It’s not a secret the Fiat 124 Spider is based on the Mazda MX-5 Miata and is assembled at the same Hiroshima plant in Japan by Mazda. The two might have a lot of the same ingredients but the results are decidedly different recipes. And having your Italian sports car made in Japan can certainly be viewed as a plus rather then a minus. It might also sound better to you, telling people you just bought an Italian sports car instead of telling them you drive a Miata. Globalization coming full circle- the British sports car inspired Miata being repurposed as an Italian sports car.
There are two key differences between the two cars- the engine and the body. The 124 has a 1.4 liter turbocharged engine from the Fiat 500 Abarth compared to the MX-5’s 2.0 liter normally aspirated engine. Fiat has done a good job styling the car to look different from the MX-5. The 124 with it’s double bubble hood and Italian styling has more of a GT flare then MX-5’s aggressive boy racer look. While they’re on the same wheelbase, the Fiat 124 is 5 inches longer, with a longer hood and rear overhang.
Interior wise, it’s very much original Mazda with the same dash and a Fiat badge on the steering wheel instead of a Mazda one. It has the same touch screen radio with optional navigation. There are some subtle differences with the 124 having soft touch materials on the tops of the doors and the top part of the dash. The seats are unique to the 124 and Recaro’s are available. A sport button is standard on both automatic and manual transmissions unlike the Miata that has a button on automatic cars only.
The suspension tuning is different on the Fiat, featuring a more compliant ride. The ride height is taller with a larger gap between the tires and the body- giving a bigger look to the car. This also gives the wheels a greater stroke of motion over bumps in the road. Combined with excellent damping control, the 124 gives the driver great confidence behind the wheel. Attacking the corners the body rolls like the MX-5 but takes a smoother set- the front and rear suspension in time with one another. The MX-5 on the other hand is more focused- but also takes more concentration to control the rear end which tends to hit the bump stops in fast attack runs.
Under the hood is Fiat’s 1.4 liter SOHC 16 valve, turbocharged 4 cylinder. Being somewhat older tech with multi port fuel injection instead of direct injection. The turbo squeezes 22 lbs of boost through this little engine to make the power of 160 horses (170 horses on the Abarth model). With 184 lb feet of torque- power from the bottom feels strong from 2500 – 5500 rpm. The engine will rev to 7000 but feels out of breath at 5500. The MX-5’s engine by comparison has less torque but an eagerness to run to the redline with a more linear power delivery. Two distinctly different ways in how the two engines make power. The 124 will probably use more gas being a turbo but also if you live in a high altitude part of the country, might be the preferred choice.
The Abarth model gives you Bilstein shocks, Brembo brakes, bigger sway bars, Monza sport exhaust and more. It also comes with a limited slip differential not available in the MX-5. A Heritage no cost option gives you a matte black hood and trunk lid that looks sharp. The Abarth really takes the car to another level that surpasses any MX-5. With 124’s longer hood and trunk, Italian styling and the matte black paint treatment it really takes the cake.
In conclusion I’d recommend test driving both the MX-5 and the new Fiat 124 especially if you’re shopping for base models. The MX-5 might have a more pure driving experience if you’re comparing base models. The Abarth is another story and is quite a special 2 seat roadster.