Mazda MX-5 VS Subaru BRZ
- Relatively cheap
- Sweet manual option
- Improved body control
- No 1.5L engine option
- High noise levels
- Comprehensive improvements
- Iconic RWD antics
- More mature look and feel
- No AEB on manuals
- S grade could use some more spice
- Intrusive road noise
The Mazda MX-5 convertible is arguably the best new mainstream sports car available today, but the fourth-generation, ‘ND' model was released in Australia all the way back in August 2015, meaning it's now nearly seven years old.
So, how does Mazda go about making the ND MX-5 even better, especially in the face of the new Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ coupes? Well, the MY22 version on test here isn't a late-life facelift - its face is exactly the same - but it does introduce something called Kinetic Posture Control, which promises an improved drive.
Oh, and the MY22 MX-5 also spells the end of the enthusiast-friendly 1.5-litre engine option, with the 2.0-litre alternative now standard range-wide, alongside the full safety package. That said, has Mazda managed to improve the breed? Let's find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Small rear-drive sports coupe enthusiasts should be thanking their lucky stars, specifically the six lucky stars in Subaru’s logo, that a second generation of the BRZ even exists.
Cars like this are rare because they are expensive to build, difficult to homologate, hard to make safe, and attract a niche audience.
Read more BRZ news
Even if they're well received and relatively good sellers, as the original BRZ and Toyota 86 pair were, there’s always a good chance they’ll be prematurely consigned to the history books in favour of committing resources to high-selling SUVs.
With looks that could be chalked up as simply a facelift, though, has much changed under the skin? Is the new version meaningfully different from behind the wheel?
We were offered the opportunity to drive the 2022 BRZ on and off the track at its Australian launch to find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Well, Mazda has gone and done it again – it's managed to make the MX-5 even better.
It's easy to be cynical about the real-world impact of Kinetic Posture Control, but it does actually make a meaningful difference, building upon an already class-leading drive experience.
Needless to say, if you're in the market for a new mainstream sports car, the MX-5 is still the default option. I'll take a manual RF GT, thanks.
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with meals provided.
The BRZ’s angsty phase is over. The new car is a delicate refinement of a great sports coupe formula. It’s been tweaked in all the right places, inside and out, allowing it to attack the tarmac with a renewed and more grown-up focus. It even maintains a compelling price-point. What more can you ask for?
Note: CarsGuide attended this event as a guest of the manufacturer, with meals provided.
I'll be honest, when the ND MX-5 was unveiled, I did not love it. In fact, I had question marks over whether it had an angle that looked good. But over time, I've realised that it was me who was off the mark.
Yep, the fourth-generation model's exterior design is ageing gracefully, with those pinched headlights and that gaping grille looking fabulous. And the front end is made stronger by the pronounced fenders, a design flourish also seen at the rear.
Speaking of the back end, it's still not my favourite angle, but the correct paintwork selection can make it pop in all the right ways. Yes, those wedge-circle-combination tail-lights are not for everyone, but they are an undeniable signature.
As mentioned, the MX-5 range is available in two body-styles: the traditional, manually operated soft-top Roadster and the more modern power-operated hardtop RF. Of course, the former is quicker to use, while the latter is more secure.
Either way, the ND is starting to show its age inside, where its basic design (including physical climate controls) is headlined by a ‘floating' 7.0-inch central touchscreen – which can be operated via a rotary controller – and a small, multifunction display next to the traditional tachometer and speedometer.
Again, there's not a lot to it, but leather upholstery adorns the steering wheel, gear selector, manual handbrake and dashboard insert, and there are body-colour accents on the door shoulders. The GT and GT RS also get cow hide on the seats, and that's your lot. I must admit, I actually love the ‘back to basics' interior approach.
When the BRZ was revealed its new styling was polarising. While it looked a lot more mature than the zany lines and angry light fittings of the original model, I almost thought there was something retro about its newfound curvature running across its nose and particularly its rear.
It comes together nicely though as a more sophisticated design. One which looks fresh from the front and rear.
The side profile is perhaps the only area where you can see how closely this car is related to its predecessor, with very similar door panels and near identical dimensions.
The design is more than just a major freshen-up though. The curvier nose with lower grille is said to be significantly less drag-inducing, while all the vents, fins, and spoilers are entirely functional, working to reduce turbulence and allow air to flow around the car.
