2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF vs. 2018 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth Comparison Review
Our experts review the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF vs. 2018 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth. Edmunds car experts Carlos Lago and Mark Takahashi do a side-by-side comparison of the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF and 2018 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth -- two fun-to-drive convertibles that are as different as night ... and later that night. The editors measure up the driving experience, engine, interior and styling of the roadsters and come away liking one more than the other. Watch the video to see which is the one they'd want to drive home.
[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER 1: That right there is the latest version of the Mazda Miata. It's called the RF, which we think means retractable roof. MARK: That's the Fiat 124 Abarth. SPEAKER 1: These two cars are extraordinarily similar, more so than you might expect from a traditional comparison. MARK: Because they're the same. SPEAKER 1: And in this video, we're going to find out what makes them so similar, and also more importantly, what makes them different. MARK: That one's white. SPEAKER 1: Thanks, Mark. [ENGINE SOUNDS] You know, you forget how much fun driving a Miata is. MARK: Or driving period. SPEAKER 1: Yes, yes that's a better point. The act of driving itself. This is an exhilarating, exciting, fun car to drive because it's so light. MARK: Yes. SPEAKER 1: Because it is so close attention when designing this thing, everything about it informs the driving experience-- from the exterior design to the interior design, right. MARK: Yeah. SPEAKER 1: This thing lacks some creature comforts to be lighter. All on that quest of making a car one with its driver. And that's the marketing tag on it they use. But the result makes you believe that it's true. MARK: Yeah. SPEAKER 1: This is something that's built purely for fun. MARK: Right. SPEAKER 1: And man, it nails that target right in the center. [ENGINE SOUNDS] MARK: The gates-- they have the right spacing, the right amount of throw, it's not too short, not too long-- but in particular, the pedals-- the way they're placed close together so you're just doing this lovely tap dance between the pedals if you're driving it hard. SPEAKER 1: The interface between gas, clutch, shifter is beautiful. MARK: And the take-up, the friction point on the clutch I think is perfect, the weight of the clutch. Everything just works really well. It encourages you to drive this car hard. I think for anyone that's been in a Mazda, they will certainly-- even just as a passer-- will say, this is this really familiar. [ENGINE SOUNDS] SPEAKER 1: For this car, this naturally aspirated engine doesn't make a whole lot of power. But again, it's that lightness. MARK: Right. SPEAKER 1: This thing is less powerful-- both with horsepower and torque-- versus the Fiat. But it's faster. MARK: And I feel that the short gearing in the low gears really help it give that punch that would otherwise be missing. SPEAKER 1: You would say, Oh, the Fiat's got torque. And it does. And that feels good at low RPMs. But hey, I just downshifted. MARK: [GASPS] SPEAKER 1: Like magic, right? This is less powerful than the Fiat, but it's faster-- or at least the acceleration favors this car. That has to do with it's lighter. Even with the power retracting foldable hard top-- whatever the name is for this thing-- with the weight that that adds, this is still lighter than the Fiat. And that means the driving experience is better because lightness permeates all. Lightness makes everything better. Lightness makes the car faster, more fuel efficient, able to go around corners faster, more fun to drive. And even though you have to shift gears a little bit more because you don't have the torque, that's an enjoyable experience because the shifter's so dang good. [ENGINE REVVING] MARK: Yeah, that right there. SPEAKER 1: That's just that classical sense. You get that induction sound that comes in at like 5,000 RPM. And get that-- you mentioned earlier-- there's a faint little noise that sounds like gear whine at the top. MARK: Yeah. SPEAKER 1: You feel like you're operating machinery here, but machinery that's built to satisfy you. [ENGINE SOUNDS] So starting out with the engine. It's a small displacement turbocharged engine. What are your initial thoughts? MARK: There's not enough difference for me to say one way or the other. Yeah, I know it has more low end torque. But I feel like the Miata already has plenty. SPEAKER 1: Yeah, I'm right with you there. There are some minor differences. This makes more torque and more horsepower. That torque and power, though, is concentrated in the lower part of the rev band. This feels a little gutsier around town. That said, the Miata just needs a couple down shifts and it's actually faster. So, huh. MARK: Yeah. SPEAKER 1: Right? This suspension tuning is a little bit more engaging for the car. But otherwise, I like the Miata's naturally aspirated engine a little bit more. It revs a