(Pocket-lint) - "I want a doctor to take a picture, so I can look at you from inside as well," goes the line from The Vapors' Turning Japanese. Well, cut into the Fiat 124 Spider and you would indeed find a Japanese rather than Italian core: the car shares its chassis, suspension and rear-wheel drive platform with the Mazda MX-5.
So does it sing the same tune? Not precisely, it's in a different language, but you'll still be singing along with the wind in your hair nonetheless. The Fiat has the same 1.4-litre turbocharged engine as you'll find in, say, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and other cars across the Chrysler group's portfolio, not the 1.5-or 2.0-litre options (minus the turbo) of the Mazda. There's also an all-new exterior; every panel of the 124 differs to the MX-5, cutting a bulkier, better-looking and less curvaceous design than its Mazda cousin, one that riffs off the 1966 original 124 Spider.
So has Fiat got a number one hit on its hands in the guise of the all-new 124 Spider? It's an interesting progression over the 1966 original; think of it like the remastered remix for 2016. We spent a day driving around its home-from-home of Italy to find out if it thumps a new beat.
If you're in the market for a pretty two-seater roadster then the Fiat 124 Spider, in our view, bests the Mazda MX-5 to top of the charts in the looks department.
However, it's a more controlled and more casual machine by comparison. Which is perhaps surprising, given it's an Italian take on a Japanese classic; a classic remastered in a new, remixed, guise. It's got all the comfort and cool down to a tee, but perhaps lacks a bit of the insanity that we were expecting from an Italian brand.
Still, as sporty roadsters go, the Fiat 124 Spider offers plenty for its asking price. We'd like a bit more grunt from that 1.4-litre engine, though, given the turbo lag. But if chic, cool and controlled is what you're after then this lil beaut will certainly turn heads and satisfy that roadster craving no problems.
The big question that remains, of course, is whether to bust that Â£23k on this or the 2.0-litre Mazda MX-5. Or perhaps the 170bhp 124 Spider Abarth. You've got until September to contemplate, though, as that's when the 124 Spider will hit UK forecourts, almost three months after its 18 June Italian debut (and just in time for the impending British winter, obviously).
Fiat 124 Spider
Fiat 124 Spider review: Mazda, remixed
Inevitably there will be Mazda MX-5 vs Fiat 124 Spider comparisons all day long. Indeed, if you're in the market to buy an affordable two-seater sports car (if it can precisely be called that) then, well, these are the two most obvious options and come in at similar price points. The Fiat's £19,545 starting price is slightly more expensive, but not by a huge amount (we'll come to trim specifics later).
The most apparent difference is that the Fiat only comes in its 1.4TB engine derivative, with no other options anticipated in the UK. At launch it's a 6-speed manual only, too, with an auto option expected later down the line - but only sheepishly confirmed by the Italian team at the Fiat 124 Spider's launch event in Verona, Italy.
Now, as sports cars go that's not exactly a huge, thwapping great engine - it delivers 140bhp and a top speed of 134mph. The top-spec Mazda squeezes a 2.0-litre (157bhp) option under its hood, but minus the turbo, meaning it can take a little more momentum at middling gears to really wind it up to rowdy - but get there it does, and in wilder style once it's up to speed. The Fiat is all about high revs in the lower gears, but more torque in the middle range.
Saying that, the 124 Spider's 1.4TB has really apparent turbo lag and is just a little less peppy overall. The Italian tuning of the 6-speed box also means a very short first gear - with a short bite point on a very long clutch, making it surprisingly easy to stall - which quickly ramps up the revs, before second and third gears show a lift from that turbo if you push foot to the floor.
The Fiat ultimately feels tuned for a more refined ride. Its brakes are quite soft, requiring a firm press of the pedal to result in any kind of jerky response; the gearbox makes it very difficult to skid away out of control; and cornering around steep mountain bends is well handled thanks to cushioning suspension - you're not going to be drifting at a 45-degree angle by any means. The Mazda is more of a loose cannon which, arguably, makes it more fun.
But what do you really want from a car? Fiat has done a good job of reining things in for a comfortable, controlled delivery that, realistically, will suit many drivers better anyway.
Fiat 124 Spider review: Design
Besides, the Fiat 124 Spider is the better looking car out of the two. Plenty of people will probably disagree with us here, but it's one of those cars that looks even better when it drives past than it does in pictures. We prefer its more shoulder-padded body panels and aggy headlamps compared to the smoother, squinter MX-5 too. Oh and the alloy wheels' design too.
And let's not overlook the interior. All the UK-spec 124 Spider cars will come with button-press keyless start (you'll be pleased for it after stalling), those alloy wheels, leather steering wheel and gear knob, aircon and Bluetooth connectivity.
If you want the leather seats with exposed stitching as per our car then you'll have to push up to the mid-level Lusso trim. With the black paint job (£500) of our test car that brings in a total bill of £22,795. Which is competitive to the MX-5 in 2.0 form.
Sat inside and those 124 Spider seats are rather comfy, although the leather certainly encourages the body heat to soar (especially in 32-degree sun with the top down). There's space enough for two people, but that's pretty much it: other than one little cubby hole, which proved useful for sealed bottles of water, and one lift-up storage well, it's just you and the car. No cup holders, no nonsense really. The boot is rather dinky too, at 140-litres, big enough for a couple of bags rather than a full-size suitcase.
The pared-back interior space is matched with a fairly simple tech setup too, much like the Mazda. The steering wheel goes up and down only, not forward and back; the trio of drivers' dials behind are tricky to read in sunlight so you'll all but ignore them (and assume you're not doing 90 down a 50 road); and the individual aircon dials are rather plasticky and basic. That's pretty much your lot.
Funnily enough we had been driving the Alfa Romeo Giulietta 1.4TB ahead of this launch, which comes with a dynamic/normal/eco switch. No sign of this in the 124 Spider though, which we think is a shame. For a sporty roadster it's actually quite quiet; you don't get that rorty burble from the exhaust and because of the gearing it's tricky to get much of an impressive sound out of it at all. We wanted more audio grunt.
But for all its smallness and simplicity, just look at those sweeping curves and eye-catching design. That's what this car is all about; nobody is going to buy a centoventiquattro (as the Italians like to call it) to do a run to B&Q. Or the school run for that matter.
Fiat 124 Spider review: At the controls
When it comes to tech Fiat uses the Uconnect system. That protruding 7-inch screen to the centre console can be controlled by touch or - and this was our preference - there's a rotational dial with joystick-like nudge controls to the centre tunnel. There are buttons to handle quickly navigating to major areas too, so you can dip into music, nav, or return to home screen with ease.
Now, the system isn't up to the high-end levels of the German brands - Audi, et al, are really brimming with goodness when it comes to touchpad controls and speedy responses - but it works well enough and does what you'll predominantly want. There are also two exposed USB ports to charge-up and connect devices, if you so wish.
The tech is separate from the overall drive though. There's no traction controls - physical button or digitally accessed - which we found to be a surprise, while the Safety page within the menu settings is void of anything whatsoever. We're not implying that it's not safe, of course, because like we say this Fiat is the more sensible and controlled option to pick over the Mazda anyway.
So the tech is basic, but it works just fine. And with the phone linked-up to the Bose sound system to pump out the tunes, soft top down, we were happy as Larry while plugging along the Italian roads. Sometimes tech is slightly superfluous when all you want is the wind in your hair, music and sat nav (all of which are available here).