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Road tests

Mazda MX-5 vs Toyota GT 86

The new Mazda MX-5 and Toyota GT 86 offer undiluted driving fun. But which is a better buy?

The Japanese love their small sports cars. The big four companies – Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Mazda – all developed rear-drive sports cars in their formative years, but it’s arguable that the fruits of their labour only really achieved international recognition when Mazda unveiled the MX-5 in 1988.

That car has gained a big following over the years, and now there’s a new fourth-generation model in dealers. It maintains the tradition of offering driving thrills in a manageable, great-value package.

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But Mazda isn’t the only brand to cater for buyers after a user-friendly sports car. The Toyota GT 86 harks back to the rear-drive 2000 GT of the sixties and, like the MX-5, has a reputation for budget thrills.

Best sports cars to buy in 2015

While these two models look very different thanks to their roadster and coupé bodystyles, under the skin, their revvy, naturally aspirated engines and rear-drive chassis mean they both have the ingredients to put a smile on your face.

The question is, does the new MX-5 deliver the same enjoyment as its predecessors, or does the GT 86 have the edge for pure driving fun? We test the dynamic duo on road and track to see which is best.

Head to Head

Body style

While these two cars share a front-engine, rear-drive configuration, their body designs couldn’t be more different. Both cars feel sporty from behind the wheel, but the MX-5’s open top arguably makes itthat bit more enjoyable to drive. The extra noise from the engine and tyres only adds to the sense of involvement.

Engine choice

There are two engine options in the MX-5: 1.5 or 2.0 litres. The 129bhp 1.5 makes do with smaller wheels, and also does without the limited-slip diff. However, it’s still extremely sporty to drive, and prices start from £18,495 – a lot less than the GT 86.

Tuning options

Tuners such as Cosworth, Litchfield and Fennsport offer various upgrades for the GT 86, from software updates to the addition of turbochargers. There aren’t many options for the MX-5, but Brodie Brittain Racing does a turbo kit for the old car.

Verdict

1st Place: Mazda MX-5

The latest MX-5 is leaner, meaner and faster than ever, and manages to put a smile on your face every time you drive it. The agile chassis and punchy engine deliver driving thrills that come close to some hardcore track models. However, throw in a spacious cockpit, a long list of kit and that famed Japanese reliability, and it’s one open-top sports car you can easily live with on a daily basis.

2nd Place: Toyota GT 86

The GT 86 is still a great handling sports car, and it should prove to be just as reliable and dependable as the MX-5. However, while the sharp chassis and revvy boxer engine deliver a fun drive, the Toyota doesn’t quite have the all-round performance of the Mazda. A higher price tag and running costs peg it back in this test, too.

Other options for similar money

New: Cateram Seven 270

Price: £22,995 Engine: 2.0-litre 4cyl, 135bhp

If the MX-5 isn’t going to be your only car, why not go the whole hog and buy one of the best-handling cars on the planet? The 270 has plenty of power, covers 0-60mph in 5.0 seconds and boasts classic looks. Plus, you could pocket £3,000 if you build it yourself.

Used: MGB Roadster

Price: From £16,000 Engine: 1.8-litre 4cyl, 95bhp

The MX-5 is a modern successor to the MGB, and while prices vary according to condition, you could bag a tidy chrome-bumpered model for similar cash. You’ll recoup your money when you sell it – just be prepared to get your hands dirty to keep it running.

Figures

 Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport NavToyota GT 86
On the road price/total as tested£23,295/£23,835£25,000/£25,750
Residual value (after 3yrs/36,000)£11,298/48.5%£11,600/46.4%
Depreciation£11,997£13,400
Annual tax liability std/higher rate£1,245/£2,491£1,525/£3,050
Annual fuel cost (12k/20k miles)£1,655/£2,578£1,846/£3,077
Ins. group/quote/road tax band/cost33/£482/G/£18033/£521/I/£225
Cost of 1st/2nd/3rd service£499 (3y/37,500 mi)£179/£299/£179
   
Length/wheelbase3,915/2,310mm4,240/2,570mm
Height/width1,230/1,735mm1,285/1,775mm
Engine4cyl in/1,998cc4cyl boxer/1,998cc
Peak power/revs158/6,000 bhp/rpm197/7,000 bhp/rpm
Peak torque/revs200/4,600 Nm/rpm205/6,400 Nm/rpm
Transmission6-spd man/rwd6-spd man/rwd
Fuel tank capacity/spare wheel45 litres/repair kit50 litres/repair kit
Boot capacity130 litres243 litres
Kerbweight/payload1,000/260kg1,242/428kg
Turning circle/drag coefficient10.4 metres/N/A10.8 metres/10.27Cd
Basic warranty (miles)/recovery3yrs (60,000)/3yrs5yrs (100,000)/1yr
Service intervals/UK dealers12,500 mi (1y)/17010k miles (1yr)/184
Driver Power manufacturer/dealer pos9th/15th8th/2nd
Euro NCAP: Adult/child/ped./stars84/80/93/4 (2015)N/A
   
0-60/30-70mph6.6/6.3 secs7.3/6.8 secs
30-50mph in 3rd/4th3.5/4.6 secs4.0/5.1 secs
50-70mph in 5th/6th6.1/9.1 secs6.9/10.7 secs
Top speed/rpm at 70mph133mph/2,800rpm140mph/2,900rpm
Braking 70-0/60-0/30-0mph48.4/35.1/8.5m48.2/35.0/8.9m
Noise outside/idle/30/70mph56/47/63/72dB32.3/7.1/355 miles
Auto Express econ (mpg/mpl)/range36.0/7.9/356 miles27.2/44.8/36.2mpg
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined30.4/51.4/40.9mpg64/43/58/69dB
Govt urban/extra-urban/combined6.7/11.3/9.0mpl6.0/9.9/8.0mpl
Actual/claimed CO2/tax bracket210/161g/km/27%202/180g/km/31%
   
Airbags/Isofix/parking sensors/LSDFour/yes/rear/yesSeven/yes/£295/yes
Auto/stability/cruise controlNo/yes/yes£1,000/yes/yes
Climate ctrl/leather/heated seatsYes/yes/yesYes/£1,600/£1,600*
Met paint/xenon lights/keyless go£540/LED/yes£495/yes/yes
Sat-nav/USB/DAB/BluetoothYes/yes/yes/yes£750/yes/yes/yes
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