Drive and Review Sports Cars Top Stories Versus

2017 Toyota 86 M/T versus 2018 Mazda MX-5 M/T (With Video)

There's no other sports car fight that could get any more fierce than this.

-Editor’s Note-

“A few weeks ago, I went into a mall in search for silence and serendipity. Calmly, I was able to find a nice coffee shop where I could work on the photos of this article. As I transferred the photos from my SD card into my laptop, my coffee cup carelessly slapped the butt cheeks out of my SD card as I laid it down carelessly on the table. Alas, my dear old Apple MacBook Pro warned me in a cautious fashion that my SD card was rudely ejected as if I was Roman Pearce with his ‘Ejecto Seato’, essentially wiping my SD card cleaner than myself. Thankfully, Mazda Philippines and Toyota Motor Philippines understood our situation, and were very kind to let us borrow the Mazda MX-5 and Toyota 86 for another two days to clean up my careless act, and we thank them very dearly for it. We also thank you, our viewers and fans, for your patience and understanding.”

-Isaac B. Atienza- 

Splitting Hairs

On this second episode of Versus, Go Flat Out compares two of the most popular and two of the most highly contested vehicles in the world. It’s a war that’s as hard to settle as the conflict between North and South Korea, but also, it is a war that’s as hard to settle as the battle between vanilla and chocolate. Each flavor has its own fans, yet they both convey the same intent, albeit in a different manner and interpretation. Toyota thinks the best sports car in the world is something that is RWD, has a roof, and a longer body with a small (uninhabitable) rear seat. On Mazda’s side, they think the world’s best sports car is RWD, has a folding roof, and seating exclusively for two. Without further ado, let’s compare the Toyota 86 against the Mazda MX-5.

Exterior

Both cars are off to a fresh start. Being RWD sports cars, both cars have already nailed the basic proportions for what makes a car look dynamic. It needs to have a long hood and a short rear deck. The Toyota 86, which is finished off in this Pure Red color, nicely brings out the 86’s aggressive design cues. Six years have definitely been kind to the 86, and it’s mainly because of its rather simple design. Not much is going on in the car’s sheetmetal, and that’s okay, as it is a breath of fresh air from the many cars we see nowadays with so much lines and creases going on. Toyota has done their best to keep it modern, with a refreshed bumper, LED lighting all around, down to the turn signals and fog lights, and new, snazzier 17-inch alloy wheels. If one were to nitpick, Isaac isn’t a particularly huge fan of the 86’s lower front fascia, as the new front bumper somewhat made the 86 look like it has fangs.

The Mazda MX-5 meanwhile, ticks many of the boxes correctly for what a sports car should look like. Apart from its oh-so-right typical sports car proportions, Mazda’s engineers managed to inject its seductive KODO design language in such a short car, as the MX-5 is just a hair below 4-meters in length. The one thing that Mazda gets right most of the time is that, the amount of lines and creases a car has does not correlate to how beautiful a car looks. Like the 86, the MX-5 is free from too much lines and creases. Instead, the beauty of the MX-5 is purely in its sensual shapes, curves, and proportions. These elements combine together to have an interplay between light and shadow, and while it may seem like we are quoting this from Mazda’s press release, we sincerely promise we aren’t. It isn’t entirely perfect, though, just like the 86. For one, Isaac is not entirely sold with the MX-5’s smiling face, and he is also not too keen on the MX-5’s squinty eyes. James, meanwhile, is not a fan of the MX-5’s rear antenna. Despite all these, the Mazda MX-5 gets Go Flat Out’s point in the styling department.

Winner: Mazda MX-5

Interior

The Toyota 86’s interior has been improved in its 2016 model year, and we like what we see. The red factor of the 86’s interior has been toned down, and we love that, as the interior looks classier and more premium overall. Making the interior feel more premium and upmarket is Toyota’s use of soft touch materials in the upper dashboard, and the use of leather surfaces in the upper door trims and door armrests. It’s all tastefully done, plus the overall dashboard design has become cleaner and better finished, mainly thanks to the use of a single piece of faux carbon fiber panelling, rather the one in the pre-facelift version with its multiple panel gaps. More updates were also made to its switchgear, including its climate control knobs that mimic the nuts and bolts in your garage. Another update we love is the 86’s new gauges, which now fits a nifty TFT LCD multi-information display that incorporates critical vehicle information. Additionally, it includes a G-meter, which tells how much you’ve scared the hell out of your passengers.

