"We might look at doing a tuned version, said Olivier François, global head of the Fiat brand. "Maybe yes, maybe no."
François was coy as he spoke to a group of reporters minutes after the 124 debuted in LA, but performance is a part of Fiat's genetics. While François wasn't telling, we think those bloodlines will translate into a higher-powered Abarth version. The 2017 Spider launches next summer, so an Abarth variant could arrive about a year later as a 2018 model.
We would expect it to feature a stiffer suspension, performance wheels, Abarth badging, and enhanced aerodynamics. Some carbon-fiber pieces (perhaps the hood) would complement Fiat's always interesting palette of color choices, though a rosso corsa, like the one chosen by our illustrator, would be timeless.
The engine's output would be the big question mark. The likely plan would be to tune up the 124's 1.4-liter four-cylinder MultiAir turbo rated at 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque in the base model. It's the same engine used in the Fiat 500 Abarth model, though the Spider has more torque. Fiat could further goose this mill, perhaps to around 190 to 200 horses, or pluck another mill from Fiat Chrysler's vast powertrain bins. The Alfa Romeo 4C's turbo 237-hp four-cylinder might also be a candidate.
Like the MX-5 Miata with which it shares a platform (albeit modified), the Spider is more about driving dynamics and style than raw power. For Fiat, the 124 will offer the allure of an Italian car to the wide range of enthusiasts who can't afford Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, or Lamborghinis. "We think we can appeal to the huge number of people who aspire to a car like this," François said.
Obviously, an Abarth price point is far in the future, but the Fiat chief said the base 124 "will be very much in line with the segment." The 2016 Miata begins at $25,735, including destination. We estimate 124 Abarth pricing could start around $32,000.
The Spider will serve as Fiat's halo. It's a true sports car with a legitimate history. "This is the quintessential Italian car," François said. That means it won't be a volume play. The Spider might add a modest 6,000 units per year to Fiat's sales tally in the United States and perhaps 12,000 globally, said IHS Automotive senior analyst Stephanie Brinley. "What Fiat would like it to do, however, is continue to elevate the brand's image and continue to increase overall brand consideration," she wrote in a research note.
There are already rumors the 124 could go racing like its legendary predecessors. The athletic bones are there – deliveries of the Miata Cup racecar based on the new generation MX-5 are beginning this year.
The 124 Spider is one of Fiat's icons, but the brand considered other options. The X1/9 name, which was worn by a 1970s and 1980s mid-engine sports car, was also considered. Obviously the 124 won out. "We thought there was more brand equity there," François said. Perhaps there's even more in a 124 Abarth.