I have never been skinny. Though I was always an active kid, around the time I began attending grade school I slowly but surely got pudgier and puffier.
By the time I entered high school, I was beyond just a little chubby and had reached a pleasantly plump stage. During that time, I discovered the wonders of beer. And then its detriments to my midsection.
Luckily my weight hit a plateau around my sophomore year and it remained the same until well beyond my graduation. That is, until I began working as a cook at an upscale Italian restaurant.
Every day I was eating pasta with rich, creamy sauces and enough cheese that it is by some miracle my bowels still aren’t backed up.
With this diet, and plenty of beer and wine to wash it down, my gut suddenly began expanding once again and has yet to recover.
That brings me to the 2018 FIAT Abarth 124 Spider.
If you prefer meatballs over miso, I suggest when considering between the Mazda MX-5 and the 124, you just may be better off with the Italian.
Though the 124 carries an Italian badge, it is built on the underpinnings of the Mazda MX-5 and assembled in the same factory in Hiroshima, Japan. From the driver’s seat, the MX-5 and 124 share just about every button and knob and even have the same infotainment system.
But a discernable difference between the Japanese roadster and its Italian cousin is the Abarth seems better suited to those living on the same diet I had during my stint in the Italian restaurant.
Exiting the MX-5 gave me the idea of what it’s like to be birthed. I didn’t so much get into the car as plop down into it and hope I managed to fit. And once I took my driving position — or more accurately was forced into it by the confines of the Mazda — I longed to stretch my legs a bit more and sit more upright.
I did not come across these issues in the Abarth. Sure the Abarth is built on the same platform, but Italians have allowed for a bit more leg and headroom. My meatball-physique didn’t seem so contained.
Clearly, the FIAT is more suited to a diet rich in red wine and pasta and, as expected, is heavier. But does it provide the same driving sensation as the car on which it is based?
The Abarth edition comes with a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine that cranks out nine more horsepower and a bit more torque than the MX-5’s naturally-aspirated two-liter. This makes the Italian a bit faster initially off the line, but the Mazda will be pulling away while the 124’s turbo is spooling.
Like the MX-5, the real fun from the Abarth comes in the corners. Both are well composed upon entry and exit, but the Abarth is slightly more planted with scant body roll. However, upon the Mazda has the advantage in exit speed because it isn’t held back by turbo lag. Though the FIAT is slightly less prone to body roll, it somehow also manages to have a smoother ride on the interstate.
The most discernable difference between the two roadsters is their looks. Though everyone I spoke with said the MX-5’s aggressive appearance were far better than the 124’s classic roadster design — with its long hood, short decklid and oval grille — but there was something about the Spider’s appearance that I appreciated, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
While all these factors are important in distinguishing the vehicular cousins, the vital questions remains — which should you choose to put in your garage?
When I tested the MX-5 a few weeks ago, I professed my love. That did come with the caveat that I would not have one as a daily driver. It was too loud, too small and too rough for the daily commute.
Well, the Abarth is quieter, a big bigger and somewhat smoother than the car on which it is based.
We are not talking much bigger here. The Abarth has 0.4 more cubic feet of trunk space, which means instead of just being able to fit a toothbrush in the MX-5, you can get a brush and a tube of Crest in the FIAT.
I’m still not convinced I would have the 124 for my daily driver, but I am a lot more willing to consider it than the Mazda.
But when you have an open stretch of road, the MX-5’s noise, stiffer ride and tight compounds add to the experience that so few cars are able to provide so well. And that’s not to say the 124 does not. The Japanese version is just ever so slightly better in that regard.
Ultimately, I’m a fan of both of these cars and would be happy to have either if I had $30,000 burning a hole in my pocket.
But if I did decide to go with the Mazda, I’d need to skip on the pasta for a while.