Mazda MX-5-FR-S-BR-Z-FIAT 124-370Z
America has been in love with little two-seater roadsters ever since soldiers started shipping them home after WWII. 70 years later, the players have changed, but our love of small, nimble, rear-wheel drive cars still lives in those who appreciate the freedom of an open road with a bevy of sweeping turns and rolling expanses of undulating pavement. Today, to achieve that same sense of exhilaration, Las Vegas driving enthusiasts only have 5 choices, two of which are the same car offered by two different manufacturers, essentially narrowing the choice to four. Those two are the Toyota FR-S and the Subaru BR-Z. The remaining three are the Nissan 370Z Roadster, Fiat 124 Spider, and the Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Drop Top Fun
The Toyota FR-S and Subaru BR-Z are two seater sports cars, but they lack something the other contenders in the segment have, or more correctly, can’t lose something the others can… the hard top. The Subaru BR-Z and the Toyota FR-S do offer great performance, but if you want real driving fun, nothing beats devouring two lane mountain roads with the top down. And driving down the Las Vegas Strip not only to see the sights, but to also be seen, is much better in a convertible. Sorry Toyota and Subaru, your modesty in regards to removing your top just isn’t what we are looking for when it comes to unadulterated driving fun her in Las Vegas. Unlike the Toyota/Subaru entry, the Nissan 350Z is available as a convertible. However, it was designed as a hardtop and modified to be a convertible, and not built from the ground up to be a convertible like the Mazda MX-5. That leaves the Fiat 124 convertible. The Fiat shares the same underpinnings as the Mazda MX-5, but it’s longer, heavier, and still looks much like it did when it was introduced in the ‘70s and continued to do so into the ‘80s when Fiat eventually exited the U.S. market. it’s hard to see the point in driving a new Mazda-based Fiat with 45-year old styling cues that didn’t garnish enough sales to help it survive the era it was originally built for. A Fiat based on Zoom-Zoom, just isn’t the same as getting your Zoom-Zoom from the real deal.
At nearly $20,000 more than the next highest priced vehicle in this comparison, the Nissan 370Z is really not even in the same ballpark. The other four are within a few hundred dollars of each other, but the Mazda MX-5 Miata edges them out coming in the lowest at $25,750 when comparably equipped.
Power and Performance
All but the Nissan 370Z come with 4-cylinder engines. The Nissan comes with a V-6. With two more cylinders it’s no surprise that the 370Z puts out the largest horsepower number of the bunch. But the appeal of the open top two-seater has never been about horsepower. It’s more about balance, power to weight ratios, and throwing everything it’s got into a curve to slingshot out the other side. At 1,100 pounds heavier than the Mazda Miata, the Nissan 370Z’s 332 hp becomes more of a liability than an asset under those conditions. The BR-Z/FR-S offers 200 hp@7000 rpm, but not only weighs 400 lbs more than the Mazda Miata, doesn’t achieve peak torque until you hit 6400 rpm. It takes a lot of work to keep everything wound up that tight to get the most out of that H-4 engine which takes away from the enjoyment of the experience—the whole purpose of owning a ragtop two-seater. The Fiat does have 5 more horsepower than the Mazda Miata MX-5, and offers more torque than the Miata, 184@2500 rpm versus 148@4600 rpm. It looks good for the Fiat even though it weighs 100 lbs. more. But once again, it’s the handling that wins out for the Mazda. Remember the underpinnings were built for the Mazda, and only adapted to the Fiat, so it’s inherently designed to work better with the Mazda, which offers a much better driving experience.
To keep you out on the road enjoying your top down driving experience, both the Mazda Miata and the Fiat Spider offer very similar and respectable fuel economy numbers. The Miata boasts 27/34 MPG city/HWY while the Fiat returns 26/35 City/HWY. If you’re looking to the Toyota/Subaru entry in the segment, you better carry some extra cash to keep up with the Miata crowd as they come in at 22 City/30 HWY. Better bring your ATM card if you opt for the 370Z, it only gets a dismal 17 City and 24 HWY.
All of these vehicles offer performance and handling suitable for just about every need. The Nissan 370Z offers pure power, the Toyota FR-S/Subaru BR-Z offers great performance and handling but lacks the open top thrills and suffers in the economy category. The Fiat 124 Spider is an ‘80s flashback, but comes with some Mazda DNA at its core. But none offer the performance, the economy and the pure driving joy, of an open top Mazda MX-5 Miata.