Comparison Review: Toyota GR86 vs Mazda MX-5 RF / Battle of the Affordable Sports Cars

Back in the 80s and 90s, we were spoiled 
for choice when it came to an affordable,  
rear-wheel drive, two-seate,r or two plus 
two, sports car. These days, unfortunately,  
they’re very hard to come by. But of the ones 
that are remaining, how does the Mazda MX-5  
compare against the new Toyota GR86 when they’re 
head to head? Let’s go for a drive and find out.
So first let’s familiarize ourselves with the 
MX-5 and obviously this particular one that  
I’m driving right now is not stock, judging by 
the wheels and that exhaust sound out the back.  
Now the shots that I am showing you are mostly 
from the MX-5 that I drove a couple years ago  
and that one was 100 percent stock. Anyway, the 
car itself. It has a two liter four-cylinder  
naturally aspirated engine. It produces 181 
horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque.  
That is quite a bit less than the Toyota 
GR86 but this also weighs less than the GR86.  
It’s about 1,100 kilograms with the hard top. 
You get the impression that this engine really  
likes to rev. The peak torque is reached midway 
through the rpms and peak power is pretty much  
all the way at the red line. In a drag race,

MX-5 would probably get off the line a little bit  
more quickly than the GR86 because it’s lighter. 
However over a longer distance, the GR86 will  
probably catch up to it and overtake it. Obviously 
I’m on public roads and I’m not going to do that.  
But driving fast in a straight line is not 
what either of these cars were built for.  
They were built for going quickly around corners 
and putting a smile on your face and none of them  
do it better than this MX5. As Colin Chapman’s 
famous quote goes “simplify then add lightness”.  
This is what the Mazda MX-5 embodies. The 
addition of the hardtop roof does increase  
the weight over the soft top but only by about 50 
kilos. The lightweight nature of the MX-5 makes  
it a joy to drive around corners. Steering is very 
precise and very quick to respond to your inputs.  
It provides excellent feedback as to what the 
front tires are doing. The MX-5 responds very  
well to smooth inputs but can quickly become 
twitchy at higher speeds if you toss it into  
a corner. Thankfully the back end is very easy 
to catch if the stock 205 wide tires do let go  
and they will let go even with 181 horsepower. 
Now in the Toyota GR86, this is more of a first  
drive review of it because I don’t have a whole 
lot of time with this particular demo vehicle.  
However i will be getting the GR86 again in the 
summer of 2022 so make sure you subscribe to  
check out when that video when it comes out and if 
you are watching this video when it’s past summer  
2022, I’ll leave a link in the description 
to the new, longer, full review of the GR86.  
Anyway the big news with this one is that Toyota 
listened to the owners and fans of the old GT86  
and they gave the car more power. It now has a 
2.4 liter flat 4 engine, boxer, and it produces  
228 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. That 
change in power is immediately more noticeable  
because the car just picks up and goes from 2,000 
rpms right up to the red line. When you’re driving  
on highways, you don’t need to downshift. You 
can leave it in sixth gear and just gently roll  
on the throttle and you can easily overtake 
another vehicle. Peak torque is now in the mid  
rpm range and the peak power is around the 7,000 
rpm mark with the red line being at 7,500 rpms.  
And of course, mated to this engine is a six-speed 
manual. You can get a six-speed automatic just  
like in the Mazda MX-5 but I suspect that most the 
GR86s are gonna come with the manual transmission.  
The six-speed transmission is not quite as slick 
shifting as the six-speed in the Mazda MX-5.  
Through the first few gears, it feels just a bit 
more notchy. The six-speed in the Mazda MX-5 is  
one of the best out there with a precise, short, 
and has a satisfying click as it goes into gear.  
The clutch pedals in both cars are light with a 
solid bite point feeling. As for driving around  
corners, the GR 86 feels a little bit more mature 
than the MX-5. It doesn’t feel like as though it  
wants to slide its tail out quite as much as the 
MX-5. It feels more neutral however midway through  
a corner if you stomp on that throttle pedal, it 
will let go but you can easily catch the back end.  
It did receive a stiffer front sway bar and 
stiffer springs over the previous generation  
along with a faster steering rack. 
The steering is extremely quick and  
the front end turns immediately, it’s like 
telepathy. However you do feel the extra weight,  
almost 200 kilogram difference between this 
and the RF MX-5 and of course a little bit  
bigger difference between the soft top MX-5. 
Between these two sports cars, the Mazda MX-5,  
even as an RF, is still the more 
enjoyable car to drive on a winding road.
Sitting inside the Mazda MX-5, now I realize that 
I am above average in height, I’m six foot four,  
and I have an okay amount of space. I mean my legs 
are just barely touching up against the dashboard  
but every time that I brake, my knee is hitting 
the dashboard. Even though this seat is as far  
back as possible, every time i brake, like i 
said it’s hitting the dashboard and after a while  
it does start to bruise a bit. But in terms 
of headroom because the MX-5 is a convertible,  
obviously plenty of headroom. Even with the 
top up, I still have just enough headroom.  
As for the interior itself, it’s very typical 
MX5. There is absolutely nothing in here to  