Subaru’s technical people say this is because reducing weight proved too difficult (despite its increase in equipment, this car only weighs a few kg more than its predecessor), so other ways were found to make it faster.
I find the rear integrated spoiler and distinct new light fittings particularly appealing, accentuating the width of this little coupe, tastefully tying it together.
Of course, you won’t need to go to a third party to clad your car in extra pieces, with Subaru offering STI-branded accessories. Everything from side skirts, blacked-out alloy wheels, even a ridiculous spoiler, if you’re so inclined.
The interior has quite a few carryover parts from the previous model. The prime contact points with the car, the steering wheel, shifter, and manual handbrake lever are the same, although the modified dash cladding feels more cohesive than before.
Gone are the aftermarket-look screen, climate dials which looked tacked on, and clumsily finished lower area, all replaced by more attractive pieces.
The climate unit and lower dash design, with smart shortcut buttons, are particularly nice, and don’t look as cobbled together as before.
The seats have been tweaked in terms of their trim, but overall share the same design. This is a good thing for front passengers, as the seats in the original car were already great, on-the road and when you needed the extra side-bolstering on the track.
Measuring 3915mm long (with a 2310mm wheelbase), 1735mm wide and 1230-1235mm tall, the MX-5 is a petite sports car, so needless to say, practicality is not one of its strengths.
For example, the Roadster version's boot has a tiny cargo capacity of 130L, while its RF sibling has 127L. Either way, once you put two soft bags or a small suitcase in it, there's not much room left. And let's not forget the very tall load lip that you need to contend with.
The MX-5 doesn't exactly offer more inside, as the central storage bin is puny, and the glovebox is basically non-existent, alongside tiny door bins. Aside from the decently sized ‘ski port', it's not great news for in-cabin storage.
That said, two removable but shallow cupholders are located between the seats, but they're propped by flimsy arms, which can cause anxiety, especially with hot coffees and the like.
Connectivity-wise, there's a single USB-A port and one 12V power outlet – that's it. Both are found in the centre stack, near a cubby that's appropriate for smartphones.
It's worth mentioning the MX-5 doesn't have anchorage points for child seats, be they top-tether or ISOFIX, so it's a sports car for adults – obviously.
For that reason, you expect some shortcomings on the practicality front, and these ones are not dealbreakers when driving alone.
I think we know nobody buys a car like the BRZ for its stellar practicality, and if you were hoping for some kind of improvement here, sorry to disappoint, there’s not a whole lot to say.
The ergonomics remain excellent, as do the front bucket seats for comfort and lateral support, and there is a slight improvement in the layout of the multimedia system, which is now a little easier to reach and use.
Same with the climate unit, which has larger, easier to operate dials, with shortcut buttons like ‘Max AC’ and ‘AC off’ to make the car’s core functions more straightforward.
Visibility is okay, with narrow front and rear window openings, but enough off to the side with decent mirrors to boot.
Adjustability is decent, with a low and sporty seating position, although taller people may run into issues with the tight roofline.
Cabin storage is notably limited, too. Automatic models score an additional centre console cupholder for a total of two, and there are small bottle holders in each door card.
A new split-folding centre console box has been added, which is shallow but long. It houses the 12V outlet, while USB ports are located under the climate functions.
The two rear seats are largely unchanged, being near-useless for adults. Kids, I suppose, might enjoy them, and they are useful to have in a pinch. A small practicality advantage over something like Mazda’s MX-5.
They’re clad in the same materials as the front seat but without the same level of padding. Don’t expect any amenity for rear passengers, either.
The boot weighs in at a tiny 201 litres (VDA). It’s hard to speak to the usefulness of this space without trying our demo luggage set to see what fits, but it has lost a few litres from the outgoing car (218L).
Surprisingly, though, the BRZ offers a full-size spare wheel, and the brand assures us it should still fit a full set of alloys with the single-piece back seat folded down.
Price and features
For MY22, the MX-5 is still available in two body-styles: the soft-top Roadster and the hardtop RF. It also keeps its three grades, including the unnamed entry-level offering, mid-range GT and flagship GT RS, but pricing is up by $400-1700 for every variant.
|2022 Mazda MX-5 pricing before on-road costs|
|Roadster GT||Manual||$44,420 (+$400)|
|Roadster GT||Automatic||$46,420 (+$400)|
|Roadster GT RS||Manual||$47,420 (+$400)|
|RF GT||Manual||$48,500 (+$400)|
|RF GT||Automatic||$50,500 (+$400)|
|RF GT RS||Manual||$51,500 (+$400)|
In terms of specification changes, Platinum Quartz is a new metallic paintwork option, while the RF GT can now be had with Terracotta Nappa leather upholstery. Aside from Kinetic Posture Control and some key safety upgrades for the unnamed entry-level grade – which we'll explore in later sections of this review – that's the extent of the MY22 adjustments to the MX-5 line-up.
