RE: 2019 Mazda MX-5 vs Toyota GT86 Blue Edition

RE: 2019 Mazda MX-5 vs Toyota GT86 Blue Edition

Saturday 22nd September 2018

2019 Mazda MX-5 vs Toyota GT86 Blue Edition

Are the MX-5's latest revisions enough to usurp the Toyota as our favourite Japanese sports car?



Those with good memories may recall we’ve been here before: a little more than three years ago, in fact, on the North Coast 500. The then-new Mazda MX-5 ND, fresh from the UK launch event out of Inverness, taken to face the cheapest GT86 that could be purchased at the time, the £22k Primo. Back then the Toyota was victorious, despite being the cheaper car, thanks to its more resolved dynamics and greater driver enjoyment. It was close, but beyond doubt.

Now though we have the Blue Edition the most expensive GT86 available, here with the optional Performance Pack too - which, if word is to be believed, will need everything it can muster to maintain its advantage over this new MX-5. Faster, better to drive and still good value, could now be the time for the little Mazda to assume top dog status?

It’s says much for the glacial pace of GT86 development that the car had already been around for three years when this fourth generation of MX-5 arrived; three years further on and the roadster has been overhauled, while the Toyota is still broadly similar. Sure, the 2017 update was pretty significant, but fundamentally this car is as you were in 2012. Can it really be that good, that far beyond improvement? Or will the Mazda prove the benefits of more frequent and substantial tinkering?


While the temptation is to head straight for the MX-5 and see just what a new GT Sport Nav+ (catchy, right?) is all about, it seems more appropriate to get reacquainted with the Toyota. Just to be sure how familiar it is. Perhaps it’s altered from what those grainy memories suggest, or significantly changed from Orange Edition to Blue. Maybe...

It isn’t. And you know what? It doesn’t need to be. Those who don’t get the ’86 never will now; what it means for us in the alternative camp is that the car continues to be an absolute tonic in the contemporary automotive world. For driver engagement, involvement and reward, the Toyota can still show up many more expensive cars.

It’s the small things, but they’re elements so frequently overlooked elsewhere. The driver sits low with the wheel out, the gearbox is well sited and perfectly weighted, the pedals likewise and the steering wheel, while now with buttons – sacrilege, surely(!) – is a nice diameter and the right thickness. Think of the cars that get all of those absolutely spot on – seating position, steering wheel, pedals, gearbox or paddles – and the list is going to be pretty small.


That sense of inherent rightness continues on the road; nothing dominates in the GT86, rather every component of the package just seems to work in perfect harmony with all the others. The car isn’t doing the driver’s job for you – indeed some would say the ’86 could help the driver more, with extra power – instead it offers you all the tools to really interact with and enjoy the experience as you wish. What the driver puts in with the ’86 is what they get out, which is why it frustrates those coming from all-wheel drive, automatic or turbocharged cars – decent pace can be maintained and enjoyed, but it must be worked at and conserved, rather than simply indulged in at a moment’s notice. Naturally if you don’t want to do that, the Toyota will never make sense. Yet how often do we hear of the joy manifest in traditional sports cars, where momentum mattered and the experience took precedence over the bald stats? Here’s a brand new one for you, a very good one actually, with a five-year warranty and heated seats. So stop whingeing.

That isn’t to say the ’86 can escape all criticism, however. The engine is gruffer than Ray Winstone on a hangover, wheezing through the mid-range and never really coming alive as you’d hope, 7,000rpm power peak or not. (It should be noted our test car was barely run in, though experience of older cars suggests it doesn’t improve that much.) As for the £1,460 Performance Pack, it would probably take a back-to-back drive to detect the impact of the Brembo brakes and Sachs dampers; maybe the pedal is a tad firmer, perhaps the body control a little tighter. But it's much of a muchness. Finally, well, its kerbweight is only 40kg less than a 308 GTI - how exactly does that happen?


There are chinks in the armour for the MX-5 to aim at then, positive first impressions from the international launch still fresh in a bright and breezy Britain. That it feels – spoiler alert, sorry guys – so much improved should not only be concerning news for the ’86, but also welcome for those of us not entirely convinced of the MX-5’s merits before this facelift. And who were met with some pretty vocal criticism as a result.

