Mazda MX-5 VS Subaru BRZ
- Fun factor
- Legendary status
- Tiny boot
- No CarPlay (it's coming)
- Slightly firm ride
- Terrific (updated) chassis
- Improved interior
- Good value
- Engine sometimes a bit loud
- People who say it needs more power
- No Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
Buying a car for fun, rather than just transport, is an unimaginable luxury for most of us, because most vehicles that are genuinely joyous - the kind that make you smile like a four-year-old in a bath full of gelato - are almost unobtainably expensive.
And that's what makes Mazda's MX-5, a car quite accurately described by the company's spokes folk as the "icon" of the brand, so special. Because it is hugely fun, and it is far more of a toy than a tool, and yet, with a price starting at just $34,190, it's the kind of dream car that's actually within touching distance of reality.
Mazda has just unveiled yet another facelift for the venerable roadster (and retractable hardtop) as part of its goal of "continually seeking new ways to make it even more thrilling and satisfying to drive".
It has aimed to kick this goal by redesigning the cupholders, giving it black wheels instead of silver ones and, for the first time, offering a steering wheel with telescopic adjustment (people have only been wanting that since its first version, back in 1989). There's also a new reversing camera tucked into its taut behind.
Rather more importantly, the 2.0-litre engine has also been given a proper going over and now creates more power, more torque, and revs higher, for an even better aural experience. Which sounds pretty fabulous. Prices are up $750 across the range to pay for all that, which sounds like a reasonable deal. Let's find out.
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Peter Anderson road tests and reviews the 2017 Subaru BRZ with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
Subaru's BRZ is a bit of an oddity - it's as good a car as its Toyota twin, but there aren't that many around. There's bound to be corners of the internet that swear blind it's completely different under the skin to the 86, but it really isn't. And that's okay, because the BRZ is a good car because the 86 is.
Thing is, there's a ton of detail differences both inside and out and that might be enough to sway you to order the BRZ online through the Subaru website (yep, they're still doing that) rather than heading to your local Toyota emporium. Before you go, though, you might like to know what the recent mild refresh of both cars has meant to the Subaru.
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This latest face lift for the fabulous Mazda MX-5 may not be revolutionary, and indeed some if it is just fiddling at the edges, but the improved safety, rear-view camera and nice black wheels may impress a few buyers, while the extra zest and reviness from the engine will most certainly attract fans of this car's core ingredient - fun motoring.
Do you dream of having an MX-5 in your garage, just for sunny days, tell us in the comments section below.
Everything in the cabin works, nothing is overdone and it feels dependable and unburstable. You can attack that same set of corners time after time, wet, dry or indifferent and you'll know exactly what's going to happen. The car encourages and rewards consistency, the much-maligned power 'deficit' working for the driver rather than against the driving experience.
Yes, it's a bit noisy and yes, as soon as you've parked up in the sun and turned off the engine it starts heating up immediately. More insulation means more weight and a certain amount of disconnection from the car that wouldn't suit its character. You'll live. The new BRZ is a better car than the old, with a better interior, better chassis and it might just be better value than its Toyota counterpart.
Toyota or Subaru? Or Fiat or Mazda? Let the debate begin (in the comments section below).
Changes to the look of the MX-5 would best be described as singular, because there is only one - a swap from silver wheels to metallic black ones, in a bid to "emphasise the car's visual impact".
Even the base model roadster gets the new black look, albeit 15-inch versions, while the RF gets 17-inch alloys. the range-topping GT, strangely, gets 17-inch silver wheels.
Other than that, the looks of the MX-5 remain the same, and that's a very good thing, because this is, far and away, the angriest and sexiest looking version of the classic two-seater ever to roll out of the Hiroshima factory.
Apparently there are people who find the latest look too sharp, too Japanese and too anime, and would prefer a look to the rounded, happy-puppy looks of old. But those people are simply wrong. This is a fantastic looking vehicle, no matter which colour wheels it has.
When it comes to paint colours the same six remain on offer - 'Soul Red Crystal Metallic', 'Machine Grey Metallic', 'Snow' aka 'White Pearl Mica', 'Ceramic Mica', 'Eternal Blue Mica' and 'Jet Black Mica'. So no green, yellow, orange or gold. Soul Red is clearly the choice here.
There is a body kit available as part of the optional Kuroi sports pack ($4220), which also includes a rear diffuser. Roof racks are not an option. Floor mats will also cost you $166.23 extra. Ouch.
The BRZ's relationship to the 86 is blatantly obvious, but there are enough styling differences to allow the average punter to tell the two apart. The 17-inch wheels are a good start (and the vibrant blue, if you pick it, is reminiscent of Subaru's nineties WRC blue cars), the front and rear bumpers are different and some of the external trim pieces are blacked out, like the blank vents ahead of the driver's door.
