Mazda MX-5 VS Toyota 86
- Relatively cheap
- Sweet manual option
- Improved body control
- No 1.5L engine option
- High noise levels
- Huge fun to drive
- Comfortable despite purpose
- Good value
- Dodgy interior materials
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Raucous engine
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|
Toyota's 86 might have been a huge surprise when it burst onto the world stage, but now it's difficult to imagine a world without it. Heralding a so-far slow and steady return to more interesting cars for the Japanese giant, the 86 has steadily clocked up the sales.
The tiny sports car picked up a few specification tweaks late last year as well as a longed-for 'Performance Pack' and the mildest of upgraded stereos.
Half a decade on and with the Mazda MX-5 (in both convertible and hardtop) as a strong price rival, with an army of hot hatches nipping at its heels, is the 86 still the bargain funster we'd been missing all those years?
|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 overall score doesn't really reflect how good this car is. It's let down by silly things like the lack of a decent stereo head unit, a ho-hum warranty package and a lack of advanced safety features. Those things sort of miss the point for most 86 buyers as the sales figures suggest.
It's old school fun without all the reliability and usability issues. It's a better proposition than any bargain sportscar for decades and is never not a barrel of laughs. The best value - and most fun - is a manual GT with the Dynamic Performance Pack. It's still good value, has a bit more oomph in the brakes and suspension and adds just a little bit of spice to the 86.
Has the 86 withstood the test of time? Or have other, new options stolen your heart? Tell us what you think in the comments below.
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.
As ever, the 86 exterior design is tasteful - low-slung and with a mild body kit including side skirts, a modest front spoiler and a metal rear wing that nobody seems to like. The 86 has those classic sports car proportions despite its diminutive dimensions.
The rear diffuser looks good but is unlikely to do much other than house the fog light and reversing lights. The big twin exhausts look terrific, so if you want a quad exhaust, I will only ask why.
Inside is as minimally thoughtful as ever. There's nothing especially wrong with it but there is little to commend it with a mix of materials and various cop-outs to save money. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, given the car's intentions, but if you're expecting a premium interior, you're of out luck. Having said that, the suede-like panel in the GTS looks pretty good.
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.
Interior photos reveal a cosy space for driver and passenger. The rear seats are almost entirely pointless, although you can get small kids in. Like really small - I'm just on 180cm and drive closer to the wheel than most but I could still only slot a laptop computer in the 'legroom'.
The front seats are split by a narrow console with a moveable tray with two cupholders and a slot that holds a smaller iPhone or Android phone. There is no armrest, but that's for practical gear-shifting reasons. Those in the rear don't get a cup holder at all.
People always ask how many seats Toyota has crammed in, and the answer is four, but it's really a 2+2.
Boot space isn't terrible at 223 litres and if you fold down the rear seats, you've capacity for a set of four wheels and tyres. Which might be handy given there is no longer a spare tyre, so a tyre repair kit might be in order...
As you might imagine, ground clearance isn't off-road spectacular but the 86 does pass my driveway test. In other words, I can get it up my driveway - some SUVs don't even manage without that stomach churning scraaape.
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.
There are still only two trim levels these days, if you discount the racing version. The Toyota website suggests the 'Apollo Blue' is a separate model, but you'll soon see that's a bit cheeky. Our brief comparison features RRP straight off the price list. The drive-away price is obviously between you and your dealer.
Standard features include 16-inch alloys, a limited-slip diff (manual only), LED headlights and daytime running lights, reversing camera, 6.1-inch touchscreen, AM/FM radio, power windows and mirrors, electric power steering, air-conditioning, floor mats, hill start assist, a sound system with six speakers, Bluetooth and USB, cruise control and cloth trim.
The second level of the road going range is the GTS, starting at $36,640 for the manual and $38,940 for the auto. To the base model you can add bigger rims at 17 inches, dual-zone climate control, an info display in the dashboard between the gauges, privacy glass, heated front seats, stereo controls on the steering wheel, keyless entry and push button start, fake leather seats with Alcantara trim inserts and GPS navigation system with SUNA traffic info.
The GTS's tyres are markedly better Michelins.
For the GT and GTS you can choose from six colours: 'Tornado Grey', 'Storm Black', 'Ice Silver', 'White Liquid', 'Gravity Blue' and 'Ignition Red'. If you go all in on a GTS, you can also have Apollo Blue. Fans of orange and yellow are out of luck. Only Ignition Red is a freebie, the rest will stick you with a $450 bill.
The GT and GTS also offer the 'Dynamic Performance Pack' option. How much does it cost and what do you get? Sadly, no turbo or increase in engine size or improvement in engine specs for a bit more speed. I know many of you pine for more horsepower to improve the 86's stats, but Toyota won't help out.
