The segment of two-seat sports cars is thriving. Despite a sudden mass craving in the marketplace for utility and comfort, small and affordable roadsters still manage to find their way into garages; lurking, waiting for their time to shine, when utility becomes boring and sunny Sundays roll around.
It is no wonder that an increasing number of players are joining the rear-wheel drive, joyride game. In 2017, for example, two new models have been added to the list of feather-weight competitors; the all-new Mazda MX-5 RF and Fiat 124 Spider.
Also new this year is the Inazuma edition of the upgraded Subaru BRZ, sporting an all-up-in-your-face yellow coat.
I have driven all three and they have a lot in common: two doors, rear-wheel drive powertrain, small waist, huge fun factor and an affordable price tag. But how do they compare? I have the answer for you.
When it comes to the design portion of our comparison, numbers have little relevance. Here it’s all about how long they make you want to stare. In that regards, the Fiat 124 Spider sadly starts at a disadvantage with me as I am not a true fan of the cars design. The bug-eyed, cartoonish look does nothing for me.
However, out of the three, it is also the one that received the most double-takes wherever I went. I could see the process in their eyes: people staring, digging into their memories, trying to figure out what that sharp-looking little car is. And when they finally gathered up the courage to ask me, they didn’t even know about the 124 Spider; their immediate reference was, without any big surprise, the Mazda MX-5. I say without any big surprise because this Fiat is the Mazda’s Italian twin, sharing its platform and even its cabin design.
Slightly longer than its Japanese alter-ego, it sports a bit of a retro look, inspired by the original 124 Spider produced until the 80s.
Speak of the Devil, the MX-5 was thoroughly updated last year and shed its goofy, smiling looks for a more aggressive front that suits this model very well. It has turned from a guilty-pleasure car to a full-fledged garage-bound mistress. Its claw-shaped headlights give the almost-thirty-something model a whole new persona.
Now with both these players looking so darn good, you probably think I’m a little insane to have a soft spot for the Subaru BRZ. Since the car was introduced in 2012, it has consistently hooked my gaze on the road, both in its Subaru and Scion/Toyota form.
There’s just something about it that makes me stare. The balanced silhouette, long nose and feline headlights work for me.
If the BRZ wins my heart, I have to be a grown up and give this one to the 124 Spider who was the undeniable head-turner of the trio.
With regards to power, I like to look beyond the numbers. Great power-to-weight ratio and acceleration are the keys to a fun car in my book. Top speed doesn’t mean much in a country where highways are limited to 100 km/h – unless you’re lucky enough to try your hand at some devilish accelerations on a salt flat, or can spend some quality time on a race track.
Looking strictly at performance numbers, the Subaru BRZ should have the lead. Introduced last year, power has been increased to 205 hp and 156 lb-ft of torque. Power comes from Subaru’s well-known 2.0L, four-cylinder boxer engine and is sent to the rear wheels of the 1,278 kg sports car. Zero to 100 can be reached in 7.4 seconds with the six-speed manual transmission, offered as standard equipment on the Inazuma Edition.
But as fun and driver-oriented as the BRZ is, the “Fiata” duo leaves little to be desired when it comes to driving pleasure.
The Mazda MX-5 RF is the least powerful of all three models, rated at 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque sent to the back wheels via the 2.0L, four-cylinder Skyactiv engine. With fewer seats than the BRZ, the MX-5 weighs in at a minuscule 1,114 kg, giving the BRZ a run for its money by achieving 0-100 in 7.1 seconds.
If its looks didn’t win me over, it’s performance did and this is where the Fiat 124 Spider also gets to shine. Built on the exact same platform as the MX-5, the 124 Spider is offered with a smaller displacement engine, a 1.4L, four-cylinder block. But, as any good Abarth model, a turbocharger is involved and this makes all the difference.
At barely 20 kg more than the Mazda, weighing a slight 1,138kg, it produces 164 hp and an exciting 184 lb-ft of torque. Combined, this allows the little Italian to do it’s 0-to-100 run in 6.8 seconds; the winner both on paper and in real life. Despite a bit of turbo lag, it remains ahead of its competitors.
Now let’s be real – all three models involved in this comparison are built to be driven. It’s not about the luxuries or equipment. what really matters is how fun they are to take out for a spin.
