Pitting a convertible against a coupe seems unfair – but when the convertible is the hugely successful Mazda MX-5, it’s the newcomer that should be worried.
The Mazda uses the same formula as the BRZ: a compact, lightweight chassis with a 2.0-litre engine powering the rear wheels.
Yet these rivals give out different signals in the metal. When you park the MX-5 next to the angular Subaru, the old cliches about the Mazda being more fashion statement than serious sports car ring true. Its cute, curvy design lacks the tougher BRZ’s impact. Still, this Venture model has gunmetal grey alloys and the optional Ebony Mica metallic paint (£495) looks classy. The short, stubby rear end is neater than the Subaru’s, but the design is constrained by having to incorporate the folding hard-top. Judged purely as a coupe, the MX-5 lacks visual bite in this company.
Even though it significantly undercuts the BRZ on price, the £22,285 Mazda feels like the more luxurious car from behind the wheel. The seats and doors are lined with leather, and unlike in its rival, TomTom sat-nav, Bluetooth and heated seats are standard. Build quality is on par with the Subaru as well. However, you sit higher in the MX-5 than in the BRZ, while a narrow pedal box and lack of adjustment mean it’s not as easy for drivers to get comfy.
There’s only room for the driver and one passenger, plus the wheelbase is 240mm shorter than the Subaru’s, so space inside is tight. With only a tiny cubby between the seats, some elastic door nets and a fairly small glovebox, packing for long journeys is tricky. It’s a similar story with luggage – the cramped 150-litre boot really limits what you can carry.
This won’t concern most sports car buyers, as the MX-5 still offers some serious driving thrills. While it can’t match the BRZ’s power, at 1,165kg, it’s 65kg lighter – so it was only two tenths slower from 0-60mph, at 7.3 seconds.
The 2.0-litre engine is not quite as eager or responsive as the BRZ’s, but the manual box is fantastically accurate and the busy steering constantly feeds information to the driver through the thin-rimmed wheel. Like the Subaru, the Mazda uses a limited-slip diff to improve traction, but softly set-up suspension means the car dives under braking and rolls more in corners than the BRZ does.
During everyday driving, the MX-5 lacks the Subaru’s refinement, while a lot of wind and road noise is audible at motorway speeds. However, there’s no denying the appeal of the car’s folding hard-top, which gives you wind-in-the hair thrills at the touch of a button.
The MX-5 is also great value for money in this spec, plus we managed 37.7mpg – better than the official figure. But it won’t hold its value as well as the Subaru and its aftersales package isn’t as comprehensive. And crucially in a test of driving fun, the Mazda’s not as engaging as the BRZ. So will that cost it?