Standard equipment in the entry-level grade, therefore, includes dusk-sensing LED lights, rain-sensing wipers, black 17-inch alloy wheels, push-button start, a 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system, satellite navigation, wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto support, digital radio, a six-speaker sound system, single-zone climate control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and black cloth upholstery.
The GT adds adaptive headlights, silver 17-inch alloy wheels, heated side mirrors, keyless entry, a 203W Bose sound system with nine speakers, heated seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, black leather upholstery and stainless-steel scuff plates.
For $1020, a Black Roof package can be added to the two RF GT variants, which bundles in – you guessed it – a black roof and Pure White or Terracotta Nappa leather upholstery.
The GT RS gets several performance-focused upgrades over the GT, including Gunmetal Grey 17-inch BBS forged alloy wheels, Brembo front brakes package (four-piston calipers and high-performance pads), Bilstein gas-pressurised dampers and a solid alloy strut tower brace.
When it comes to similarly priced rivals, the MX-5 doesn't have many, with the Mini Cooper S Convertible (from $51,530) coming the closest, while the just-launched Subaru BRZ (from $38,990) and yet-to-be-priced Toyota GR86 twins aren't far off.
Like most models over the past two years, the new BRZ arrives with a price-hike, but when you consider the base manual only comes in $570 over the outgoing model and the automatic comes in just $2,210 (while carrying significantly more equipment) over the equivalent 2021 version, that’s a major win for enthusiasts.
The range has been tweaked slightly, with two variants both available as a manual or automatic.
The base car wears a before on-road costs price tag of $38,990, and includes 18-inch alloy wheels (up from 17s on the previous car), clad in vastly superior Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, full LED exterior lights with new designs, dual-zone climate control with a more aesthetically pleasing cluster in the dash, a new 7.0-inch digital dash display, a new 8.0-inch multimedia touchscreen with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and built-in sat-nav, a synthetic leather-bound wheel and gear knob, seats trimmed in cloth, a reversing camera, keyless entry with push-start ignition, and a significant upgrade to the rear-facing safety suite, which we’ll look at later.
The automatic model ($42,790) is identically specified but swaps the six-speed manual for a six-speed torque converter automatic with paddle-shift manual mode.
The additional price-hike over the manual version is more than compensated for, however, by the inclusion of Subaru’s signature 'EyeSight' forward-facing dual-camera based safety suite, which would have required significant engineering input to include.
This is all without covering the updates to the car’s platform, suspension and bigger, punchier engine which fans have been crying out for since day one, all of which we’ll look at later in this review.
The top-spec S version mirrors the equipment list of the base car but upgrades the seat trim to a blend of synthetic leather and ‘ultrasuede’ with a heating function for front occupants.
The S version wears an additional cost of $1200 for a price tag of $40,190 for the manual or $43,990 for the auto.
While that may still seem quite a bit for such a small and relatively simple vehicle, in the context of the category it is excellent value.
Its most obvious rival, the Mazda MX-5, wears a minimum MSRP of $42,000 while providing significantly less performance from its 2.0-litre engine.
Engine & trans
Prior to MY22, the Roadster's entry-level grade was motivated by a delightful 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol four-cylinder engine that produced a modest 97kW of power at 7000rpm and 152Nm of torque at 4500rpm – but that option is no more, due to slow sales.
That's right; pour one out for the enthusiasts, as all MX-5 variants now use the familiar 2.0-litre unit that develops a more formidable 135kW at 7000rpm and 205Nm at 4000rpm.
That said, drive is still sent to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual with a rear limited-slip differential, or a six-speed torque-converter automatic with paddle-shifters. However, the GT RS is the only grade that exclusively comes with the former.
Some of the best news for previous owners of the BRZ is here. The old 2.0-litre Subaru boxer engine (152kW/212Nm) has been replaced by a larger 2.4-litre unit, with a significant hike to the outputs, now sitting at a respectable 174kW/250Nm.
