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Why the 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata is Faster Than the Fiat 124 Spider Abarth

The Fiat 124 bring more power and more torque, but is slower than the Mazda Miata. Here’s why.

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Europeans love torquey engines. Having been brainwashed into believing that diesel engines are the cat's pajamas, they like engines that have loads of torque at revs just above idle. For those torque fans looking for a roadster, the 2017 Fiat 124 Abarth is just the ticket. However, for those that want to go fast, for less money, the Mazda Miata is the better choice.

In his recent review and instrument test, John Pearley Huffman at Car and Driver clearly explains the upsides to the new Fiat 124 Spider Abarth. It has more torque in low RPM ranges, and it has some optional seats that work great for people with narrow backsides. Both of the Americans with that shaped butt will be thrilled. What they might not like is that the 124 Spider Abarth, with its 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, takes 6.7 seconds to get to 60 MPH compared to the Miata’s 5.9 seconds. Both of those results were recorded by Car and Driver.

- Read More About Miata - New Mazda MX-5 Miata is faster than what car?

When we first saw the European acceleration test results, we reported that the Miata may be faster. Some of our readers responded that the difference could be from an extra shift being needed since the Europeans actually test to 62 MPH (because they use that newfangled metric system). Our readers are smart, and I filed that away as a possible reason. Nope. The Fiat engine is better on paper, but in real-life the Miata with the normally-aspirated 2.0-liter four cylinder engine is faster. (More on page 2)

If it were only the zero to sixty measurement in which the Miata was faster, we would again say it could just be shift points. However, the Miata was also faster in top-gear acceleration. Let's face facts, the Miata’s aluminum engine with no turbo and less power is still faster than the iron-block turbo from Fiat. But why?

Without having the power and torque curves to analyze we will speculate it is as simple as “Power under the curve.” An engine that has more power during more of its operation is always faster than one that has less, but has a peak at the top few hundred RPMs. That plus the gearing is our guess as to why the normally aspirated engine is faster in this comparison.

Mr. Huffman is one of the best writers in the biz, so please read his excellent argument for a normally aspirated engine in a roadster. I will just say it plainly: Small turbo engines are not as enjoyable as normally aspirated (non-turbo engines) in roadsters. Wringing them out at high RPMs and operating in the 3K to 6K RPM range is sort of the point. In the case of these two similar cars made on the same production line, the turbo is not just less fun than the Mazda engine; it is also slower.

- Read an opposing opinion here- Why the 124 Spider Abarth is the better car.

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Nino (not verified)    July 7, 2016 - 2:22PM

In reply to by John brown (not verified)

Convinced you of what? the facts? not really an opinion piece, they are just seeing which car accelerates quicker. Unless you mean the "fun to drive" part - on that note, I think the Fiat makes sense for the 55 and up crowd - seems more like a cruiser than the mx-5.

Robert W Eucare (not verified)    August 9, 2016 - 10:09AM

In reply to by Nino (not verified)

That's Ageist, man. I'm 56 and I still prefer the Mazda because of the inherent handling and balance, not to mention the quality control is better. Don't forget Fiat killed Ensign Chekov.

John (not verified)    July 13, 2016 - 6:28AM

I suspected that, as base cars, the Mazda may be marginally quicker than the Fiat.
However, it really doesn't matter. Why?

Well, because the Fiat has a turbocharged engine. One that is designed to put out much , MUCH more power, very easily. The Mazda does not.

See, with a turbo engine, producing MUCH more power takes about 3 minutes. You just buy an aftermarket tuning program (which usually produces more power primarily by producing more boost from the turbo), plug it in, and away you go. And if you want more power, bolt on a cold air induction,which might take another 5 minutes.

How much more power?
Well, my experience with the Abarth engine is that about 50 more horsepower can be reliably bolted on/plugged in in about 10 minutes.

That simply is NOT possible on the Mazda, because no program is going to give you more than 5 hp. No CAI is going to give you more than about 7 or 8 hp.
In other words, in the real world, the Mazda will be much, MUCH slower to anyone who really cares.

A Fiat 124 Abarth with, say, 220hp would devastate a Mazda or a Honda S2000, or a lot of other cars.
Wait a month, then talk to Eurocompulsion or one of several other companies doing Fiat aftermarket stuff. It'll be a lot of fun.

Steve (not verified)    July 20, 2016 - 10:27AM

I thought it was also that the ND drive train was much more efficient in getting it's 15Xhp to the ground. I vaguely recall seeing dyno plots someone did of an NC vs ND miata and even though the ND has less rated HP the hp to the ground was almost identical if not in favor of the ND. Doesn't the fiata use an NC trans as well so that + weight could account for the differences.