distract you from the job of driving. Seven inch 
touchscreen that can also be controlled by this  
rotary knob down here on the center console, 
really simple climate controls, heated seats,  
and that’s really all that you need. So very 
straightforward interior in the Mazda MX-5.  
Now let’s check out the GR86. Now sitting 
inside the Toyota GR86 and obviously the biggest  
difference is that i can comfortably fit in it. 
My knees are pretty close to the dashboard, well  
specifically the push button start, but every time 
that I brake my knee isn’t going to hit it. And  
it’s the same story with headroom, my hair is not 
brushing up against the headliner and i can even  
move the seat further back, yeah by one notch, i 
can move it further back. So it’s quite spacious.  
My only small complaint is with the steering 
wheel because it does have tilt and telescopic but  
not a whole lot of range of motion. So it 
would be nice if it came out a little bit  
more and moved up a little bit more. But minor 
complaints. As for the rest of the interior,  
it is very straightforward just like in the Mazda 
MX-5. Although you do get a larger touchscreen  
with apple carplay and android auto, again 
just like in the MX-5, the climate controls  
are super simple and straightforward to use, 
your traction and stability control buttons are  
right here on the center console right next to 
the heated seats, and also the GR86 has a full  
digital display. In the MX-5 you get analog 
gauges and personally I prefer the analog  
gauges over the digital display, but that’s 
just personal preference. As for the back seats,  
well behind my driving position nobody’s gonna 
fit back there. But if somebody shorter sat in  
the front passenger seat then probably somebody 
shorter is gonna fit in the back passenger side.  
Although it’s still gonna be pretty tight 
for them. You might as well just drop that  
back rest and just have more cargo capacity. 
Speaking of which, guess which one has more of it?  
The Toyota GR86 has 177 liters of cargo space 
while the Mazda MX-5 has 127 liters of space.
Of the two, the 2022 Toyota GR86 is the less 
expensive option. It starts at around $31,500 CAD  
with a fully loaded version costing $36,890 CAD. 
Excluding paint, accessories, freight, pdi, etc.  
The 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF starts at $40,300 CAD 
with a fully loaded version costing $44,300 CAD.  
Again excluding paint, accessories, freight, 
pdi, and so on. So while you can get a fully  
loaded GR86 for the starting price of the 
MX-5 RF, the soft top version though is  
more competitively priced at $33,300 CAD to start 
with. In a fully loaded MX-5 RF, you’ll get Nappa  
leather upholstery, heated seats, wireless apple 
carplay but unfortunately wired android auto,  
LED headlights, keyless entry and push 
button start, backup camera, seven inch  
touchscreen with navigation, Bose nine speaker 
audio system, and automatic climate control.  
Arguably the biggest gadget that you get with 
the RF MX5 is the metal folding roof. The top  
can go up or down in 13 seconds and up to a speed 
of 10 kilometers an hour. It’s just one toggle  
of a button to raise it or lower it so anyone 
can do it. In the GR86, it can be equipped with  
a larger 8-inch touchscreen with wired apple 
carplay and wired android auto, heated seats,  
Alcantara and leather upholstery, dual zone 
climate control, LED headlights, an 8-speaker  
audio system, and keyless entry with push button 
start. So very similarly equipped as the Mazda.  
As for how these cars looks, well styling 
is subjective and beauty is in the eye of  
the beholder. The MX-5 has been stereotyped 
as being driven by hairdressers or women  
but that’s just simply not the case anymore. If 
you’re a guy, there is absolutely no shame in  
driving a great car like this with the top up or 
down. The buttresses on the RF do hamper over the  
shoulder visibility on the left side but the car 
does come standard with blind spot sensors and you  
shouldn’t have any blind zones if you adjust the 
mirrors correctly. The GR86 retains some styling  
cues from the original GT86 and i do like that 
massive duckbill spoiler. Although some have said  
that the back end is reminiscent of a Subaru. 
Then again, this car does have a Subaru twin.  
So in the end between these two, which one would 
i personally choose to go home in? Well i really  
like the Mazda MX-5. The way that it drives is 
just unparalleled by any other sports car out  
there. It genuinely feels like it’s connected to 
you like it’s an extension of your arms and feet.  
The new GR86 is a big improvement over 
the old GT86. This new engine has plenty  
of power and plenty of torque plus it’s 
still just as practical as the old one.  
It is heavier than the MX-5 so it doesn’t quite 
feel quite as agile as this one but it is still  
a lot of fun to drive. Plus of course 
it is more practical than the MX-5  
and it is less expensive than the RF version of 
the MX-5. So for me personally I’d pick this.  
As much as I love the MX-5, I cannot fit in 
it comfortably. So I’m sticking with this. But  
that’s my opinion, what’s yours? Let me know in 
the comments. And if you want to know more about  
either of these two little sports cars, I wrote 
a comparison review of them over on my website.  
You can find that link in the video description 
or click on the pop-up banner right up there. And  
as always, I will see you in the next car or truck 
or most likely it’ll probably be an SUV next time.  
Anyway thank you for watching, please like 
and subscribe and see you in the next video.

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