The Abarth 124 Spider roadster that the Fiat Chrysler people in New Zealand have hinted will cost more than the Mazda MX-5 is actually an MX-5 with an Italian badge.
Okay, there’s a bit of plastic surgery front and back, a different engine, a synthesized, rorty exhaust note, lamely called ‘Record Monza’, and a numbered plaque signed by an Abarth technican that says, in effect, “I’ve inspected this car and it is good to go.”
Therefore the 124 Spider is “a unique car for a unique client,” gushes Fiat Chrysler’s PR people. Hang on a second … there’s very little that’s unique about it, given that unique means ‘unlike anything else.’
The car (pictured on this page) is the result of a model-sharing agreement with Mazda first made public by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) in 2012.
It was to be built on the rear-drive MX-5 platform by Mazda at its Hiroshima factory and badged an Alfa Romeo roadster for the global market in 2015-16.
That was the original plan. But FCA chief Sergio Marchionne decided he didn’t want an Alfa Romeo built outside of Italy.
Then there was the handle 124 Sport Spider, first penned in the 1960s by Italian styling house Pininfarina. Finally FCA settled on an Abarth 124 moniker.
One reason why there is no reference in the Fiat Chrysler NZ press blurb to the link with the MX-5 is that FCA wants potential buyers to think the 124 Abarth Spider is all its own work.
Another, perhaps more important, is that FCA has never been comfortable with smart alecs reporting that Mazda came close to building an FCA-santioned Alfa Romeo.
The good citizens of Milano would have rioted en-masse. Poured grappa into the pretender’s petrol tank and smeared pizza dough on its windows.
Anyway, whatever the new Abarth’s provenance it will go on sale in New Zealand at the end of the year. Not much is known about it, other than it, like its Mazda donor car, is a rear-drive two-seater with a soft top.
Under the bonnet is likely to be a turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine borrowed from the Abarth 500 hatchback and good for 126kW and 250Nm, oomph enough to get the car from 0-100km/h in a claimed 6.8 seconds.
The engine is more powerful than the four-cylinder MX-5 SkyActiv options: a 1.5-litre unit delivering 96kW/150Nm, and a 2.0-litre generating 118kW/200Nm.
The 124 Abarth Spider price is expected to be more powerful, too. The MX-5 is priced between $40,995-$48,995.