While the engine code has migrated from FA20 to FA24, Subaru says it's more than just a bored-out version, with changes across the injection and port system to the connecting rods, as well as tweaks to the intake system and various materials used throughout.
The aim is smoothing out the torque curve and reinforcing engine parts to handle the increased output, while optimising fuel economy.
The available transmissions, a six-speed torque converter automatic and six-speed manual, have also been revised from their predecessors, with physical enhancements to smooth shifts and handle more power.
The auto's software has also been revised to make it compatible with a new safety suite it's paired with.
The MX-5's fuel consumption on the combined-cycle test (ADR 81/02) varies from variant to variant, with manual Roadsters managing 6.8L/100km, while their automatic counterparts require 7.0L/100km. Three-pedal RFs need 6.9L/100km, while two-pedal versions drink 7.2L/100km.
That's a strong set of claims for a sports car, and while I wasn't able to get a real-world result for the MY22 version due to the nature of its launch program, my previous experience with a MY21 manual Roadster saw an average around its claim, which is impressive stuff.
For reference, the MX-5 has a 45L fuel tank that takes more expensive 95 RON premium petrol at minimum, with claimed driving range, therefore, in the 625-662km region.
With the higher engine displacement comes a bump in fuel consumption for the BRZ.
We didn’t pull an as-tested number from the launch event as we were sampling multiple vehicles in a host of different conditions.
Stay tuned for a follow-up review to see if the official numbers were as surprisingly close as they were for the previous car.
The BRZ also continues to require top-shelf 98RON unleaded fuel and has a 50-litre tank.
Let's get straight to the elephant in the room: Kinetic Posture Control. What is KPC? Well, put simply, it uses its electronic smarts to apply brake pressure to the inside rear wheel – when necessary – while cornering, all in the name of improved body control.
So, does KPC actually make a meaningful difference? We tested MY22 MX-5s back-to-back with MY21 versions on-track and on-road to find out, and the short answer is yes.
The GT RS makes better use of KPC due to its sporty chassis upgrades, delivering a more confident drive when cornering hard, but the softer unnamed entry-level grade and GT still benefit from its influence.
Either way, the upshot is how these upgrades make the MX-5 even flatter through the corners. It almost doesn't matter how hard you turn in; it will remain relatively locked down. And given the already graceful way in which it pivots, there are next to no handling issues.
Otherwise, this is the same MX-5 we've come to know and love, which is great news for drivers that, you know, like to drive.
The electric power steering defies convention with its well-judged weighting and high level of feel. It's not the hydraulic system of previous generation, but it's great in its own right.
And the MX-5's suspension set-up (double-wishbone front and multi-link rear axles) still delivers a ride that's not for everyone, especially the jittery GT RS that, again, has Bilstein gas-pressurised dampers and a solid alloy strut tower brace.
The 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine is still very enjoyable, with its free-revving nature egging the driver on to push towards the redline with every upshift, and with peak power (135kW) produced at a scintillating 7000rpm, you feel obliged to.
This unit is naturally short on torque, particularly down low, and its maximum (205Nm) is developed at 4000rpm, so the driver has to work the right pedal hard, which they'll be willing to do because of the fun factor.
Of course, the key to this memorable experience is the six-speed manual. It ticks nearly all the boxes with its perfectly weighted clutch, short throw and well-judged ratios.
The six-speed torque-converter automatic also does the trick with its smooth shifts, but it doesn't seem that keen to hit the redline, even when the Sport drive mode is engaged and the accelerator pedal is buried. I would pick the three-pedal set-up without hesitation.
Critically, braking performance is strong alongside pedal feel, but the GT RS makes both better with its aforementioned Brembo brakes package.
Now, it'd be remiss of me to not touch on the MX-5's noise levels, as it's not the most peaceful sports car on the market. Naturally, the Roadster is the most disruptive body-style, with the RF providing better insulation. Keep that in mind if it's important to you.
Subaru talked a big game on things like chassis rigidity (a 60 per cent lateral bending improvement, and 50 per cent more torsional stiffness for those interested) but to actually feel the difference we were offered the opportunity to drive the old and new car back-to back.
The result was telling, while the new car’s power levels and responsiveness are notably improved, the new suspension and stiffer frame combine with those new Pilot Sport tyres to deliver a decisive dynamic improvement across the board.