The BRZ also has Subaru signature shaped LED daytime running lights which are a hook rather than the Toyota's eyebrow-of-light.
Inside is basically the same, right down to the wheel, with just Subaru badges to distinguish the BRZ and Subaru graphics in the dashboard's start-up animation. The cabin has steadily improved over the years, with less scratchy plastics and better-fitting trim pieces. The gentle arch over the air-con vents still looks like it doesn't fit properly though.
The new dash pack is a huge improvement. It still has the worst analogue speedometer fitted to a car - it's cramped and unreadable - but the tacho now has a BMW-style info screen cut into it, with big, easy to read digital speed readout. No excuse for speeding fines now, officer. The right hand dial space is now taken up with another digital screen with various info options including power and torque graphs and a stopwatch. The graphics are very easy on the eye, too, not dodgy low-res '80s-style LCD figures that you still find on some Mazdas (for example).
Once again, the changes inside the MX-5 are not huge, but one of them - the addition of telescopic adjustment for the steering column - will be very welcome to fans who have long wondered why they couldn't be just that bit more comfortable at the wheel.
This Mazda already had a fantastic, low-slung driving position that made you feel like part of the car, but it's even better now that you can have the wheel exactly where you want it.
There's also been a slight tweak to the design of the sun visors, for better coverage, and the gaps between the detachable cupholders - of which there are two - have been optimised to allow easier attachment and removal. They've also been made more rigid, "to suppress wobble", because no one likes a wobbly drink, particularly around fast bends.
In yet another example of paying attention to every detail, the levers you use to adjust the seats have also been made slightly thicker and more rigid, just so they feel better.
In terms of practicality, of course, it's not really a key selling point of any MX-5, nor has it ever been. There's limited oddment storage behind the gear lever and a tiny kind of lunch box behind your left shoulder, and a very small glove box as well, with no room for bottles, or anything else, in the doors.
There's not a lot of room, generally, in the MX-5's tight and glove-like cabin, but that's just the way it's supposed to feel. Small and perfectly snug.
The boot is deep-ish, but narrow, and it's overnight bags only in its 130-litre space (boot capacity in the RF is an even smaller 127 litres).
While shoulder and elbow room are limited, headroom is quite good, even in the hard-topped RF version.
For two people, the BRZ is not bad. Despite a long drop to very comfortable seats, you've plenty of head and leg room, two each of bottle holders and cupholders (although bigger cups will cop an elbow during gear shifts) and if you lift out the cupholder/phone holder, you have a long shallow tray for other bits. A small slot under the climate controls could be used for the key if you like losing it.
The rear seats are hopeless, with a falling roofline, head-to-glass interface for the passengers and virtually no headroom at all. There's a pair of baby seat anchors for those who just can't give up the BRZ.
Boot space is a distinctly weedy 218 litres, the floor suffering from bootus interruptus where the full-size spare has been placed in the middle. Thoughtfully, it has been installed face down so the inside of the wheel acts as a fairly handy shopping bag restraint. You can flop the rear seats (snigger) forward to slot in a suitcase or two if you so desire. Or four wheels and tyres, as per its amateur trackday intentions.
Price and features
Prices have risen $750 across the entire range for this new update to the MX-5, but Mazda Australia claims that's more than made up for by the extra new safety kit, plus the reversing camera, the new wheels and, in the case of the 2.0-litre models that 95 per cent of people will buy, more power, torque and revs on offer.
The base model Roadster, at a very temping $34,190, will still appeal to some purists who hate the idea of big, heavy roofs (70 per cent of buyers will go for the RF) and big, powerful engines.
Standard kit at that level includes that new reversing camera, 16-inch alloy wheels (now black metallic for extra visual menace), a cloth soft top, LED headlamps, power mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, climate-control air (but who needs that, with a convertible!), black cloth seats, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with 'MZD Connect', an audio system with six speakers and DAB+ (but no CD player), Bluetooth streaming, internet radio integration, satellite navigation, 'Smart City Brake Support', or AEB, in both forward and reverse, 'Traffic Sign Recognition', 'Driver Attention Alert' and reverse parking sensors and blind-spot monitoring.
Step up through the trim levels to the GT Roadster with the 2.0L and you're quickly over $40K at $41,960 (add another $2000 for the auto, if you must), and you'll score 17-inch alloys, adaptive LEDs headlights and DRLs, black or tan leather on your seats, which are now heated, a 'Premium' Bose stereo with nine speakers, 'Advanced keyless entry' and lane-departure warning.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto gadgets are not available yet, but a dealer-fit fix is expected very soon, at some extra cost.
If you want the folding hard-top RF version, and most people do, then the basic spec will set you back $39,400, the GT $45,960 or the RF GT with the optional black roof $46,960.
