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124 Spider Abarth vs Miata Club: Different Strokes For Different Folks

The Miata and 124 Abarth are the very definition of siblings. Both created when a proposition was made and a project was collaborated upon. They’re very similar but are both a product of the parent it was closest to. It was as if the 124 was the twin that got to go with Dad on his cool business trips while the Miata was the twin that stayed home with Mom and got good in school. They come from the same place, but were raised differently.

 

(Full Disclosure: Fiat wanted me to drive this car so bad that they made me go to Florida to buy a Miata, drive all the way back, and then brushed me aside for 2 months until they finally gave in and gave me a damn test drive at a local dealer.)

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Okay, so is that like a long-winded way of saying they’re both the same and different?

Yes.


So how do both cars differ?

Good question. Both the Miata and 124 share the same bones, however their hearts are different. The Miata uses a naturally aspirated aluminum 2.0L 4 cylinder whereas the Abarth uses a turbocharged iron block 1.4L 4 pot. The exteriors are also different, with the Abarth using bigger, more pronounced body panels. In terms of feel, the Miata is always ready to play no matter what time it is, and the Abarth knows how to settle down and get comfortable when it wants to, which is ironic considering the appearance and sound of this car.


How so?

Well don’t take my word for it. Take a listen:



That actually sounds really good.

Right? And that’s from the smaller, 1.4 Liter engine from Fiat. Combined with the looks, it’s rather odd that the more masculine sibling is actually more comfortable than the Miata is. And that goes back to the over arching theme here. The Miata stayed home and improved itself. It decided on it’s mother’s insistence to take ballet lessons and try out for the track team, whereas Dad said “Look, I’m a little busy. Go have fun, you’re young! Do what you want!” and that’s exactly what the 124 did. We’ll touch on this more in a bit.

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What do you think of the styling?

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I’m kinda torn. The styling on both of these cars is great but they differ on their deliveries. The Miata comes across as a modern, swoopy roadster, while the Abarth distances itself from the stylist look by offering some feel good nostalgia of yesteryear. And it actually does a good job. But the theme does come back again. The Miata looks like it’s sculpted from metal and is a very attractive car. The 124 comes across as a bigger car with it’s larger haunches, but taking a look at it’s small wheels reveals that this sibling skipped leg day. If you’d asked me, I really couldn’t choose. It’s more up to you and if you like Modern vs Retro.


Okay, got it. So how do they drive?

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Going back to our analogy, the 124 decided that it did want to have some fun. So off it went. Party after party, getting absolutely blasted. But of course, you don’t get to have this kind of lifestyle without repercussions. Over time, the 124 grew a bit of a beer gut whereas the Miata kept practicing the grand jeté. However, what the 124 loses in driver focus it makes up in sociability; it learned how to talk to girls (or guys, depending on how you are interpreting this analogy) while the Miata got too focused to care and thus became a tad awkward in social spaces. And it shows in how the drive.

For example: The Miata’s steering is great for spirited driving because it’s light and responsive, but in daily driving it can be a bit twitchy, requiring constant corrections on the highway. Not so much with the 124. The 124’s steering has been dialed down just a tad to offer some ease and comfort on the highway while still keeping most of its feedback and responsiveness. Fiat continued this theme by tuning the suspension on the 124 to be softer but flatter than the Miata’s firmer but more roll prone suspension setup. Because of this, the rear end of the 124 is way more willing to step out than its sister car is while suffering from a bit less balance in the corners. Even with all this in mind though, both cars handle very similarly.

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What separates these two siblings the most are their engines. The 2.0L naturally aspirated SkyActiv engine in the Miata feels like it’s meant to be there. It’s more than happy to dance through the rev range and loves to sing it’s heart out at the top. The 1.4L Turbo MultiAir engine in the Fiat falls flat. Or rather, has an awkward turbo faceplant when you catch it with its pants down at the bottom end of the rev range. It also runs out of breath at the top end as well, giving you no reason to wring the engine out; it feels half baked.

The same can be said for the transmission. The Miata’s transmission is fun to use and easy to modulate. The 124's transmission is a tad less so with the clutch being heavier and the take up being higher. The Flywheel is also a bit heavier, resulting in revs taking longer to come down and making heel-toe downshifts sort of awkward.

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Dang, I know you said they’re similar, but you’re really laying into the 124 here.