little bit more cleanly, and feels a little bit more linear. This one works fine. But it takes a little bit for that turbo to come in. I want that immediacy of a naturally aspirated engine. MARK: OK. SPEAKER 1: That's just generally what I like. MARK: These seats I really like. They have that weird architecture underneath where it kind of holds you in like a hammock. And you feel it sway back and forth when you're cornering. But it just conforms to you. Almost like one of those memory foam beds. I drove this from LA to Pahrump, Nevada and back in a matter of two or three days or something. And never once did I feel like, man, I need to get out of this thing and stretch. SPEAKER 1: Yeah. MARK: I just wanted to keep driving. And it was so much fun. SPEAKER 1: And even the exterior design-- it's nipped and tucked. Their overhangs are really tiny. These hard plastic things here in the interior are meant to evoke that there is no difference between the exterior and the interior. on forward on the hood, the bulges from the fenders are almost like guides that you can use to line up your corners. And look at the Fiat and they've just thrown all that away. Ultimately you're adapting design queues to a body that was made for a different design. [ENGINE SOUNDS] MARK: The seats are exactly the same. I mean they feel exactly the same. These seats do look a little prettier, though, with a horizontal ribbing. Me likey. SPEAKER 1: It's Italian, come on. MARK: Yeah, I love Italian cars. SPEAKER 1: I want to point that out to you, though. MARK: Yes. SPEAKER 1: What's the badge on the steering wheel say? MARK: Fiat. SPEAKER 1: OK. On the bottom left of the windshield, what's the logo say? MARK: [INAUDIBLE] SPEAKER 1: This car is from what company? Mazda. MARK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. SPEAKER 1: Isn't globalization neat? [LAUGHING] MARK: I love the shifters in both these cars equally. I like the look of this shifter knob, but that's very superficial. Everything about this-- the way it functions, the way it feels-- I think is as good as a manual transmission can get. SPEAKER 1: Yes. MARK: Thoughts. SPEAKER 1: I agree. I feel like both transmissions shift great. The Miata shift knob is superior. This is nice. But man, when you put your hand on that Miata shift knob, you go, OK, this is what it shift knob should feel like. MARK: Oh man. SPEAKER 1: Huh? MARK: Well this chrome work around the shifter just blinded me. And if the top was down, it would be worse. Please stop doing that. [ENGINE SOUNDS] SPEAKER 1: You can get lost talking about the power retractable hardtop in this car. I prefer the folding soft top, the one you just unlatch and throw it over your shoulder. MARK: I do too. SPEAKER 1: The Fiat 124 is a Miata with Fiat badges on it, right. MARK: Fiat-a. SPEAKER 1: Fiat-a, yes. But it also gets a unique exterior, a different engine, different suspension tuning, and a bunch of other things downstream. You get enough of the driving experience-- of the Miata driving experience-- in this car that yeah, it's really going to be a matter of taste. MARK: Just driving around town in LA, which is car snob capitol-- SPEAKER 1: Yeah. MARK: I was getting heads turned on this car. People really dig it. SPEAKER 1: The bodywork, they've extended the overhangs-- front and rear-- so that makes this car look and feel a little bit more muscular. MARK: And this hood is way flatter, too. SPEAKER 1: And it's longer. And it tries to-- I don't know-- add a dose of let's say, masculinity. MARK: OK. SPEAKER 1: To the Miata. MARK: Make it look more substantial. SPEAKER 1: Yeah, and I think it's mostly successful. I don't know if the final product is appealing to my eyes. I think I'd prefer the way the Miata looks. I think it's truer to what the Miata is. But I don't know. I get it. I get what they're going for here. [ENGINE SOUNDS] It's difficult to compare this to the Miata because so much of it is similar to the Miata. And so really, you have to highlight the differences. And I think on balance, the differences are kind of a push in terms of what they add or detract from the experience. So it's kind of like, eh, which as a professional critic, it's kind of a weak thing to go out on, isn't it? MARK: Like we said before, we're glad that this car still exists. And we would mourn the day that it doesn't. [ENGINE SOUNDS] SPEAKER 1: These two roadsters are so similar that you can largely choose between them based on looks alone. MARK: That's true, but only to a certain extent. There are some things that bother me about that Fiat, especially that gap between the nose and the hood-- it's a little inconsistent. It's also a little more expensive than the Miata. So I'm firmly in camp Miata. Where are you? SPEAKER 1: I'm with the Miata as well. That naturally aspirated engine revs out a bit more sweetly, it looks better, and-- like you mentioned-- it costs less trim level for trim level. MARK: I actually even save more money because I go with a standard roof and not the roof. SPEAKER 1: Good point. Thanks for watching this episode. If you want to see more, keep it tuned right here. And be sure to visit edmunds.com. [MUSIC PLAYING]