It's still a lot of car, or at least a lot of fun in a little car for the money, but you'd have to consider whether you'd could be just as happy in a car that's almost as more fun but has five doors and a decent boot, like VW's Golf GTI.
What price, though, a roof-down drive on a summer evening? On its day, the Mazda makes a compelling argument against buying a Porsche Boxster. Which is high praise indeed.
The BRZ is priced at $32,990, a price cut of $1230 over the MY16 car. You save more if you go for an automatic, which is now $34,990, a price cut of $1735. But seriously, an automatic sports car?
The BRZ arrives from the internet (that's how it works, yeah?) with 17-inch wheels, LED headlights and taillights, a new 7.0-inch touchscreen for the six speaker stereo head unit, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, cruise control, LED fog lights, leather shifter and steering wheel, cloth trim, limited slip diff, power windows and mirrors and a full-size spare.
You can choose from seven colours, and all of them are no-cost options (hooray!). You can also add the Premium Pack which covers the seats in leather and Alcantara and adds heating.
The six-speaker stereo is run from a Subaru-branded 7.0-inch touchscreen, with the most basic interface imaginable and no sat nav. Irritatingly, despite it being far better than its predecessor and infinitely better than the Toyota head unit, the simple inclusion of CarPlay and Android Auto has been missed. That kind of thing adds to the value proposition and just isn't hard. The sound is fine and the interface finicky-but-useable, but I guess many buyers rip it out and replace it with something fully sick/hectic/ill.
By comparison, the 86 is $30,790, has smaller wheels, single-zone air-con and a genuinely terrible stereo head unit. And if you don't want red, you have to pay $450 for a different colour. So the pricing of the BRZ does include more stuff as well as exclusivity - the arrangement with Toyota apparently restricts sales of the Subaru to a tenth of 86 sales.
Engine & trans
So, let's start with the engine that almost no one - other than rusted-on purists apparently - will opt for; the 1.5-litre engine lurking in the base-model roadster, which is still seen as "the ultimate expression of the MX-5", by the marque's hardcore, old-school fans.
Small tweaks to this engine - which will make up just 5 per cent of total sales - have seen power rise by a single kilowatt to 97kW, and torque bumped from 150Nm to 152Nm.
The bigger and more exciting changes have been made to the 2.0-litre engine, which is the only choice you have anyway if you're opting for the RF - which 70 per cent of buyers will - but in the case of both engines the control units have been revised to give a feeling of more direct acceleration, a sensation further exacerbated by tweaks to both the automatic and manual transmissions to offer quicker response times, and less "jerk" during acceleration.
Yes, you can have your MX-5 with a six-speed automatic transmission, and a shocking 43 per cent of buyers are tipped to make that choice, even though it is the wrong one. The six-speed manual goes with this car the way tomato sauce goes with a pie, or soy sauce with sushi.
Revisions to the 2.0-litre power plant, including the use of a new, dual-mass flywheel, have increased power significantly from 118kW to 135kW, while the redline has also soared to 7500rpm from 6800rpm. Overall torque is up from 200Nm to 205Nm.
The engineers claim to have a delivered a sensation of "urgent, limitless acceleration", with linear responses all the way up to that new rev ceiling. Against the stop watch, that means a 0-100km/h time for the 2.0 of 6.5 seconds in the Roadster or 6.8 in the RF, against 8.3 seconds for the 1.5-litre Roadster.
Mazda says there's also more torque available across the whole rev range, while tweaks to the exhaust system, including a new inner silencer structure, also provide a more resonant, exciting sound to go with the extra power and revs.
The engine uses a timing chain rather than a timing belt. Oil capacity is 4.1 litres.
The gravelly Subaru 'flat' four remains unassisted by turbos or superchargers, but has had a small hike in power to 152kW (+5kW) and 212Nm (+7Nm). The 0-100km/h time is still a handy if not blistering 7.4 seconds for the 1282kg rear-driver.
Power is sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual.
Fuel economy for the little 1.5-litre engine is 6.2 litres per 100km for the manual or 6.4L/100km for the auto, while the 2.0-litre version - which is naturally aspirated rather than turbocharged or supercharged and thus wonderfully old-school, returns 6.8 and 7.0L/100km respectively in the roadster, rising to 6.9 and 7.2 in the RF.
All of these figures reflect an ideal world, rather than the real one, where you will regularly push it all the way through the rev range in several gears and get nowhere near those numbers.
Almost every time you drive an MX-5, of any generation, you find yourself doing a little glee face. There's something innocent, old-school and almost childish about how much fun they are.
The magic is in the simplest of set-ups - light weight, rear-wheel drive, short wheelbase, sharp steering, slick gearbox - and it's one that has only gotten better over the years with the addition of better technology. And, vitally, more power.