This MX-5 still isn’t perfect, mind. There’s still a slight choppiness to the ride, something seemingly mismatched in the set up and the torsional rigidity that means the Mazda can be bobbling and wobbling in the UK when you need it to be more composed and level. That said, it’s better than before, and is really about as serious as the criticisms get.

As a driver’s car, the MX-5 feels much more cohesive and homogenous than it did before the update. Where previously each steering input seemed to catch the car by surprise, body flopping onto its outside corner, the response is now much more incisive – you steer, car follows, in exactly the manner always hoped of a 1,000kg roadster and yet which never quite materialised previously.


Moreover, while it may be a placebo of the more adjustable steering wheel, there seems a better sense of connection between that slightly-too-large rim and the front contact patches. Still not perfect, sure, but it’s another layer of dynamic transparency that was rather lacking in the old MX-5.

The biggest change, as you’re probably aware now, comes under the bonnet, with the Mazda now revving higher, pulling harder and going faster. The gains were welcome in isolation, but here, against a Toyota engine which has never been brilliant, they feel absolutely fantastic. The Skyactiv-G 2.0-litre has so much energy and enthusiasm – no doubt a result of those lighter internals – that it revs with seemingly no inertia whatsoever, zipping up to that new 7,500rpm limiter with abandon. In contrast, that GT86 lump feels pretty lethargic and a tad uninspiring.

What the engine work also means is that the MX-5 now feels genuinely brisk, as opposed to simply giving that impression before. Probably because the wind was in your hair. The power and kerbweight claims are very similar to those once given to the Renaultsport Clio 182, so you can see how the impression of proper performance – for want of a better phrase – comes about. Not only does the engine now rev out more enthusiastically, it sounds better and feels stronger lower down the rev range, despite a negligible torque increase. Combine all that with everything that was good about the MX-5 powertrain before – short ratios, great shift action, nice throttle response – and the end result is tremendous fun. Imagine what could happen when BBR get to work on it...


So while the GT86 may remain a slightly better honed driver’s car, the range of improvements in the MX-5 make it more compelling than ever. It wasn’t without charm before, of course, but by enhancing the good bits, addressing the issues and leaving alone what didn’t need to be touched, the end result is a tangibly more entertaining and more appealing sports car. Therefore given the straight choice, for the first time in half a dozen years it would be the MX-5 that gets the nod over a GT86. Big news indeed...

However, that’s not quite the end of the story. Because whenever these cars are discussed, there are always the hot hatches to consider as well. You know, the cars that offer more power and more space for less money while officially using less fuel, the pesky blighters. Well, as luck would have it, there’s a Fiesta ST along for the ride at the same time as the Japanese pair. And yes, it has more power than the MX-5, superior torque to either, rear seats for adult humans and an as tested price way below £25k – it’s an attractive position on paper. That remains true on the road as well; it’s a different proposition to the other two, feistier, angrier and tougher, though no less endearing for pursuing a more aggressive path. The Quaife-enhanced front axle forages for traction eagerly, it feels just as fast as the sports cars and it’ll oversteer (off the power, of course) just as willingly as the rear-wheel drive cars. It remains a proper little hoot.


What the Fiesta doesn’t have, against both the Toyota and Mazda, is that depth of engineering quality that makes them feel worth the extra outlay. The gearshift isn’t as slick, the brakes not as strong and the steering springy by comparison. Furthermore, while the new turbo triple is impressive (don’t forget it can run on two cylinders), it can’t match the Mazda for rev happiness and response. Not even close. At around £20k the Fiesta is probably about the most fun you can buy on four wheels; once up to around £25k, however, the Japanese pair prove what more is available.

To conclude, then, if you and everything you need can fit in an MX-5, it's the car we enjoyed driving the most. Yes, even with the fitment of that Performance Pack to the GT86. The fact remains that the Mazda roadster really feels to have come convincingly good as a sports car now. The scope is still there for additional aftermarket fettling, as it always has been, only now it seems more buyers will be more content than ever with things right out of the box. Your move, Toyota...