The MX-5, meanwhile, has a sexier, more modern design compared to the 86’s simplistic interior. While the MX-5 has more hard plastics, mainly as a compromise to make the interior more durable for all types of weather, the interior’s overall design and shape makes the MX-5 look more European than Japanese, which is no surprise as even Fiat has used the MX-5 as a foundation for the Italian brand’s 124 Spider. Granted, the MX-5 has bits and pieces from the brand’s more mainstream cars, those bits and pieces feel properly premium, with its solid and hefty climate control knobs and lovely steering wheel controls. Yes, while you do get a feeling that it looks like any other Mazda interior, it’s a certainly a good looking one at that. I guess seductive design runs across the family. Lastly, let’s not forget about that removable top. If driving a sports car should be a sense of occasion, then driving with the roof down must be the event of a life time.

Winner: Mazda MX-5

Space and Practicality

If you’re buying a sports car, this aspect would probably be the least of your priorities, but if you want to have a sports car as a daily, the 86 would be the best candidate for the task. The Toyota 86 is a bigger car than the MX-5, and for that sole factor alone, the 86 already is a more practical choice, assuming buying a sports car were to be a practical choice in the first place. The Toyota 86’s size enables it to have rear seats, but these are best left for children. As a bonus, there are ISOFIX child seat anchor points in those rear seats. The Toyota 86’s trunk, at 237 liters, is bigger than the MX-5’s at 130 liters, but that’s not only the practicality aspect that the Toyota 86 is better at.

Both cars offer excellent driving positions, and that’s despite the MX-5 not having a telescopic steering wheel. You both sit low in either car, but the 86 has better head, leg, and shoulder room. Inside the MX-5, a small, lockable storage bin between the seats is available, and since the space between the two people inside the MX-5 is a bit narrow, you only get two detachable but well engineered cupholders, which can be placed just behind your elbows, or in the case of the passenger, at the right side of the center console. There’s also a small hidden storage bin behind the rear seats, yet these storage solutions aren’t enough to justify the fact that the Toyota 86 has an actual glove box in the first place.

Winner: Toyota 86

Features, Safety, and Infotainment

Both cars are similarly equipped, with both having LED headlights, LED tail lights, passive entry with push button start, Bluetooth, USB, and a touch screen infotainment system. The Toyota 86 only slightly pulls ahead as it has a higher airbag count, and an automatic climate control system.

The differences lie in how these features work, and in the 86, the infotainment system is what Isaac thinks is the worst infotainment system he has used. It took him almost an hour to figure out how to connect his phone through the 86’s Kenwood infotainment system. It isn’t the easiest to use, too, as the menus are extremely convoluted and the graphics are very unattractive.

In contrast, James enjoyed using the MZD Connect infotainment system with its rotary dial knob controller. Using the MZD connect was a synch, with logical menus, and an easy to understand layout, especially when using the rotary knob controller. It’s simply less distracting to use on the move, as your cognitive memory recognizes and remembers the clicks of the knob when scrolling through the menus of the infotainment system. As a bonus, MZD Connect includes navigation, which is useful when LTE connectivity isn’t available.

Winner: Mazda MX-5

Powertrain and How It Drives

Both cars are powered by a 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine. The Toyota 86 uses a horizontally-opposed boxer layout, while the Mazda MX-5 uses a inline layout. The 86 produces 197 hp and 205 Nm of torque, while the MX-5 produces 155 hp and 200 Nm of torque. Both are mated to a 6-speed manual transmission. Both cars have a limited slip differential, making the car easier to launch and to attack corners with. From the start, it seems the Toyota 86 would have the power advantage, but one couldn’t be more wrong, as we take these two to Clark International Speedway.

In a straight line, both cars would be smoked by a V6-powered midsize executive sedan, but these two are not slow by any means, as both cars achieve a 0-100 kph acceleration time in around 7.5 to 7.3 seconds. Sure, it isn’t hot hatch fast, but it’s appropriate for what these cars are meant for. The performance similarities are due to the fact that the Toyota 86, while already a light car in the first place, is actually 200 kg heavier than the MX-5, and that’s about the combined weight of Isaac and James. That weight different also makes the cars perform almost similarly on the track.