Every time you drive one, however, it's hard not to wonder how much more enjoyable it could be with just a few more herbs under the bonnet. The current iteration of the car, with its sharp, sleek lines and mean, take-me-seriously face, has been offered with a 2.0-litre engine for a while now, and it did make the MX-5 feel more potent than ever before… and yet you had to wonder if there was still a bit more lurking under the bonnet, waiting to be unleashed.
And now, finally and wonderfully, it has been. The upgraded version of the power plant produces more of its 205Nm of torque (up 5Nm) throughout the rev range, which now stretches all the way to 7500pm (up from 6800rpm), and power has taken a serious step up from 118kW to 135kW.
It's still not a huge number, but in a car that weighs just 1035kg (1087kg for the RF), it's enough to produce more than just the sprightly performance we've come to expect from this zippy Mazda.
The power now on tap means you can really up your pace if you want to, and go-to-jail speeds are now most assuredly an option for the keen/crazy driver.
What has always made the MX-5 one of the great sports cars, however, is that it's so much fun to drive even at lower, legal speeds, and that remains the case here. The way the car corners, the connection it seems to have to your core, through your hips and via your finger tips, remains as visceral and vital as ever.
It is telling that the engineers made no changes at all to the chassis or handling of this version, because they realised it was damn close to perfect already.
This MX-5, then, is just as much of a huge hoot as the one it replaces, it's just that it's now faster, and perhaps even a tiny bit louder, than before, and that is a very good thing.
Even just starting the BRZ, you know you're in something special. It's because you're sitting low, peering out of the windscreen over what feels like a wide, low bonnet (low, yes, wide, not really). The BRZ always looks bigger than it is in photos and when you sit in it, you're instantly reminded that it's tiny. You're below the window line of most SUVs, even a Mazda CX-3 or our long-term Honda HR-V towers over it (the BRZ's total height is just 1320mm, the HR-V 1605mm).
The long gear shifter slots easily into first and the initially snatchy-feeling clutch gets you moving without needing too many revs. Turning a corner for the first time in a BRZ feels like the first time I turned the wheel in a Peugeot 205 - instant, predictable response, the promise of plenty of fun.
And it really is. There's an identifiable bounce to the suspension, like a Mini, that's attributable to the short travel on the springs and dampers. You soon discover it takes very little for the rear tyres to chirp when you punt it out of a corner. It's all still the same - low grip, quick change of direction, fun times.
The shell of the coupe was recently given a few minor tweaks to improve things, mostly at the back. There are more spot-welds for more rigidity which in turn meant tweaks to the springs, dampers and sway bar. All of this adds up to a transformed driving experience.
Actually, no it doesn't. That's what's great about this update. Current owners will notice the difference, as did I, but it's subtle. The rear feels tauter, you can't detect as much (or any, really) flex at the back which was minimal anyway. It just feels tighter, but you can still swing the tail out in the same way as before.
The joy of this car is the lightness and the feel, much like its compatriot, the MX-5. With wonderfully direct and subtly assisted steering, this is a car that revels in its purity. It's old-fashioned in a good way - you have to work the engine and gearbox when you're out having fun. You'll be having that fun at low speeds, too, leaving your brain plenty of time to make decisions. The new Track mode loosens the reigns a bit and the engine's software has been re-mapped for better response.
The standard safety offering is another area that's had the facelifting magic applied to it for this upgrade, with more 'i-ACTIVSENSE' technologies now coming as standard across the range, and, finally, a 'Rear Monitor', or reversing camera, now standard, tucked away in the centre of the rear bumper.
New safety features include 'Smart City Brake Support', or AEB, forward only on the base but also in reverse on GT and above, 'Traffic Sign Recognition', 'Driver Attention Alert' (GT spec only) and reverse parking sensors. Blind-spot monitoring was already included.
If all that fails you'll be protected by four airbags, two each for driver and passenger. The MX-5 received a five-star ANCAP rating when it was most recently tested, back in 2016.
Standard safety inclusions run to eight airbags (including knee bags), ABS, stability and traction controls, and brake assist.
The BRZ scored five ANCAP stars in July 2012, the maximum available. It was tested under the niche vehicle policy, which means the manufacturer conducted the test, with ANCAP supervision and approved test facilities.
As well as being good value you can bet this car will have good resale value. Check out our problems pages to see if there any automatic transmission, clutch or engine problems, faults or issues.
The warranty is now five years/unlimited km, which is pretty good for a sports car, but you will have to service it every year/10,000km. The first service is $304, the second $347, then back to $304 for the third and fifth. You get the picture.
Subaru offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with the first 12 months joined by roadside assist.
Service intervals are nine months or 15,000km. A three-year service plan is available for $898 and covers the first three years or 60,000km of servicing and covers you with roadside assist for the duration, a loan car and all the usual guarantees. The plan seems to cover everything, so three years for $300 per annum is reasonable.