Without question, the Mazda is the easier decision to make, but plump for the Fiat and you’ll be rewarded by a sweet and surprisingly tenacious front-drive set-up, more artful styling and a degree of rarity that will have onlookers doing double-takes.
True, you’ll have to sit on the wrong side of the car to steer it but that’s just part of its charm. The big issue is corrosion. Old MX-5s rust badly, too, but the Barchetta fell prey from day one. The floor and the rear wheel arches suffer worst. A faulty rear hood seal and UK cars’ generous underseal (it traps water, causing the floor to rot) are the culprits. Another, although far less serious, weak spot is the variator. It controls the inlet timing and can become seized, causing the engine to run badly and make a noise not unlike a diesel engine at around 2000rpm. It’s not terminal but will need replacing. It’s best to do it, along with the water pump, at every second cambelt change. This job falls every three years or 36,000 miles. The belt itself is durable; it’s the tensioner that can fail. The problem lies in its lubrication. Rarely used cars are most at risk because the bearing grease is allowed to sink, causing the bearings themselves to run dry. Then the tensioner seizes, the belt jumps and you need a new engine.