Fiat version of MX-5 has own body panels, trim and engine; shares dashboard, platform and, most importantly, assembly, with Mazda

Fiat version of MX-5 has own body panels, trim and engine; shares dashboard, platform and, most importantly, assembly, with Mazda

While the Spider was the star of the show, the elephant in the room was not ignored.

Car makers often gloss over the fact that a certain model may actually be based on the assets of another brand but Fiat UK's 124 Spider product manager Pietro Carminati appeared proud to assert that his new baby is based on the Mazda MX-5.

"Why not?" he said. "You may not read it in the press pack but if we are going to make a top class sports car, why not base it on the best platform available?"

He added: "I don't think we could have got the same result by taking one of our existing B or C platforms and cutting off the roof. The Mazda MX-5 platform is the best available for a two-seat sports car."

Not that you would know looking at the car. It may be built by Mazda in Japan, but every single panel on the 124 Spider has been changed. Only the underpinnings and the A pillar are the same as the MX-5.

This is Fiat's first two-seat convertible sports car since the Barchetta was launched in 1995 – although this model was never available in right-hand-drive. The new car evokes the spirit of the original 124 Spider launched in 1966.

Like the Fiat 500, the car draws styling cues from the original. It is launched at the end of this month in the UK with one (Fiat-made) engine option – 1.4-litre, 140hp, and three trim levels for simplicity. Six-speed manual transmission will be followed by a six-speed auto next year.

Fiat's current twin marketing values of Functional and Aspirational place the 124 Spider as the flagship of Aspirational while the new Tipo, launched in the UK at the same time, heads up the Functional side.

Product manager Frederico Rosasco pointed out that Tipo is not a budget car but a car for a budget – pointing to the clever ad tag-line 'Amore for less'.

The budget starts at just GBP£12,995 in the UK (US$16,880) although Fiat does not actually expect to sell many entry level models with modest GBP1,000 ($1,300) steps up through the trim and equipment levels or GBP10 ($13) a month increases on monthly private contract purchase payments.

The car is launched in the UK with three petrol and three diesel options in five-door hatch and station wagon body styles. Rosasco said that more than 2,000 pre-orders have been taken in line with forecasts and he expects sales of 9,000 in 2017. Both cars will be an important addition to Fiat's flagging showroom appeal in the UK. 2015 sales of 64,257 were down from 67,162 in 2014 giving a market share of 2.4%. So far this year, sales to the end of August stood at 38,549 versus 39,400 in 2015 and a market share of 2.3%.

New Fiat Auto UK managing director Ashley Andrews said he wants to see the brand move quickly to a market share of 3% and over.

"We think these cars will help us achieve that," he said.