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Mazda MX-5 vs Fiat 124 Spider


Two seater convertibles are like busses, well no their not, but it does seam that you wait around for one and then two arrive at the same time. By now I am sure you are all quite familiar with the fourth generation Mazda MX-5, but fresh out of the box is this roadsters sister car, the Fiat 124 Spider. Both cars share DNA in that their chassis and other components are common, but each manufacturer has tailored the platform to their desires. The net result are two very fun, very enjoyable sports cars, but which is best? Mazda MX-5 vs Fiat 124 Spider.

Let us kick off with the looks. The latest MX-5 with its creased bonnet and raked headlights looks more dynamic than ever. It retains those traits of a long bonnet and short rear end, but it certainly looks like a sports car of today. This petit people pleaser has already won many fans in addition to those ascertained over the decades.

The Fiat 124 Spider delivers that Italian sex appeal that you would expect from such a car. I have yet to see a picture that does it justice as it is just gorgeous in the metal. Curvaceous, charismatic, characterful, it certainly turns heads. Those big rounded headlights hark back to the original 124 of 50 years ago. Looks are of course subjective but based upon public reaction I’d say the 124 is the prettier car.

Much of the interior for both cars is identical. The dashboard, centre console, infotainment system and steering wheel are all the same. However, Fiat have included a range of soft-touch high quality materials around the cabin which makes it feel a bit more premium. The Mazda has a slightly more durable feel to it, but the Spider’s tobacco leather and increase sound deadening makes for a more civilised environment. Both have excellent driving positions with low hip points that allow you to feel what the car is doing beneath you. Each car also has the easily stowed fabric top. Boot space is 130 litres for the MX-5 and 140 litres for the Spider, not that 10 litres makes much difference in reality.

Under the bonnet of this MX-5 is the 1.5 litre  naturally aspirated SkyActiv engine producing 129 BHP and 150Nm of torque. Fiat’s 1.4 litre turbocharged unit generates 138 BHP and 240Nm of torque. 0-62 MPH takes 8.3 seconds in the MX-5 whilst the Fiat does it in 7.5. Many people have made a big thing about the suspension and steering differences between these two, but make no mistake it’s the engines that truly give each car its own character in this Mazda MX-5 vs Fiat 124 Spider battle.

The Mazda MX-5 loves to rev and rev with all of its grunt being at the top end. It is great fun dropping a gear using its rifle-bolt manual transmission to remain in the power band. In contrast the Fiat 124 Spider’s turbocharged engine means that throughout the midrange there is plenty of power. The fun in this car is keeping that turbo spooled up for torque filled surges of acceleration. At lower speeds you will have to be working the Mazda’s gearbox more, which is great if you are looking to be hands on all of the time, whereas the Fiat’s lower end torque means that it is the more flexible machine to use everyday. Two different methods but both have a very enjoyable outcome when driven with vigour.

Both the Fiat 124 Spider and Mazda MX-5 handle very well indeed. The MX-5 has slightly sharper steering which is extremely rewarding when kissing apexes. As for the 124, its steering is slightly softer just off centre but it soon weights up and still provides an enjoyable experience. Both examples roll though tightening bends but it does allow for a degree of predictability as to what the car is doing. Sharing the same chassis, each sports car feels balanced and very willing to calve up some country roads. The softer suspension of the Fiat 124 Spider will please those who desire a bit more refinement for everyday driving, whilst the stiffer alternative from Mazda aids driver connection.

So which car is the winner? I wish it was as simple as one being better than the other. Each machine offers a delicious recipe but uses slightly different ingredients. The Mazda is just a little bit more engaging on the twisty stuff, but the Fiat is the car you would want to live with every day. My head says Mazda, but my heart wants the car from Italy.  The truth is that I like both of them very much, but if you were to put a gun to my head and said pick one and this is the only car I am allowed to own, then My knee-jerk reaction would be the Fiat 124 Spider. The MX-5 is just over £1,000 cheaper, more fuel efficient, and certainly a car that enthusiasts will love. That sounds right up my street, but for reasons that I don’t fully comprehend the Spider is the one I want to own. 

Mazda MX-5 vs Fiat 124 Spider.