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Used test: Mazda MX-5 vs Toyota GT86
Fun doesn't have to be an expensive commodity, as the Mazda MX-5 and Toyota GT86 prove. Which is the more accomplished used buy? We find out...
Mazda MX-5 2.0 160 SE-L Nav
List price when new £20,695
Price today £12,000*
Available from 2015-present
The MX-5 offers drop-top fun, as well as low running costs
Toyota GT86 2.0 D-4S
List price when new £25,000
Price today £14,000*
Available from 2012-2020
A more practical proposition, but is the GT86 the superior sports car, too?
*Price today is based on a 2015 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing
The first and latest Fast and Furious films are extremely different. Due to constantly raising the stakes over nine instalments, the franchise's lead character has effectively gone from street racer to superhero. The fanbase is often divided; plenty prefer the humble beginnings over later, bombastic sequels.
It's a similar story with sports cars. So many have grown in size, power and price over the years, and this means there's a huge craving for back-to-basics models. After all, you can get a lot of driving fun out of low weight, modest grunt and rear-wheel-drive dynamics. Pure and simple.
A pair of cars that fall under such description is the Mazda MX-5 and Toyota GT86. Buy one at seven years old and you can save around £9000 off new, so you'll be laughing all the way to your favourite country road.
Which should you take? Read on to find out.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
Both cars have 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engines, but the two are far from the same. The GT86’s motor sits lower in the car for a better centre of gravity and develops an extra 40bhp. However, the MX-5 is a fair bit lighter, helping to give it a slight edge for straight-line performance. On a wet track, the MX-5 slithered away and completed 0-60mph in 7.6sec, while the GT86 did the sprint in 7.7sec.
That said, the MX-5 feels like a considerably quicker car, because when you put your foot down its engine starts pulling strongly from 1500rpm all the way to the red line. The GT86 doesn’t start to rouse itself until 2500rpm and is only fully awake at 4500rpm. As a result, you find yourself changing down more often and revving the engine harder to get the best out of it.
Sadly, the GT86’s engine doesn’t sound very good when pushed, emitting a gravelly, uninspiring whine. The MX-5’s soundtrack is far more pleasant and encourages you to put your foot down at every available opportunity.
The MX-5 has an excellent six-speed gearbox, too. The stubby lever feels delightful and, as you grab each gear, the slick action has the mechanical precision of a Swiss timepiece. The GT86’s lever is longer and the shift is notchier, although it’s far from unpleasant.
Both cars are supremely rewarding to drive quickly. Their lightness makes them seriously nimble, so when you turn in to a corner they respond immediately. There’s marginally more feedback through the GT86’s steering, giving you a slightly better connection with the front wheels. However, the differences are small, and the MX-5’s steering is hard to fault for accuracy.
The GT86 is also better tied down, staying fairly flat through bends, while the MX-5 leans more as you turn in. Both feel beautifully balanced, though, with skinny tyres allowing you to exploit their playful handling at sensible speeds. Sure, plenty of hot hatchbacks offer more grip, more performance and more stopping power, but few can match the driving pleasure of these two lightweight sports cars.
It’s also surprising how well they ride given their sporting pretensions; both soak up bumps without ever becoming uncomfortable. The softer suspension in the MX-5 delivers the better all-round comfort, though. You still feel the bumps as they pass beneath the car, but in a slightly less aggressive fashion.
The GT86 has the noisier engine but, with its soft top closed, the MX-5 suffers from a lot more wind noise at motorway speeds – you might have to turn the radio up a notch or two. However, drop the roof – a process that takes just a few seconds – and the MX-5 is pretty refined by convertible standards, with very little buffeting.
Next: What are they like inside >>
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