat unpicks everything the MX-5 stands for and we’re supposed to get excited? The Spider rides the same 2310mm wheelbase, but is longer, and slightly heavier with no benefit to interior space. It gets more torque because it’s turbocharged, and we can see the appeal in both that, and how the tuning possibilities will make more powerful Abarth versions feasible. But the inevitable lag and lower redline is going to dilute the purity of the experience.

I can understand that Fiat sees a market, probably consisting of women and nostalgic baby boomers, for a slightly less frenetic small sports car, and wants to tap into America’s residual fondness for the original, ‘60s 124. But most of all, I wonder about the Fiat the same thing I wonder about its eight-eyed, eight-legged namesake: why does it have to be so damn ugly?

The specs: Fiat 124 Spider

Price: £20,000 (est)
Engine: 1368cc 16v turbo 4-cyl, 138bhp, 177lb ft 
Transmission: 6spd manual, rwd 
Performance: (est) 8.0sec 0-62mph, 130mph 
Weight: 1200kg (est) 
On Sale: Late 2016 

By CAR's road test team

Our reviewers: fresh perspectives for inquisitive minds

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