Richard Gladwell (not verified)    July 27, 2016 - 7:07AM

I drive a NC touring Miata, this is my 3rd Miata going from the early NA. I recently test drove the ND Miata and was not impressed at all in comparison with My NC. Power appeared only similar, the engine in my opinion was not as good as the 2liter Ford engine on the NC. Mine revs more freely and eagerly to 7200rpm and also seems more torquey. The shorter wheelbase and the cramped confined interior I didn't like. Due to the lower weight it felt much more darty and unrefined with cramped interior in comparison to my great NC; and no glove box and a smaller trunk, plus cup holders that you have to physically manually put in place! I have the NC with the electric hard top, and it just feels so superior and handles great with an excellent smooth ride with minimal body roll in comparison. All I have done to improve the handling, ride, and power is as follows, which has transformed the car with minimal cost involved. Koni shocks and ugraded springs, stiffer sway bars, and a full stainless steel free flowing exhaust system with four branch manifold, and that is all. Just a couple of days ago I went and test drove the new Fiat 124spider (the already so called "Fiata"). I was even more so totally disappointed with the driving of it in comparison with the ND Miata I recently drove! Let me just say, I love the styling, far more than the ND but that is just personal taste. But again, in comparison, the ride was poorer, less smooth, particularly in comparison with my NC, but that 1.4 turbo engine was horrible. Unless you floor it, it is gutless under normal driving conditions, the only time I got any power was when I floored it, and then there was turbo lag, and that higher torque figure didn't show at all until you really put your foot down, and then again, to my surprise, it didn't feel nearly as responsive or fast accelerating as the ND or my NC. The handling was very good with minimal body roll and better in this respect that the ND Miata, but no better than my NC. When I got back in mine and drove home, it fealt like "night and day"!! In every area mine felt superior and more refined, faster, more torquey and responsive, far better throttle response, less cramped, more storage space, a glove box, superior steering feel, and superb handling.
What can I say further? For me, having tested both, and thus all three back to back, in summation, the ND is a far better to drive sports car, far more engaging for the enthusiast than the Fiat. The Fiat looks great but the engine really lets it down with very poor throttle response and really lacking good linear power unlike the other two. All in all I will def stick with my NC with the electric all weather hard top, and with the few excellent modifications above, is, in my humble opinion, the best of the bunch, with def the best power train and feels so much more refined - I was shocked and surprised to say the least. Just to confirm, I am a long time Miata owner having owned 3, and now driven them all inc the Fiata, but give me the NC touring package any day and spend just a modest amount on the few improvements I made to mine and you will own one of the greatest affordable sportscars ever!

John Goreham    July 27, 2016 - 2:11PM

In reply to by Richard Gladwell (not verified)

Richard, thank you for the excellent analysis. Detailed prior knowledge of how these cars feel is what is missing in many reviews I read of the Fiat and Miata. Forgetting all of the design differences and the names and numbers, what I care most about is how the Miata feels flying down a country road with turns and elevation changes. How it pulls from a corner, and how the engine and transmission feel to me as I hold the revs high in anticipation of either engine braking or using the 4K to 6.5K RPM range to power out of a turn. I have owned the NC as well (07 GT with Bilstein package), and it was brilliant at this. The ND Miata did also impress me in that same type of driving and I liked the small changes to the new six speed I felt. Looking forward to driving the new Fiat versions and seeing how their engines behave. Thanks again for weighing in. ps - I was just talking to a friend this week about how one cannot tell the difference in real-world driving between, say, 6.1 seconds 0-60 MPH (NC) and 5.9 (ND). There does come a point where it is noticeable though, and 8/10ths of a second may be close to that point. I will soon find out!

Bill billgoat (not verified)    August 14, 2016 - 7:48AM

Guys, Honda perfected the roadster with the s2000 and moved on. If you want a driving experience look no further.

Richard Gladwell (not verified)    August 15, 2016 - 10:10AM

If you want the perfect sportscar look no further than the Porsche Cayman or if you prefer convertible, the new Boxster S. But for most at this level of the market, they are out of the price range. However, once again, I have driven them both, the Boxster and the S2000, and whilst they are both great machine's they are both lacking something that you can't exactly put your finger on, I call it character and fun. Therefore, that is why I am on my third, and third generation MX-5 Miata and all of these, in their time, give you that special feeling of lightness, great driving experience on the twisties, and just sheer fun, esp for the money!! I have read many posts where people have a Boxster or a S2000 but also own a Miata, and they state, for the most part, that they generally find themselves taking out the Miata! I wonder why? You tell me, because I think I know why, and that is why the MX-5 is by far the largest selling, AND most raced sportscar Ever sold.

Joe (not verified)    August 18, 2016 - 9:24AM

It is really too bad Mazda made the interior so tiny in the Miata. I'm 6'3", and simply can not get my legs in. I ended up buying a Mini Roadster, two-seater...soooo much leg room, but god I prefer RWD.

John Goreham    August 18, 2016 - 11:28AM

In reply to by Joe (not verified)

It is. I am 6 feet tall and owned a 2007 NC. Back then there was a cupholder in the door made of hard plastic. I still have a dent in my left knee from it. We tall folks also get the wind in the head. I think about 5'10 is the tallest one can be and have it go over. I traded that car for a convertible Lexus that was much larger, but not even close to as much fun.

Ereen (not verified)    August 19, 2016 - 7:35AM

Article written by a 14 year-old? It's faster (not even close to the gap listed though) and it has zero to do with aluminum motors and power "under the curve"

It's called Pork...and fiat has a lot more. Several hundred pounds more, because it's a lot bigger. Second is gear ratio. MX-5 uses the new transmission, the Fiat uses previous generation.

You honestly think if you put the Abarth motor in the mx-5 body it would be slower?

John Goreham    August 19, 2016 - 11:01AM

In reply to by Ereen (not verified)

The 0-60 MPH time gap listed is based on actual testing by the same source. According to Mazda's Official Specs, the '16 MX-5 weighs 2,332 pounds. Fiat's official specs say it weighs 2,477, and that is the manual transmission 124 Spider Abarth (the other 124s are lighter). So the weight difference is 145 pounds, which is not really "several hundred." We point out the gearing is a factor in the fifth paragraph. Aluminum vs. iron engine parts relates directly to the weight difference you say is the key factor. Any 14 year old would know that.

Al (not verified)    January 7, 2017 - 8:32AM

Nothing new, there are a lot of cars with less Hp and torque that are quicker than those with more. Also you can modify almost any car to higher outputs. That wasn't the point of the article, the point was is stock form (as 90% of all buyers keep cars) the Mazda is quicker, that's the only point