One did stand out a little more from the rest for its ride comfort, without slacking on the fun factor. This point goes to the Fiat 124 Spider. All three contenders have independent suspension front and back- the ideal setup for optimal handling. From a comfort standpoint, however, I found the Spider’s ride to be slightly more enjoyable and easy to live with on a daily basis than the BRZ and MX-5.
The Fiat’s setup feels slightly less aggressive than its competitors and provides the better compromise for daily life.
In terms of handling, however, a more rigid and steadier ride also makes for a better on-road performance and in that regards, the MX-5 does the best. It’s aggressive, but still comfortable most of the time. Steering is responsive without being too sensitive, which I found to be the case with the Spider 124.
The BRZ doesn’t perform as well because its handling is coarse and primitive, albeit still a lot of fun. The overall refinement of the MX-5 gives it that extra mark required to take this win.
When it comes to living with any of these three sports cars, one clearly takes the win and that is the Subaru BRZ.
As the MX-5 and 124 Spider are built on the same two-seater platform, they offer more or less the same ergonomic difficulties and space challenges. Although cup-holders shouldn’t be a main consideration for choosing one car over another, placing the cupholder behind your elbow makes it hard to reach and a serious risk for spills.
When it comes to usable space, the Fiata duo offers only two seats and a trunk the size of a kleenex box; not exactly my number-one pick for a daily driver.
The Subaru BRZ offers four seats – though the back two are more of a concept than actual passenger material. They will, however, carry purses and grocery bags quite nicely. The trunk is also much more convenient, without being gigantic.
I understand that these cars aren’t built to be “useful” and that they aim to please the driver above all, which they do. But if you had to pick only one out of the lot to carry things around in and enjoy the drive, the Subaru BRZ is much easier to work with.
Everything you can do, I can do better, I can do everything better than you. Aren’t these the lyrics that come to mind when you look at the Fiata “twins”? These extremely similar vehicles are fiercely measured against each other.
But how do they compare price-wise? The Mazda MX-5 RF with its hardtop roof is steeply priced starting at $38,800. Choose the GT version and it crests the $40K emotional threshold by $2,000 ($42,000) making it the most expensive price tag in our comparison. Opt instead for the canvas-topped MX-5 and the price starts $7k below at $31,900, a much more competitive number.
It does come with a long list of standard equipment that includes a full infotainment system complete with a 7-inch screen, voice-activated navigation, heated leather sports seats, steering wheel-mounted controls, a backup camera, cruise control, keyless entry with push-button start and more.
The thing is, once you sit inside the Fiat 124 Spider, you may get a little confused – the interior design is exactly the same, down to the infotainment system, hilariously called “Fiat-Connect” in this case.
Equipment in the sporty twins is pretty much the same. That being said, the top of the Spider line is crowned with the Abarth badge, priced at $35,495, up from $30,995 for the base Classica model. Two optional safety and luxury options can add up to $5,500 to the price tag and include the same nine-speaker Bose sound system with headrest speakers standard in the MX-5 RF GT. This will take the price tag right around $40k, still below the Mazda’s.
As for the Subaru BRZ, it wins the pricing game with an entry-level price starting at $27,995. The Inazuma Edition is the cheapest special edition of the lot, cranking up the total to $32,695.
The bright yellow Inazuma gets you eight-speakers and navigation with voice command isn’t offered. You will also have to resort to the good old “look-over your shoulder” technique to backup as there is no rear-view camera in the BRZ, despite a small rear window.
The winner in this category is the Fiat 124 Spider. If I compare it to the soft top Mazda, the MX-5 would take the win because of how premium it feels. But with the RF being that much more expensive, the little Italian takes the title.
The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth is the winner of our mega-comparison. It outperforms the others in looks, power, comfort and price, taking the top prize. Overlooking personal preferences and any emotional attachment and looking strictly at the facts, the Fiat 124 Spider builds on a proud heritage while offering the best balance when all is considered.
It should certainly be stated the 2017 Mazda MX-5 and Subaru BRZ Inazuma Edition are worthy competitors. The Mazda MX-5 undeniably offers the highest fun factor and the BRZ is a great pick for a daily driver thanks to the added convenience it provides with significantly more storage space.
One thing I know for sure. Sport utility vehicles may be all the rage currently, but it’s great to leave the rational mind aside and let my inner-child take the wheel of a two-seater, rear-wheel drive sports car!