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Fiat 124 Hardtop possibly in the works – Could it be the best ND Miata?

Ross Ballot January 25, 2018 All Things Hoon 17 Comments

Image courtesy of motor.es via Miata.net

As of the last year, Fiat has been selling its own version of the current-generation Mazda ND Miata, albeit with some touches and changes to make it their own. The 124, name in homage to its long-deceased predecessor, is marked by a turbocharged MultiAir powerplant, as opposed to the MX-5’s naturally-aspirated Skyactiv engine, a slightly more upscale interior, more intensive use of insulation and sound deadening, and aggressively classic roadster styling. But the 124’s driving dynamics, as a result of different chassis tuning and the engine that peaks early but dies equally so, are very different from the Mazda on which it is based.

There is one other major difference, though, and it’s one explained by two simple letters: RF. As its nomenclature dictates, this represents Retractable Fastback, or a targa-top version that Fiat does not offer on the 124. So, should you want a turbocharged ND Miata or a 124 with a hard-top straight from the factory, you can’t have one. But a thread on the Fiat 124 sub-forum within NDMiata.net caught my attention with its headline: “124 Coupe Spotted?”

It appears from spy photos that Fiat may be working on either a removable hard-top version of its little sports car, or a top that mimics that of the NC Miata’s power retractable hard-top (PHRT). Could Fiat be possibly building the best Miata yet? 

Image courtesy of motor.es via Miata.net

It’s arguable, and has been disputed deeply and countless times, if Fiat’s physical and mechanical changes to the Mazda that it shares an assembly line with are for better or for worse. Some argue the refinements in sound deadening and in suspension tuning have improved the car; others claim the lag from the turbo and the extra insulation simply detract from the purposes of the best MX-5 yet. One thing I can say against the Mazda is that the ND does struggle from poorly paired packages, which the Fiat does not.

In my opinion at least, the RF is a strikingly pretty car; the curvature of the arches works beautifully in conjunction with Mazda’s current design language, and, again very much in my own opinion, few cars at any price are as captivating. Personal affection aside, the RF is a standout; the other two ND-based variants are both of the soft-top kind. In turn, the changeover to folding targa makes the RF not just extremely attractive but also more structurally rigid and better grand-tourer.

But why no 124 RF?

That I cannot answer. Perhaps the shape didn’t work with the Fiat’s styling. Perhaps they wanted to see if the 124 would sell at all before investing in the tooling to make an RF-ified 124 a reality. Perhaps it was supposed to be a Mazda exclusive. Perhaps, they’re holding out and working on a Fiat-exclusive removable hard-top or a power retractable hard top (PRHT) similar to that of the one offered on the NC Miata.

Image courtesy of motor.es via Miata.net

And that’s what it seems we’re looking at here: a PRHT 124. This would, in effect, give Fiat the only true folding hard-top roadster available on the ND platform, further differentiating it from its chassis-mate. As seen on the NC, the roof would fold completely out of the way so that with the top down the passengers are afforded just as much open-air as in the Miata ST (soft-top). While the PRHT would add a bit of weight up top and from the motors for the folding mechanism, that little extra heft is forgiven, especially out on the highway, for the coupe-like feeling it offers. And with that turbo motor, the slight bit of extra length, the better seats, improved insulation, and so on, the PRHT-equipped 124 could make for a properly good Grand Tourer, even more so than the Miata Grand Touring.

Now, I wasn’t very well versed in Miata when the NC was on sale, and I certainly didn’t pay full attention to the journalists’ and public’s responses to the PRHT at the time of release. But I do know that in recent years since the NC was discontinued – and in which the ND has been on sale – desire over and interest in the NC PRHT Club has increased significantly. However I’ve found no definitive consensus over the folding hard-top. And so, I can’t make a well-formed opinion as to if a PRHT 124 is a good or bad business idea for Fiat and FCA alike. One thing is certain though: I desperately want them to build it.

Image courtesy of motor.es via Miata.net

A 124 Abarth PRHT, with its Bilsteins, LSD, heated seats, added insulation, improved interior – all while retaining the open-air experience of a roadster and especially that of a lightweight one – would be my pick for Best Version of the ND Miata Platform. It would be fun, refined, and fantastic to drive all while retaining much of the MX-5’s characteristics and offering a ton of aftermarket possibilities. The 124 Abarth PRHT would, in effect, be the best Miata ever. Now it’s just up to Fiat to make it happen.

Please note that the pictured hardtop here does not look anything like the hardtops we have seen on Fiat 124 rally cars

Image courtesy of motor.es via Miata.net

  • Are you sure this is not a mule to test the drive train of their next CUV?
    Joking aside, would a real coupe (non-retractable roof) potentially be lighter and/or sturdier? Anyway, looks like a hardtop to me, probably what they want to achieve with the camouflage vinyl.