The Mazda MX-5 has a soft suspension, but its suspension doesn’t need to be stiff. The car is so light in the first place, it needs less stiffening for the MX-5 not to be all over the track. Granted, this makes the MX-5 harder to let the tail loose, as the car’s body lean makes it go into understeer instead. However, the MX-5’s movements is the key to how the car’s chassis communicates through your butt. It becomes a joy that clearly is the epitome of Mazda’s “Jinba Ittai” philosophy, or horse and rider as one. Normally, we would criticize a car for its body lean, but in the MX-5’s case, this was engineered on purpose, as the body movements serve as a means of the car to communicate its personality through you, making you essentially a part of the MX-5’s chassis. Because of this sensation, lap after lap, you just become a better driver than you were at the previous lap, as you continually learn how to manage the MX-5 through the corners. Let’s also talk about the MX-5’s manual transmission, as it is one of the best in any car, at any price and category. The transmission is so nice, the pleasure of rowing through the gears just feels so sensational, and the clutch is very friendly too, feeling more like an on-off switch due to how excellent the clutch feel is. It is a transmission that is so good, we wouldn’t event recommend one bit for anyone to purchase the automatic variant. If there’s one manual sports car Go Flat Out’s writers are more than willing to use as a daily, the MX-5 would be it, as even in EDSA traffic, the MX-5 is simply so easy to manage. The MX-5 then, is like a friendly hyperactive child that likes to play, and that sensation of joy is proof once you see the MX-5’s smiling, grinning face as it goes through the corners.

The Toyota 86, meanwhile, feels more hardcore than the Mazda MX-5. For starters, having a fixed roof means the car’s rigidity is already better than the MX-5’s. Combined with its stiffer suspension, the Toyota 86 manages to stay planted and flatter through the corners. Both cars will first lead you into a safe, less scary understeer, but through throttle modulation, the Toyota 86 is easy to let the tail loose if you dare it to, and that’s where the beauty of the 86 lies. It is a car that was developed from the beginning to be easy to drift. James spun out in the Mazda MX-5 a couple of times, but in the Toyota 86, James was able to easily enter into oversteer. If there’s one thing that we love about the Toyota 86, that would be its perfectly calibrated electronic power steering. It feels heavy and well weighted, and the feedback through the wheel is so delicate, even a mosquito being squished by the wheels might be felt through the steering. Isaac even initially thought the Toyota 86 was using a hydraulically assisted rack. If there are two things that keep these two cars separated in terms of their grip, that would be their tires. The Mazda MX-5 uses grippier Bridgestone Potenza S001 tires, while the Toyota 86 uses eco-friendly, low rolling resistance Michelin Primacy HP tires, which led to the Toyota 86 being more tail happy. Both of these cars have very approachable limits, as these were designed from the beginning to fulfil one job, and that is to deliver absolute joy to the driver, The 86’s limits are just that little bit higher, and if confidence inspiring handling and lap times are what you’re after, the 86 would be it.

In summary, out in the track, the Mazda MX-5 feels playful, with its softer suspension, more pronounced body movements, and slick 6-speed manual transmission. The Toyota 86, meanwhile, is more serious, with its stiffer body, suspension, and delicate electronic power steering. While we weren’t able to do a hot lap around the track to compare which of the two cars is faster, as the track was also open to other cars during our review, the Toyota 86 and Mazda MX-5’s time differences are almost negligible, mostly depending on who was behind the wheel of the two cars. Both cars regularly posted lap times at around 2:30, with milliseconds only separating the two cars. Until we find a “tame racing driver” to properly do hot laps for us, it’s hard to draw an objective conclusion on which is the faster car. For this round, we’re giving the win to the Toyota 86, as it felt more planted and more confident around the track.

Winner: Toyota 86

Verdict

Buying a sports car is not a practical choice, as it’s a purchase that’s a matter of heart over mind. If you do have the privilege, and the permission of the missus, to buy any of these two sports cars, you can’t go wrong on either car. They both handle well at the track, with the Mazda MX-5 being playful, while the 86 being more serious. At the track, we would pick the 86 as the car felt more capable and more planted around the corners, but in every other aspect, we felt a greater sense of occasion when driving the Mazda MX-5. It felt playful, and was literally splitting hairs with the 86 when it came to lap times. Whereas the Toyota 86 was communicating its intent well through its excellent steering, the Mazda MX-5 was communicating its intent through everything else, from its slick 6-speed manual, chassis, and suspension. It doesn’t feel cynical, and combined with its convertible top that offers a real Starlight headliner that a Rolls-Royce can only artificially produce, the Mazda MX-5 becomes an occasion every time you get in, whether it’d be merely a trip to the grocery, or to the track. As we said, a sports car is meant to give joy and a sense of occasion to the driver. In that respect, the Mazda MX-5 wins this test.

Isaac’s Pick: Mazda MX-5
James’ Pick: Mazda MX-5

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