For buyers wanting a fun and affordable convertible sports car, the Mazda MX-5 has long been the best option on the market. It now has a fresh rival, however – the Fiat 124 Spider shares a chassis with the Mazda but uses different engines and body panels.
The 124 is effectively the MX-5’s twin, but with a slightly different flavour. We take a look at both to see which will suit you best. Check out our Mazda MX-5 deals page to grab some great savings, or head over to our Fiat 124 Spider review to find out more.
Fiat 124 vs Mazda MX-5 styling
Despite being heavily related, the two roadsters look markedly different. The 124 has eye-catching round headlights, a long bonnet and a distinctly retro flavour that harks back to the original 124 of the ’70s. It’s 139mm longer and 10mm wider than the MX-5 and, despite those larger dimensions being aimed at the American market, we think it’s a very handsome machine.
In contrast, Mazda has given the MX-5 an much more futuristic look that’s a lot more dramatic. The roadster’s styling features more sharp edges than the Fiat but, thanks to its shorter overhangs, it appears smaller overall. The rear end is more sculpted than the 124’s squarer one, but is marginally more divisive. Which one you prefer will probably come down to whether you prefer the Fiat’s retro look or the Mazda’s distinctly modern one.
Fiat 124 vs Mazda MX-5 interior
Inside, there are almost no differences between the two – a fact some reviewers bemoan, wishing for more individuality. Fiat has given the 124 a more sophisticated feel with some silver inserts on door panels, but the Mazda has red stitching that gives it a sportier feel. Both get a freestanding screen that controls the infotainment system – it’s a touchscreen but can also be controlled by a dial controller.
Practicality isn’t a primary consideration for many two-seat convertible buyers which is just as well – both these cars are on the small side and offer limited space. The Fiat’s slightly larger dimensions give it a 140-litre boot – 10 more than the Mazda, but still smaller than most city cars. Despite the limited cargo space, the cars’ manual folding roofs mean they aren’t as compromised as a Jaguar F-Type.
Fiat 124 vs Mazda MX-5 driving
There’s not a massive difference in the way the two cars drive, but subtle tweaks have been made to ensure that keen drivers will be able to spot the changes. The Fiat has been developed with the American market in mind so will be offered with an optional automatic gearbox and, coupled with the more torquey engine and increased sound deadening, it makes for a slightly more relaxed motorway cruiser. Despite this, there’s a meatier feel to the steering and slightly stiffer suspension, making it equally talented on a back road jaunt.
The MX-5 is without question one of the most entertaining vehicles to drive ever made. Its sharp steering and lightweight body mean it’s very fast to change direction and incredibly responsive to driver inputs. We suspect that the keenest drivers will prefer the slightly purer driving experience of the Mazda but, as we’ll explain, that choice might depend more on what type of engine you’d prefer.
Fiat 124 vs Mazda MX-5 engines
This is the area where there’s the greatest distinction between the Fiat and Mazda – both manufacturers have decided to fit their own engines under the bonnet. Mazda has developed a pair of lightweight non-turbo petrol engines for the MX-5 – a 130hp 1.5-litre and a 160hp 2.0-litre. Both are rev-happy and match the peppy handling and eager character of the car but, compared to the Fiat, need to be revved more to get the same performance.
Fiat has picked its 138hp 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine for the 124 and, for some buyers, it’ll be one of the most important factors determining whether they choose it over the MX-5. The increased torque offered by the turbo gives more effortless acceleration requiring fewer revs to get the same performance. Reviewers say this mid-range muscle works well both in town and on longer runs. It won’t have the linear acceleration that makes the Mazda such a blast on a back road but, in most normal situations, will be easier to use.
Fiat 124 vs Mazda MX-5 value for money and running costs
Prices haven’t been released yet for the 124, so it’s hard to asses its value for money. We expect Fiat will price the 124 slightly higher the MX-5, so expect an initial price of around £19,500 for the Italian. Running costs should remain low and the Fiat’s combined fuel economy of 44.1mpg is impressive for a car that offers so much performance potential.
The Mazda represents great value – for less than £18,500 you can own a basic MX-5 and even the priciest versions cost only slightly more than £23,000. Fuel economy with the 1.5-litre engine hovers at 47.1mpg, with the larger engine being able to return 41mpg. It’s worth noting that reviewers claim it’s fairly easy to get close to the official figures in real life – something not always possible with turbocharged cars.
Fiat 124 vs Mazda MX-5 verdict
There’s so little between these two cars that really it’ll come down to personal preference. The 124’s retro styling, more refined driving experience and turbocharged engine might make it the better choice for buyers looking to use it every day but you’ll have to wait until later in the year until you can get your hands on one.
Mazda has created yet another corker with the latest MX-5 and its huge 9.3 wowscore testifies to its immense talent. Thanks to its revvy non-turbo engine, it arguably makes the better B-road blaster and, for those put off by retro styled cars, its unashamedly modern look makes it the better choice.
Save money on your next sports car
Check out our Mazda MX-5 deals page to grab some great savings, or head over to our Fiat 124 Spider review to find out more. For more help narrowing down your new car search, check out our handy car chooser.