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