I am, but where the 124 really shines is not on the outside, but on the inside. Figuratively and literally. Literally because the interior beats the Miata’s by a country mile. On the surface, it doesn’t look like Fiat did much:

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But upon closer inspection, you can tell they made quite an effort to make the interior feel more upscale. And it does. Whereas the Miata has plastic abound, the 124's dash and doors are adorned in soft touch plastics. The 124 also beats out the Miata’s steering wheel, with the 124's feeling a lot nicer in your hands. It’s small, chunky, and has high quality leather compared to its sibling’s large, skinny, and poorly wrapped leather wheel which feels like it’s been stretched to it’s breaking point. Then there’s the seats. Compared to the Miata with its silly cloth seats these babies feel like thrones in comparison, most likely owing to it’s plusher foam. Get the Abarth, and you’re treated to both leather and micro suede, which when paired with the 124's extra sound deadening, definitely boosts the upscale feel of the 124. It’s odd for a car this enthusiastic to feel this luxurious when you’re not pushing it.


Okay, so what’s the damage?

Now here’s where things take a bit of a turn. Since the 4th generation Miata and the new 124 have been introduced, people have been wondering what the resale value of each was going to look like in a year or two, with many people formulating that the 124 would lose more value over time than the Miata would.

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Those people were correct. At a glance, the 2018 Abarth looks like a better value new starting $28,295 where the 2018 Miata Club starts $29,155. You might think that you’re getting a bargain based on the fact that the Abarth already comes with heated leather seats, navigation, extra sound deadening, etc. where the Miata has cloth seats and hard plastic. But even though the 1.4L engine from Fiat is regarded as being more reliable than most other Fiat sourced engines; You can’t get rid of the Fiat badge on the steering wheel.

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If we go ahead and look at left over 2016 and 2017 Miata’s we can see that they’ve generally dropped in price about 2 to 3 grand in most cases:

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But if we look at left over Abarth’s, the drop is a little more dramatic with even 2018 Abarth’s going for 3 to even 5 grand lower than their MSRP:

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It gets even worse when we go to to actual used examples, with 2016 Miata’s and 2017 Abarth’s with similar miles fetching very close prices:

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So as people have correctly guessed, the Abarth has lost more value quicker than the Miata has, even year older models. So if you’re the type of Jalop/Opponaut that likes to get ahead of the deprecation curve, the Abarth is the way to go. Don’t get me wrong, the Abarth is still a great driver’s car, and it’s great fun. But people are willing to shell out that extra dough for that driving purity, luxury features be damned.


So from what I understand, both the Miata and the 124 are very similar, but the difference is that both cars have a different audience?

You got it. Figuratively, it’s not just the interior where the 124 shines. What the 124 lacks in agility, it makes up for in its spirit. Where the Miata makes things look easy, the 124 tries. It damn well tries it’s best. Both cars are a result of how they were raised and that reflects on who they aim to please.

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The Miata sets the bar. It’s elegant, sophisticated, and beautiful. They’re your personal ballet instructor. The Miata gives you a helping hand and teaches you the ins and outs of the trade and makes it fun. And even though the Miata can become obsessed with its passion, it’s still a wonderful thing to behold in action. When you go to Cirque Du Soleil, you expect to see a graceful dance with acrobats flying through the air, marveling at how they came to be so good at what they do. You don’t expect someone to come onto the stage, impressively down a glass of fireball and then start doing the Melbourne Shuffle. That’s not who the Miata is.

That’s who the 124 is, and they’re the life of the party. When they’re talking to you, they make you feel like the most interesting person on the planet. Then they’re able to go chug from the beer bong, pass out, and wake up the next morning to clean up and then get an early start on the paper they have due in 2 weeks. Sure, the 124 isn’t as athletic or as focused as it’s sibling, but it makes up for it in it’s own unique way while still finding a way to relax. And it just has fun. The 124 takes opportunities where it finds them. Both cars know how to have fun and then get back in line, and that’s why you know both cars come from the same place.

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Both the Miata and the 124 accomplish the same goals in that they make you feel special, where they differ is in how they do this. In their own way, both of these cars make you feel like a star. The Miata does it by showing you proper poise and to use lightness to your benefit. The 124 does it by encouraging you to floor it around that corner and hanging a sweet drift. One of these methods is not for everyone, but both are valid. And that’s okay.

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