So, the $2200 (GT)/$2900 (GTS) pack includes a darker set of alloy wheels, SACHS suspension and a set of Brembo brakes. GTS buyers can also specify Apollo Blue as the exterior colour, raising the price again to $39,950 for the manual and $41,890 for the auto.
The 6.1-inch infotainment screen that runs the sound system is an ongoing disaster. Too small, terrible software, it's an afterthought. To add insult to injury, there is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto despite the Subaru version managing to fit a stereo with exactly that feature. It's a perplexingly bad decision to leave them out, especially when it's a basic double DIN unit that's easy to replace.
Accessories include interior lighting, rear parking sensors and a bootliner. Missing from the list are a towbar, HID headlights (the standard LEDs are excellent) and, unsurprisingly, air suspension.
Conspicuous by their absence are a roof rack and sunroof. Despite a soft top concept a few years back, there isn't a convertible either. If you want a subwoofer, you'll have to go aftermarket.
The waiting time for your 86 is a thing of the past - stock levels appear solid around the country.
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.
The Subaru-sourced 2.0-litre 'boxer' four soldiers on and in the six-speed manual produces 152kW/212Nm, both high in the rev range. Annoyingly, when paired with the six-speed automatic transmission, you only get 148kW/205Nm.
One of the reasons for the boxer engine is that it sits nice and low, which works for styling and packaging. Even getting the battery lower in the chassis means an improvement in handling.
The power heads rearwards (purists love rear-wheel drive) and is apportioned by a limited-slip differential.
There are no known common issues with the 86's boxer four. As to whether the engine features a timing belt or chain, the good news is that it's a chain, meaning lower long-term ownership and servicing costs.
The manual transmission doesn't seem to suffer any widespread complaints or issues and the automatic gearbox seems similarly reliable. If you needed to settle the manual vs automatic argument, that's yet another reason to go with the manual gearbox. As well as the lighter weight. And better performance figures.
There is no 4x4, front-wheel drive or AWD version, nor is there a diesel motor available. Although that would be interesting...
For some reason, the 86 comes in for criticism for its 0-100km per hour acceleration time, which is a swift seven-ish seconds.
Toyota does not offer a towing capacity figure, perhaps for obvious reasons.
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.
Fuel consumption is quite different between the transmission types. The manual's claimed combined cycle figure is 8.4L/100km while the automatic's is 7.1L/100km. Usually mileage figures are closer between transmissions, so if fuel economy is at the top of your list, it's the automatic.
Fuel tank capacity is 50 litres and you have to fill it with 98RON premium unleaded.
The official figures, for once, aren't a bad guide - my most recent week with an 86 manual returned 9.3L/100km.
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.
Every time I drive the 86, I am struck by the same things. The first is just how small it really is. Its road footprint is tiny, the Toyota dwarfed by just about everything. That means it's great in the city for ducking in and out of gaps and if you keep the left arm busy on the shifter, you'll be able to use its momentum to carve through the dawdling idiots infesting our roads.
The steering is always a delight - fast and direct, you know what's under those skinny front tyres and the weighting is near perfection. Coupled with the finely-tuned chassis, it's super-predictable and a huge laugh out of damp roundabouts.
The best bit is the balance - you can really feel the car underneath you. When you strip it all back, ignore the rackety engine and plasticky interior, it really feels like a car twice the price. The whole experience is centred around fun but without abandoning the needs of daily driving - the soft suspension allows for body roll which is both fun when you're thrashing but delivers a bearable ride on the school/work run.
It's a bit tinny, it's missing some obvious bits and pieces but few cars put you in touch with the purity of driving like a manual 86.
The automatic - largely ignored - is still fun, but it's not really what the 86 is all about. For me, I once had an auto 86 and it was an opportunity to show my manual-shy wife what she's been missing.
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.
If you can squeeze in a baby seat, there are two ISOFIX points and two top-tether points.
The maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating dates way back to 2012.
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.
Toyota still offers a three-year/100,000km warranty and roadside assist is an extra cost. Many customers understand that a key Toyota value proposition is reliability, but the three-year warranty club is almost as small as the full-term Prime Ministers club has been in the last decade.
Resale value appears strong, no doubt helped by a distinct lack of common problems, gearbox problems, issues, faults or complaints about the car. A second hand 86 should be easy to come by - since its launch in 2012, Toyota has shifted around 20,000 cars.
Service cost is capped at $180 per service and you're expected to visit the dealer every nine months or 15,000km, which is kind of odd.
The owners manual is packed with useful details like oil capacity and type.
Another question I'm often asked is "Where is the Toyota 86 built?" - the answer is Subaru's Gunma plant in Japan. Some also ask "Is the Toyota 86 discontinued?" - that's a firm no, although the US Scion sub-brand version, the FR-S, is no more.