Pick one: Mazda MX-5 or Fiat 124 Spider

2017 Mazda MX-5 Retractable Fastback (Sinclair Broadcast Group / Jill Ciminillo)

I hate this question. But as soon as you drive either the Mazda MX-5 or the Fiat 124 Spider, people invariably ask: Which do you like better?

Both vehicles are built on the same platform, and from the inside you’d be hard pressed to tell which vehicle you’re driving if you removed the badging. So, I’ve mostly managed to evade the answer because, frankly, they’re both great cars.

However, it’s time to take a stand.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder

Though the 124 Spider is often called the “Fiata,” it has a unique character to its design that is distinctly Fiat. From the wide-eyed headlights to the long horizontal lines, the 124 looks more chiseled instead of swoopy. Where the Mazda is more elegant and refined, the 124 Spider has more sport and aggression to it.

While my personal preference leans toward the MX-5, what I really like about the 124 Spider is that it’s still a relative novelty on the road. In fact, other than my test car, I’ve really only seen one or two “in the wild.”

Power hungry

The horsepower difference between the two roadsters is not significant, but the torque is a different story. The MX-5 is equipped with a 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G engine that delivers 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. In comparison, the 124 Spider comes equipped with a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine that delivers 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.

The 124 Spider is about 5 inches longer and weighs about 100 pounds more than the MX-5, so the horsepower is a bit of a wash. But you can tell a difference in passing maneuvers when the torque kicks in.

My preference here, by a small margin is the Fiat 124 Spider.

Smooth operator

Let me be clear here: Both cars are a blast to drive. And if you were comparing the plain 124 Spider to the MX-5, the answer to which car wins this category would be swift and easy: MX-5. But as soon as you bring the 124 Spider Abarth into the equation, the answer changes just as swiftly and easily.

The Abarth adds a Bilstein performance suspension with a front strut tower brace. That plus the shock absorbers, stiff front and rear spring rates and a nearly 50/50 weight distribution create pure joy in your drive. Well, that and the standard 6-speed manual transmission.

Comfort & convenience

The 124 Spider and MX-5 interiors are nearly identical – right down to the Mazda-powered infotainment system that sticks up out of the dash in both vehicles. I liked the squishy suede seat inserts in the 124 Spider Abarth, but other than that, my driving position and passenger position in both vehicles were remarkably similar. I consider this category a draw.

I say that with a caveat. My drive partner at the recent MX-5 RF press preview pointed out that Mazda pads its dash on the passenger side, which means he has less knee room in the MX-5 vs. the 124 Spider. For him, the 124 Spider was more comfortable specifically for this reason.

And the winner is …

At the end of the day, it’s kind of like having to choose between smooth-sipping whiskey or fine red wine. They both suit very different palates.

Are you looking for something aggressive, sporty and unique with a throaty growl? Then that’s the 124 Spider all the way. But, if you’re looking for something that’s more refined and elegant, you’re looking for the MX-5.

For me, while I like both whiskey and wine, I tend more toward smooth elegance on a daily basis.

So, if you tell me to pick one, I’m going with the MX-5. And that’s my final answer.


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