While the old car was famous for being twitchy and easy to slide, the new car manages to maintain a sense of playfulness whilst adding a lot more confidence when needed.
This means you can still do doughnuts with ease on a skidpan, but carry more speed with the extra grip available through S-bends on a track.
Even driving the car on a tame back road, it's easy to tell how much firmer the frame is, and how the suspension has been adjusted to compensate.
The car is still packed full of feel, but not as brittle as the outgoing model when it comes to the suspension and damper tune. Smart.
The new engine feels every bit the upgrade it claims to be, with more consistent torque through the rev range, and a notable jump in responsiveness.
The engine's pretty distant at commuter speeds, only communicating the signature rugged boxer tone at higher revs.
Unfortunately, this improvement doesn't extend to the tyre noise, of which there is a lot.
This is somehow never a strong point for Subarus, and doubly so here with a car so firm and close to the ground, with bigger alloys and stiffer suspension.
I suppose this consideration is not high on the list for the typical BRZ customer.
The interior materials are a little less dingy than they were before, but with identical key action points in terms of the small radius steering wheel, as well as the easy-access shifter and handbrake, the BRZ continues to be an absolute ergonomic joy to operate, even when the car is completely sideways (on the skid pan...).
The steering tune is as natural as it comes, allowing you to feel even more at one with what the tyres are doing.
One odd little downside here is the inclusion of Subaru’s odd touch indicators as seen on the new Outback. They’re the kind which don’t lock into position when you use them.
I don’t know why Subaru is intent on introducing these when BMW famously tried (unsuccessfully) to popularise them in the mid ‘00s.
I’m sure we’ll have more to say on this car’s road-going capabilities when we have a chance to do a longer on-road test, but having the opportunity to drive the old and new back-to-back put the new car in context.
It’s everything you loved about the old one, but just a bit more grown-up. I like it a lot.
While Australia's independent automotive safety authority, ANCAP, awarded the MX-5 its maximum five-star safety rating in 2016, the game has changed significantly in the past six years, so keep that in mind if it's on your shopping list.
Either way, advanced driver-assist systems in the MX-5 extend to front autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, cruise control, traffic-sign recognition, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a reversing camera and tyre-pressure monitoring.
In a good move, new to the unnamed entry-level grade for MY22 – but already standard in the GT and GT RS – are lane-departure warning, driver-attention alert, rear AEB, and rear parking sensors.
That said, lane-keep and steering assist should also be part of the range-wide package alongside adaptive cruise control, but they're looking like they won't be a factor until the next-generation MX-5 – if there is one.
Other range-wide standard safety equipment includes four airbags (dual front and side), anti-skid brakes (ABS) and the usual electronic traction and stability-control systems.
Safety has improved out of sight, at least on automatic BRZ variants, as Subaru has managed to fit its signature stereo-camera-based EyeSight safety equipment to the little sports coupe.
It’s worth noting the BRZ is the only car with a torque converter transmission to be fitted with the system, as the rest of the brand's range uses continuously variable automatic transmissions.
This means, for the auto, active safety functions have expanded to include auto emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist detection, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, reverse auto emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and a host of other conveniences like lead vehicle start alert, and auto high beam assist.
Like the auto, the manual version features all the rear-facing active equipment, that is the rear AEB, blind spot monitoring, and rear cross traffic alert.
Elsewhere, the BRZ gets seven airbags (the standard front, side, and head, plus a driver’s knee) and the required suite of stability, traction, and brake controls.
The previous-generation BRZ had a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating, but to an older 2012 standard. No assessment for the new car, so far.
Like all Mazda Australia models, the MX-5 comes with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and five years of roadside assistance, both of which are average when compared to Kia's market-leading seven-year terms with ‘no strings attached'.
Service intervals for the MX-5 are 12 months or 10,000km (whichever comes first), with the distance on the shorter side. But capped-price servicing is available for the first five visits, costing $1755 in total, or an average of $351, which is not too bad.
It is also covered by a capped price servicing program, which is surprisingly transparent now, including parts and labour costs.
Unfortunately, it’s not particularly cheap, with services varying between $344.62 and $783.33 for a yearly average over the first 75,000km/60 months of $494.85 for the automatic model. A small amount can be saved by choosing the manual.
It will be interesting to see if Toyota blows the Subaru out of the water by applying its famously cheap servicing to the BRZ’s 86 twin, set to launch later in 2022.