It’s amazing what you can do on paper, as Leonardo da Vinci demonstrated. On paper these are very similar: 2.0-litre engines in the front, drive to the rear wheels, modern sports cars. Aside from the fact that one has a fixed roof and the other doesn’t, they’re about the same to 62mph, cost very roughly the same now there is a new entry-level Primo trim in the GT86, and they both ought to fulfill the same function.
Perhaps two numbers make the difference though. Toyota’s GT86 has about 40bhp more than the Mazda. That ought to make it the clear leader, but the latest Mazda MX-5 weighs very little more than the original model, so that power advantage is largely negated. It’s negated further by the fact that the torque outputs of both cars are almost identical.
So it’s the Mazda that has the advantage because lighter weight makes the car more nimble, more economical, more chuckable. It also makes it feel the faster car. This effect is heightened by the way power is delivered. The Toyota’s engine needs more and more revs to really get the power out, whereas the Mazda’s motor only needs about 1500rpm before it’s fully on the ball.
The Toyota isn’t helped by having a slower gearbox than the Mazda, so the effect of that extra power is largely squandered. We aren’t even any great fans of the way the Toyota’s engine sounds either, with the Mazda offering the better experience to the ears.
But there is one area where both these sports cars score big. They’re both huge fun. That means you can push them hard and be rewarded by excellent turn-in, decent grip and a rewarding amount of feedback. All this at reasonably sensible speeds that won’t scare you – or anyone else – witless. You can enjoy yourself pushing the edges without the consequences of going over those edges being cataclysmic, so not like some bigger, more expensive cars then.
Even the ride is fairly good in both cars. Perhaps it’s a touch easier in the Mazda as it has softer suspension, a fact which can give the Toyota an edge at times. Horses for courses.
A theme that continues in the cabin. Surprisingly, it’s the venerable MX-5 in its latest incarnation which feels the more modern of the interiors. In this spec there is a really good sat nav and infotainment system, and it just looks great. The Toyota GT86 cabin actually looks like it belongs in a sports car of a while ago, but at least it’s well made and it’s also noticeably larger than the Mazda cabin. The seats are bigger, there are more stowage options, and for long journeys it would doubtless prove the more comfortable. In theory there are two rear seats, but although they’re small at least they’re there, unlike in the Mazda.
Of the two, the Mazda would work out the cheaper to own, whether you’re buying on finance, privately or whatever. Depreciation will be about the same for both of them, but it’s the Mazda that scores thanks to that lower weight and hence better fuel consumption and lower emissions.
The Mazda in this trim also has a lot of standard kit while the entry-level Primo trim in the Toyota doesn’t even give you a DAB radio as an option let alone as standard – as it is in the Mazda.
Which leaves the Mazda MX-5 as the clear winner here. It’s been winning these sort of trials for years now, and shows no signs of losing any time soon. The Toyota GT86 is a bundle of fun, no question, and the new lower prices are welcome, but it just doesn’t stack up against the complete package that is the MX-5. And that’s not even taking into account the fact that you can have such a complete package, with the wind in your hair.
Specifications: Mazda MX-5 2.0 160 SE-L Nav
Engine size 2.0-litre petrol
List price £21,095
Target Price £19,692
Torque 148lb ft
Top speed 133mph
Fuel economy 41.0mpg
CO2 emissions 161g/km
Specifications: Toyota GT86 2.0 Primo
Engine size 2.0-litre petrol
List price £22,701
Target Price £20,877
Torque 151lb ft
Top speed 140mph
Fuel economy 36.2mpg
CO2 emissions 180g/km