  • onrails

    Until they do something about the Queen Mary levels of roll the MX-5 and FIATa have, this thing continues to be an underwhelming drive. I was so crushed when a friend brought over his new car last summer. First drive in THE legend. Well built, attractive, underpowered but who cares, it’s a light roadste… hey! This thing rolls like an elephant in jello! I was expecting flickable, tossable, and a willing dance partner. Maybe it’s sacrelige, but it was everything but. Even at low levels nowhere near the limit it felt sluggish and ponderous.

    • Zentropy

      It’s a low-limits car, meant for driver involvement more than outright performance, so I think this is completely acceptable. Personally, I like the feedback from body lean– it gives a tactile gauge by which I know when I’m nearing the handling limits. Perhaps you learned to drive on newer, stiffer FWD cars. Firm, flat handling tells me nothing about the chassis and suspension. Progressive body lean is what typically keeps me out of the weeds.

      • Younger people are disappointed by the handling of the 944, too, which was a benchmark 30 years ago. It absorbs bumps and transitions smoothly due to outdated sidewalls and it sways as much as the ND (random autocross footage).

        To my feeling (average driver with no sports ambitions) you don’t really push out the limits with less roll (you could achieve more with tires), but make the transition into no-grip steeper (which is beneficial under track driving for experienced drivers used to the car’s peculiarities). Please somebody dig up some telemetry data during g-pad testing to educate me.

      • onrails

        I’m not talking about setting lap records on your way to the grocery store or in general being a nuisance on public roads. It’s that you can feel the thing wallowing around well below the limits that makes it particularily un-engaging to drive. The delay between turning the wheel and any meaningful change in direction out of a light two seat sports car is unacceptable. It’s something that sway bars will help, but that’s only if you have the dampers to match. And it doesn’t have to ride like a brick to achieve it.

        What gets me with this car is not it’s problems, it’s the ease with which the problems could be addressed, but are not. Add to that the other recent Mazda’s I’ve driven (granted, not that many… just the 3 and 6) seemed to be tuned more towards agility with more ride sacrifices than I would expect but their party piece, the MX-5, is tilted so far towards ride comfort that the hallmark traits of a little sports car seem to have been deliberately ignored.

        TL;DR – If I buy a lightweight 2 seat roadster and get to a curvy road for some spirited but responsible fun, the little bugger darn well be ready to dance. And the MX-5/FIATa isn’t.

        • Zentropy

          Sounds like it’s just not your kind of car. There are plenty of cars that don’t suit my tastes, either. The MX-5 has perennially been regarded as one of the most fun-to-drive vehicles out there. I can assure you it will dance, but it requires a partner that appreciates more than mashing buttons on an Xbox controller. Again, it’s not a car that pursues extreme limits– it just makes you appreciate the modest ones. It’s a car that can teach an average driver to be a great driver.
          To each his own– maybe Honda will lop the top off of a Civic Type R in a few years, and you’ll have your ideal ride.

          • onrails

            It IS my kind of car though. My previous cars were a Solstice and a Mini Cooper. I prefer a scalpel instead of sledgehammer. And despite the MUCH worse day to day usability of the Solstice, how it drove made it the easy choice.

            I realize all of my arguments mean nothing since I sold the scalpels to get my current SSledgehammer, but variety is the spice of life, right? A Caterham 7 is still on the wish list, but for now, I have kids to haul.

            • Zentropy

              I sympathize… the kid hauling severely limits my options, as well. My choices are the family van, or my daily E28 535i. Neither are scalpels, but at least the BMW knows how to dance, if a bit slowly.

    • HuntRhymesWith

      Three words: Upgraded Sway Bars

  • Zentropy

    YES!!!! I really hope this is legitimately in the works, because I like everything about the MX-5 RF but its looks. I’m not a fan of convertibles. I only wish they were making it a fastback instead. That would be gorgeous.

  • Maymar

    I’ve been able to drive both a handful of NDs, and one 124 Spider, and all I can tell you for either car, is that the automatic is a letdown. I still want to try a 124 with the stick, as although I’m sure it’ll run out of breath sooner than the Miata, hopefully that’ll at least liven it up a bit. That said, the availability of softened suspension and more sound deadening don’t bother me (I didn’t notice a huge difference, although the 124 was out on real roads, while the ND’s were all parking lot slalom), especially as a way to help amortize Miata development.
    That said, I haven’t spend enough time in one to know if the hardtop would be appealing. I’d say I’d hope it’d be a way to make them cheaper, but I sort of expect 124 values to drop off a cliff in a year or two.

    • Zentropy

      Anyone who is willing to buy the Miata or 124 with an automatic isn’t going to care. And anyone who cares, isn’t going to buy the automatic.

      • Ross Ballot

        I’ll disagree with that, to an extent. There are definitely people out there who either can no longer physically drive a car with a clutch or who simply don’t want to deal with a stick in traffic. I understand either of those viewpoints, but would obviously never not buy a manual myself…

        • Zentropy

          For those, I offer the Buick Cascada.

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