Fiat 124 Spider or Mazda MX-5 ?

For years we have been driving an Audi TT Roadster 2.0 but if we would buy a smaller – pricewise more accessible – roadster we would definitely have chosen the Mazda MX-5 as we used the find that the Fiat 124 Spider was in many ways less fun to drive. The new Fiat 124 Spider has changed all that.

Pictures: WOWwatchers

How much bad luck one can have? A three day press trip abroad on our schedule and all the other days that we have a challenging Fiat 124 Spider S-Design on our driveway it is raining cats and dogs. As a thick layer of grey clouds is not announcing any improvement, we decide to stop waiting for the sun to come out and take this beauty for a ride.

Taste is something very personal which can hardly be the subject of discussion, and even though lots of people ask us for advice before buying a car, most of the times we know already which car they will buy, despite our advice. People buy a car with their heart and as many people have a heart for Italy…

Having a heart for something is one thing, but the experience of comfort and fun is just as important. So how about that?

When sliding behind the wheel of the Fiat 124 Spider S-Design we immediately feel at home. Is this because the Fiat 124 Spider is a sister of the MX-5 built on the same platform? Or because the interiors of these two cars largely are the same from the buttons and the knobs to the dials for the infotainment system and climate controls? Probably both, but even though Fiat has taken over the entire technology – save the engine – from Mazda, these two cars are not merely copy pastes.

In the exterior the Fiat takes over some styling elements from the Spider from 1966, which is regarded as one of the most beautiful Fiats of all time. The new S-Design version of the Fiat 124 Spider adds some extra equipment to that such as a roll bar, an A-pillar and mirror caps made of polished stainless steel. It also has especially designed 17-inch light-alloy wheels, an Italian tricolor on the boot lid and a red band over the body for an extra sporty touch.

Inside the Fiat 124 Spiders’s steering wheel for instance feels nicer than the Mazda one because of the thicker rim and the softer leather it is wrapped in. The Mazda MX-5 seats in its turn have smaller side bolsters, making it easier to turn around to operate the manual roof. For both cars you apply the same legendary one-flip motion and a small push to secure the roof behind the seats. It requires some practicing, but once you got the hang of it, this manual roof closes so much quicker when it starts raining than an automatic one. The interior of the S-Design version is also generously equipped with four airbags, automatic air conditioning, radio with MP3 function, USB port and four speakers, leather upholstery for seats, steering wheel and dashboard with striking stitching. It also has a speed controller and a keyless system.

At the first traffic light the engine of the Fiat 124 Spider stalls when we lift the clutch. Mmmh that is strange. Certainly when we experience this a second and a third time, it looks as if we are learning how to drive. That’s enough! The fourth time at the traffic light we simply floor the throttle and the Fiat 124 Spider launches like a rocket. Ooh that’s the way to drive it. This thoroughbred is like a boisterous horse that asks for the reins to be released. We can do that! Soon it becomes clear that the turbo engine is a great fit for this car. This Fiat 124 Spider feels quicker than the Mazda MX-5, and the numbers confirm that. While I think the Fiat has a better ride quality at higher speeds and on the highway, the MX-5 feels more eager, more tossable. It is definitely the more playful car of the pair. Furthermore I like the weight of the steering that certainly is heavier than the Mazda’s but actual feedback levels are about the same.

In terms of ergonomics both cars suffer from limited interior space and very little storage space. Most of the time I have things rolling in between the passengers’ feet as I don’t find places to store them. The Fiat’s added length makes it a bit more cargo-friendly with a little bit of space extra versus Mazda. In this category of small roadsters, every last centimeter helps.

Driving a convertible of course is all about how much you can enjoy it and how much wind or turbulence you experience in the cabin. On that level the Mazda MX-5 and definitely the RF-version scores the best. The Fiat 124 Spider could use a larger wind screen. Let’s hope the Fiat engineers are reading this as well.

Another striking feature is the basic equipment of the Fiat, which is definitely luxurious. You don’t have so much luxury in the Mazda. Hence the price difference.

Fiat 124 Spider 1.4 litre petrol MultiAir turbo coupled to a 6 speed manual gear box and rear suspension
Power: 140 hp
Max. torque: 240 Nm at 2.250 rpm.
Top speed: 215 km/h
Sprint from 0 to 100 km/h: 7,5 seconds
Consumption: 6,6 litres/100 km
C02: 148 g/km.
From 29.400 euro onwards.

The Mazda MX-5 1.5 Skyactiv naturally aspired petrol engine coupled to a 6 speed manual gear box and rear suspension
Power: 132 hp
Max. torque 152 Nm
Topspeed: 204 km/h
Sprint from 0 to 100 km/h: 8,3 seconds.
Consumption 6.3 litres/100 km
C02 143 g/km.
From 26.690 onwards.
The Mazda MX-5 is cheaper but the standard version of the Fiat 124 Spyder is strikingly more luxurious. Which one to buy depends on your budget and how playful you really are.

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