U.S. News & World Report Autos chose the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider over the Mazda Miata in its Best Cars For the Money awards. The reason that the Fiat, which shares much with the Mazda, including its manufacturing location, beat the Mazda wasn't due to its turbocharged engine. That engine just makes the Fiat slower compared to the Miata. It wasn't the interior and exterior changes the Fiat introduced to separate itself from the Miata, though those reasons would certainly be valid ones.
The reason that the 2017 FIat 124 Spider beat out the Mazda Miata is that Mazda did something very unusual with the Miata when it introduced the 2016, ND-generation car. It kept the 2016 model year in production for 19 months. Torque News reported on this oddly long model year. That bounced it out of contention for this honor bestowed by U.S. News & World Report.
We found this out when we dug a little deeper into the U.S. News & World Report Autos Best Cars For the Money awards by contacting Jamie Page Deaton, the Managing Editor at that respected publication. Page Deaton surprised us when we asked her why the Fiat 124 Spider beat the Mazda Miata. She told Torque News, "The answer to this one is complicated. The 2017 Miata not only wasn't a finalist for the award, it wasn't even a contender. The reason? The 2017 model wasn't out in time. The 124 beat the rest of the (very good) competition, edging out the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 based on its low ownership costs and strong recommendation from critics. It'll be interesting to put the 124 and Miata head-to-head next year, though the Miata is currently the top-ranked car in the sports car class and has an overall score that's .05 higher than the 124's (the 124's reliability score is a drag on its overall score, but its interior score blows the Miata's out of the water)"
So Mazda, one of the most racing-inspired brands in the world, may learn a lesson from this contest of sorts. To win, you have to show up.