Sporty fun for sensible money
Everybody seems to like Mazda’s MX-5, the sports car you can happily use every day in the real world without frightening yourself stupid. A three-year old model will have had much of the worst depreciation worn off it, yet in this fourth-generation car we have a delightfully light, modern and enjoyable machine.
Mazda MX-5 2.0 160 SE-L Nav
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
List price when new: £20,695
Price today: £15,000
Torque: 148lb ft
Top speed: 133mph
CO2 emissions: 161g/km
You could have one for about £15,000 and for another grand you could have a similarly aged Toyota GT86. What’s more, that would still get you a car with two years of warranty left, along with a hard top and more power. Which one would be better for summer?
The pair both sport 2.0-litre four-cylinder engines, but the Toyota’s is lower in the chassis for a better centre of gravity. However, the Toyota is heavier so its 40bhp advantage over the Mazda is largely negated. It’s not just the horsepower either. The Mazda pulls from surprisingly low down, around the 1500rpm stage, so it’s quite easy to build speed quickly, whereas the Toyota needs more revs and so it feels like you’re working it harder.
This means more downchanges and more revs more of the time, which shows up the rather tame engine note. The more laid-back Mazda sounds rortier as well.
But the Toyota is a car that keeps its eye on the sporty prize. The steering has plenty of feel, and the handling is excellent and chuckable. The car is still fairly light, and stays well balanced through the corners, with rapid changes of direction just a thought away. The ride is fractionally firm but never less than comfortable, and you’ll get real pleasure from hurling the car about at any speed.
The Mazda is in the same mould, although it does tend to lean a bit more mid-corner due to slightly softer suspension. That in turn means a very comfy ride. The MX-5 has decent amounts of grip and is just a lot of fun to chuck about. You’re never dealing with the sort of horsepower that scares the horses, and for most people most of the time that’s a very good thing. Fun without worry.
Toyota GT86 2.0 D-4S
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol
List price when new: £25,000
Price today: £16,000
Torque: 151lb ft
Top speed: 140mph
CO2 emissions: 180g/km
Inside they both have their strong points. The strong points in the Mazda include a modern, vibrant cabin with an excellent infotainment screen controlled by a rotary dial. It feels high quality, although it’s a bit more snug than the more spacious Toyota GT86 cabin.
The Toyota feels larger and at first glance looks quite trick, but materials aren’t that great and actually it all looks a bit dated. The infotainment system doesn’t improve that impression either.
However, you could in theory get four people in the GT86 and there are several stowage areas and even a sensible sized boot. The Mazda is only a two-seater and the boot won’t hold much luggage either.
Both cars come with decent levels of standard equipment, including climate and cruise control, Bluetooth and more.
A few years has narrowed the price gap between these two cars. What was £5000 is now about £1000. However, to add to the GT86’s price premium are higher running costs, higher car tax and higher servicing costs. The Toyota would probably be the more reliable of the two though.
In the end, you’d probably enjoy either of these cars. They’re simply great fun to drive in a carefree kind of way. Neither is perfect – the Mazda has a more cramped cockpit and it’s quite noisy when the roof is up, while the Toyota has a dull sounding engine that needs revving and the cabin is hardly a joy to look at even if it is more spacious.
On balance we’d give the nod to the Mazda MX-5. It’s easier to drive, has the better cabin, if a bit cramped, and the engine performs and sounds really well. There’s a reason it’s such a popular car.
Price today is based on a 2015 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
Buying used: Mazda MX-5 vs Toyota GT86