On Autos: Fiat roadster’s retro styling hides Mazda roots

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The new 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is mechanically related to the Mazda MX-5 Miata. (Brady Holt/The Current)

The Mazda MX-5 Miata is a notable sports car that’s truly fun to drive even in a congested city. Super-quick steering and an eager but not overly powerful engine can bring joy to even everyday conditions, and you don’t have to risk a speed-camera ticket — or worse — for the Miata to make you smile.

While it’s still sporty and fun, the 2017 Fiat 124 Spider is more relaxed than its Mazda counterpart. (Brady Holt/The Current)

But if you’re interested in a calmer, less frenetic experience from a similarly petite and similarly affordable two-seat roadster, give a look to the new 2017 Fiat 124 Spider. This Fiat has retro styling that recalls the Italian brand’s 1970s convertibles, but under the skin it’s actually a Miata. Fiat provided its own turbocharged four-cylinder engine and tweaked the rest of the car’s driving experience, but the 124 is manufactured in Japan on the Miata’s assembly line.

However, drivers who’ve loved the Miata’s joyful attitude may be disappointed by the Fiat. At least by the standards of low-slung open-top vehicles, the 124 Spider is relatively calm — the car doesn’t zip forward eagerly when you touch the accelerator, or instantly start to swerve as you begin to turn the wheel. These characteristics — along with a slightly smoother ride — make the Fiat the better of the two for gentle cruising in lovely weather. The 124 also has a slightly larger trunk than the Mazda, though both are pretty tiny.

The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider shares a stylish but small interior with the Mazda MX-5 Miata. (Brady Holt/The Current)

The cabin is also confining. The tallest drivers and passengers won’t have room for their legs or heads. You need to be fairly slim, too, to fit into the narrow seats, and somewhat agile to get in and out of the low Fiat. This concern also affects the Miata, as the 124 Spider makes almost no changes to the Mazda interior. The same applies to the Miata’s super-easy manual folding top, which takes just a second to raise or lower and which doesn’t rob trunk space. (The Fiat doesn’t share the Mazda’s optional power-retractable hardtop, though.)

Prices for the 2017 124 Spider start at $25,990, in line with the MX-5 Miata’s $25,750.