Twin test: Toyota GT86 v Mazda MX-5

Toyota GT86 v Mazda MX-5 on MSN Cars

By Ginny Weeks

One of the great things about being a motoring journalist is that you get to try a whole range of cars. A lovely side effect of this is that occasionally you’ll get to try a car that will completely obliterate any prejudgements you had. This happened to me with the Mazda MX-5.

I am ashamed to say that I had preconceived opinions of it (naff image, not a ‘serious’ sports car etc, etc) and didn’t really see how it could ever battle against a car like the fierce new Toyota GT86.

My friends seemed to share the opinion too. There can’t be another car that exists that is so closely associated with the words ‘hairdresser’ and ‘girly’. It’s a verbal reaction that seems to stream out of people’s mouths on impulse. And they haven’t even driven the thing.

This is a shame, because the MX-5 is a brilliant car: it’s engaging, sporty and fun and has quietly been a favourite among motoring journalists for years now. It’s the sort of car that gives its owners a feeling of smug satisfaction every time they drive it.

The problem is that its image is a bit of an obstacle. It wouldn’t surprise me if the next generation MX-5 is more aggressive and less feminine looking to counteract this.

At the other extreme, image is not something the GT86 struggles with – I felt like I was driving a Ferrari around town, such was the attention the car was getting. Granted it is a completely new car: the one I had was bright orange and it has the kind of boomy exhausts that make passers-by jump. You can’t exactly miss it.

With its sculpted bonnet and aggressive styling, everything about it is satisfyingly sporty and bold. Saying that, it might be a bit too The Fast and the Furious for some tastes.

It would be easy to think these cars are a world away from each other but really they are more similar than you’d think. Take the stats for example: both have a 2.0-litre engine, they reach 0-60mph in 7.6 seconds and are rear-wheel drive. They are also both hugely impractical with either no rear seats (MX-5) or seats only suitable for a bag or two (GT86). This is all part of their sports car charm, however.

Both absolutely love to be thrashed through the gears, encouraging you to make the most of every nice stretch of road. They are fantastic fun but not stupidly quick. Two distinct differences are that the MX-5 clinches it around town (it is far more capable of being driven sedately) and the GT86 wins on overall speed – it has 40bhp more than the Mazda, which gives it a distinct advantage over 60mph.

The MX-5 has dominated the roadster market for almost 10 years, with no other car company able to match its fantastically fun drive, simplistic set-up and price. So is Toyota trying to get a piece of the pie? It has taken Mazda’s lead and developed an old-fashioned, naturally aspirated sports car without a turbo in sight, much like the six-year-old MX-5.

The Mazda still wins on price though – the 2.0-litre we drove is priced at £22,995 whereas the GT86 starts at £24,995. Next year the GT86 will also have its roof chopped off, which will swiftly move it into roadster territory but might bump up the price too.

So is there a market for Toyota’s affordable sports car? Well, yes. When you consider that over 850,000 Mazda MX-5 units have been sold since 1989, the GT86 might just prove to be a very clever move indeed.