SPECIFICATION - MAZDA MX-5 SKYACTIV-G 2.0 GT SPORT NAV+

Engine: 1,998cc, 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 184@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 151@4,000rpm
0-62mph: 6.5sec
Top speed: 136mph
Weight: 1,105kg (with 75kg driver)
MPG: 40.9
CO2: 156g/km
Price: £25,795 (standard OTR price; as tested £26,585, comprised of Soul Red Crystal Metallic Paint for £790)

SPECIFICATION - TOYOTA GT86 BLUE EDITION PERFORMANCE

Engine: 1,998cc flat-4
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 200@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 151@6,400-6,600rpm
0-62mph: 7.7sec
Top speed: 140mph
Weight: 1,238kg ('mass in running order', not including driver)
MPG: 36.2
CO2: 181g/km
Price: £30,440

SPECIFICATION - FORD FIESTA ST-2

Engine: 1,497cc, turbocharged 3-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Power (hp): 200@6,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 214@1,600-4,000rpm
0-62mph: 6.5sec
Top speed: 144mph
Weight: 1,262kg (EU, with driver)
MPG: 47.1
CO2: 136g/km
Price: £20,245 (for standard ST-2; price as tested £23,765 comprised of Performance Blue paint for £745, ST 18-inch wheels in 'Magnetic', with red brake calipers for £425, Full LED headlamps for £600, ST Performance Pack for £850, Rear View Camera Pack for £250, Ford navigation System for £550 and Heated steering wheel for £100)









 

 

Author
Discussion

Diesel Meister

Original Poster:

2,033 posts

142 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
Two really nice cars. Really like the look of the MX but I have not driven the latest and also need to try an 86. They both appeal, especially the latter given the tin top and marginal extra practicality. I assume that the boxer can be lightly liberated for better behaviour but I’d love a small five or six - the extra weight would be worth it in my view for the noise. No more power necessary. Emissions make this unlikely though.

The MX seems to be the better choice, especially if you like drop head motoring. Engine and looks aside the 86 edges it in terms of appeal for me but its a fine margin (and I like coupes).

Great to have the choice of these two in my view. Great base and lots of aftermarket for both cars.

MajorMantra

823 posts

53 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
Both these cars are tremendously appealing. And that blue looks amazing on the Toyota.

Having had an NA Eunos the Mazda would be the natural choice for me, but the fact that I have a dog would make the 86 a more rational choice.

Now I just need them to depreciate a bit more...

Edited by MajorMantra on Saturday 22 September 13:28

GibsonSG

194 posts

52 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
My kind of cars. I’m getting a bit weary of turbo hot hatches, I quite fancy both of these as the antidote.

tosh.brice

155 posts

152 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
I had an extended test drive in the pre-facelift MX-5 a couple of days ago (good things arrive slowly where I live). It was a delight on small winding backroads as long as I did not need to overtake anything and it was fine in traffic *but* on the motorway it was far too noisy and because of the limitations of seat quality and adjustability, left me with an achingly stiff left hip.
The extra power of the improved engine would have been welcome (the motorway back home climbs quite steeply and was busy) but I doubt the other issues have been addressed?

TWPC

615 posts

102 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
I love these cars, so glad they exist. Although I can't justify either at the moment, a time will come when I can and the used market beckons...

Having read all the reviews about the revised 2.0 litre MX-5, it's great to hear that it is so improved that you think it more fun than the GT-86. It doesn't make the 86 any worse a car but as you say hopefully will encourage Toyota to improve it even more.

Slightly off topic, is the rust proofing on the 86 up to scratch? I.e. Less of an issue than on the MX-5.
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Black S2K

846 posts

190 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
TWPC said:
I love these cars, so glad they exist. Although I can't justify either at the moment, a time will come when I can and the used market beckons...

Having read all the reviews about the revised 2.0 litre MX-5, it's great to hear that it is so improved that you think it more fun than the GT-86. It doesn't make the 86 any worse a car but as you say hopefully will encourage Toyota to improve it even more.

