Not unusually for Fiat, the 124’s entry price positions it above its closest rival.
While a basic 1.5-litre MX-5 costs £18,495, the Italians clearly believe that the pokier Multiair engine and other idiosyncrasies make the Spider £1000 better, at £19,545 for Classica trim.
While that car’s spec isn’t impoverished (the 7.0in multimedia screen and DAB can be added for £500), it does miss out on the 17in alloys, sat-nav, heated seats and climate control that come with mid-range Lusso.
That is the level we’d opt for, in this case making the 124 cheaper than a range-topping MX-5 2.0 Sport Nav at £22,295 – but still £1200 pricier than the equivalent SE-L Nav.
It’s worth noting, too, that you also miss out on the slippy diff that comes as standard with the larger MX-5 engine. With that in mind, we would be inclined to hold on until the Abarth version is available.
At least you get the promise of improved running costs. As well as marginally better combined fuel economy (44.1mpg versus 40.9mpg), the turbocharged engine emits less CO2, too: 148g/km to the Mazda’s 161g/km.
In the real world, the picture is murkier. A shortage of time with our test car left no room for True MPG evaluation, although even at a gentle tour we couldn’t wrestle better than 38.3mpg from the Spider.
That’s acceptable for a sports car with the Fiat’s turn of speed, perhaps, but well shy of the 46.1mpg average the 1.5-litre MX-5 returned last year.