The original and an Italian take on the Japanese icon

You could argue that this is unfair. There’s a fair fight to be had between a Mazda MX-5 and the Italian version of it, the Fiat 124 Spider. But perhaps putting one of the softer 124s against a sportier version of the MX-5 isn’t entirely like for like. And then we put them not on country roads but on a racetrack. It was a small racetrack, Blyton Park in Lincolnshire, but a track nonetheless. Ain’t life unfair?

The issue here is that the MX-5 in this form, with the 2.0-litre 158bhp engine that comes with the Recaro edition, is quite a performer. Let’s not get carried away, as round a track you are reminded that it’s no Caterham Seven, but it does have excellent body control, while the limited slip differential does help keep the nose pointed in the right direction in corners. 

The 1.4-litre turbocharged four-pot in the Fiat is 20bhp down and it feels like more. Combine that with much softer suspension, more body roll in corners, diving under braking and pitching under acceleration, and you really do see that the Italians are aiming at a different market with their version. 

Perhaps the Abarth version, which should be with us soon, will provide a more equal challenger, but for now the 124 Spider is so off the pace that it could only post a time 2.5sec slower than the Mazda. In the context of the Mazda’s lap of 1:17.1, that’s a very large gap. 

Mind you, that Mazda MX-5 lap time is actually 0.2sec faster than even a Ford Fiesta ST200, so that gives you some idea of just how quick the Japanese sports car is round a track. 


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