Slightly off topic, is the rust proofing on the 86 up to scratch? I.e. Less of an issue than on the MX-5.
Some early BR86s had rusty window quarterlights dealt with under warranty, but they do come with plastic rear arch liners. I would hope that the rear arches do not drop off as quickly as they usually do on Japanese cars. Getting either rustproofed wouldn't be an entirely bad idea.

Great article suggests that whichever you choose is definitely not a wrong decision.

Helicopter123

5,637 posts

97 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
Lovely cars, proper sports cars with character at an affordable starting price.

For me, this is the market that Renault should have been in with the Alpine.

monkeymark

14 posts

80 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
Test drove the pre-facelift ND MX-5 RF a few weeks ago, and the Abarth 124 back to back. Loved them both!
The RF was super smooth/soft riding but still fun on a bumpy B road and relatively refined on a run. I found the roof down experience of the RF though very blustery at 50-60+mph on a major A road.

The Abarth sounded better with its exhaust but did not hear it much from inside the car. As it was a soft top though, it was MUCH noisier around town (in fact I spent the first few minutes checking the roof and windows were actually closed as there seemed to be too much exterior noise coming in!).
But conversely, on the A road with the soft top DOWN, it was positively serene! Not blustery at all. Better aero with the soft top down as I guess designed as a soft top first and foremost.
Abarth gearbox felt "tougher" but still precise and I have since read they use the Mazda NC (previous generation) gearbox for this model as the Abarth has more torque and that gearbox is better rated to deal with it.

I prefer Naturally Aspirated engines all day long so leant towards the Mazda but had heard/read rumours that a new more powerful version was in the wings. Can't wait to try it. However hoping they had improved interior stowage (elasticated netting for door pockets will suffice/glovebox?) but alas not.

I ran a Daihatsu Copen 1.3l roadster for 6 years and 100,000 miles in the past. Probably the most fun car I have had.Only 3.3m long so tiny (Japan Kei car class) but masses of interior storage with glovebox, central armrest/large cubby, seat back pockets and baulkhead netting and door pockets. The Mazda feels cramped and impractical in comparison.Bizarre.

What remains a deal breaker for me, for the Mazda, is they do not provide the lovely Recaro seats even as an option but only on the occasional special edition that they sometimes do.Even though the rest of the world seem to get them as part of a trim package (eg-Clubsport etc). The standard seats are flat, unsupportive and the leather slippery so I was sliding about on the twisties. A total deal breaker! They all come from the same factory in Hiroshima so why they do not offer the Recaros, even as an option in the UK is beyond me. Even on the European launch in Romania, all the photos of all the models had the Recaros fitted!

rockin

6,442 posts

186 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
If i didn't already own sports cars I'd be straight off down to the Mazda shop. That MX5 sounds an absolute bargain and fully justifies Mazda's "ownership" of the entry sports car market. Brilliant! Modern top-down motoring at a great price.

Nerdherder

588 posts

38 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
Helicopter123 said:
Lovely cars, proper sports cars with character at an affordable starting price.

For me, this is the market that Renault should have been in with the Alpine.
Feel completely the same.

Honeywell

261 posts

39 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
Good review,

The GT86 kicks as IF IF IF you stick on a sports exhaust and remap. Do that and it’s a strong and charismatic engine.

The manufacturers in Japan virtually beg you to tweak their cars to transform them.

spaximus

3,546 posts

194 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
tosh.brice said:
I had an extended test drive in the pre-facelift MX-5 a couple of days ago (good things arrive slowly where I live). It was a delight on small winding backroads as long as I did not need to overtake anything and it was fine in traffic *but* on the motorway it was far too noisy and because of the limitations of seat quality and adjustability, left me with an achingly stiff left hip.
The extra power of the improved engine would have been welcome (the motorway back home climbs quite steeply and was busy) but I doubt the other issues have been addressed?
We had one on test and the problem was the really badly offset pedals, that is what caused us to ache as the seats are okay, if they were in line. They are selling shed loads so perhaps it is me who is wrong but how hard is it to get a decent position with seat and pedals in line?

Aside form that it drove well enough but is no firecracker performance wise but as it has been said tuning is available.

What would be interesting is if Toyota ever make the design study convertible GT86 as it looked lovely and would be a worthy competitor in everyway

Shappers24

220 posts

27 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
Never understood why they always test these together like this. One is a top down two seater roadster and the other is a four seater coupe with sizeable boot that also happens to be rwd... you might as well bung in a low spec bmw 4 series if you’re going to start testing rwd coupes against roadsters.

Would you test a boxster against a Merc coupe? Probably not, as they’re not comparable...

Anyway. Ex GT86 owner and I do miss it... once the primacy tyres were swapped for something abit grippier. Sideways fun is all well and good but to a detriment to braking performance wasn’t for me!



Simon Owen

180 posts

75 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
Mazda is 200kg lighter, is smaller & has the better drivetrain, gearbox & the roof comes off.

Toyota has better steering and chassis stiffness, more practicality and just feels a mors serious drivers car at 10/10ths.

Driving position in the Toyota is much nicer .... and if you are over 6ft still works.

Both have luuuverly benign balance when you push the limits of grip :-)

JMF894

2,830 posts

96 months

Saturday 22nd September 2018
quotequote all
The '86 really is crying out for a better donkey...................

cib24

732 posts

94 months

Sunday 23rd September 2018
quotequote all
JMF894 said:
The '86 really is crying out for a better donkey...................
Swap a turbo rotary into it.

Fiesta1.0L

40 posts

39 months

Sunday 23rd September 2018
quotequote all
monkeymark said:
What remains a deal breaker for me, for the Mazda, is they do not provide the lovely Recaro seats even as an option but only on the occasional special edition that they sometimes do.Even though the rest of the world seem to get them as part of a trim package (eg-Clubsport etc). The standard seats are flat, unsupportive and the leather slippery so I was sliding about on the twisties. A total deal breaker! They all come from the same factory in Hiroshima so why they do not offer the Recaros, even as an option in the UK is beyond me. Even on the European launch in Romania, all the photos of all the models had the Recaros fitted!
^ this. An don't go looking at the option prices for the paint in the US. Again, same factory and three times the price here.

POPE Paul

36 posts

143 months

Sunday 23rd September 2018
quotequote all
Good article, and as we all know, the 'horses for courses' equation, I can't help being drawn to the MX5, seeing its 6.5s performance; but then thinking... what a lovely used Boxster you can get for less money?! I know which route would give you the biggest 'grin-factor 8'.

Onehp

1,006 posts

224 months

Sunday 23rd September 2018
quotequote all
Great enjoyable article, PH all the way. These little cars really feel special to drive compared to most modern performance stuff.

Honeywell said:
Good review,

The GT86 kicks as IF IF IF you stick on a sports exhaust and remap. Do that and it’s a strong and charismatic engine.

The manufacturers in Japan virtually beg you to tweak their cars to transform them.
Indeed. As much as I hated the stock engine, now I really miss it since it is gone, the FT86SF manifold and Milltek really tranformed the engine and it had real character to its sound, no other 4 banger comes close and many a (stock) six falls short too...

coppice

5,183 posts

85 months

Sunday 23rd September 2018
quotequote all
tosh.brice said:
I had an extended test drive in the pre-facelift MX-5 a couple of days ago (good things arrive slowly where I live). It was a delight on small winding backroads as long as I did not need to overtake anything and it was fine in traffic *but* on the motorway it was far too noisy and because of the limitations of seat quality and adjustability, left me with an achingly stiff left hip.
The extra power of the improved engine would have been welcome (the motorway back home climbs quite steeply and was busy) but I doubt the other issues have been addressed?
Well , I'm an old git with a dodgy back but did the 250miles back from Brands recently without a twinge
so I guess it depends where and how you are creaky.

Not as quiet as most on the motor way but so what , it's a little roadster, turn up the radio .

Overtaking ? A cinch - as it should be . It's not ballistic but so what , it adds to the fun and in absolute terms it has a 0-60 similar to warmer hatches and , for perspective sake, an E-Type Jag. Any car, no matter how few bhp , if driven with some brio ,can overtake others and with 160 bhp I find progress is rapid and easy enough to be fun, and the need for some judgement trumps big bhp for me any day . The worst feature? Rubbish steering - too light and zero feedback