£25k sports car shoot out! Mazda MX-5 RF vs Toyota GT86

The GT86 and MX-5 are both very similar, both simple rear-wheel-drive, both turbo free, both manual, both designed for good and proper driving fun.

As far they’ve never been direct rivals as the GT86 is a coupe featuring rear seats and starts just over £25,000. The MX-5 is a pure bread old school soft top two-seater with an impressive heritage with prices starting well below £20,000.

 

Now with the arrival of the MX-5 RF, the car is effectively available as a coupe, and with its stiffer structure and hard top it’s stepping on the Toyota’s toes. The roof of course still folds away in a Porsche 911 fashion, grand and impressive, taking just 13 seconds to open and close. It’s certainly impressive and can be operated from the interior button or the key fob up to speeds of 10kmh. The GT86 doesn’t offer any impressive tricks of the like, the roof is fixed.

While the GT86 will rev right up to 7,500ron from the 2.0 flat-four engine, the Mazda’s powertrain feels more urgent, revving in a far keener, cleaner manner. There’s no dip in its torque curve at all. Its 158bhp and 148lb ft fall short of the GT86’s 197bhp and 151lb ft, but in the real world the MX-5 feels far brisker. A 7.4sec 0-62mph time backs that up compared to the Toyota’s 7.6 seconds.

If you’re into geeky things like rev-matching it has the more precise throttle for it, too. Both of these cars are out to prove that power isn’t ‘everything’ in a sports car. And it’s the least powerful of the pair that best punches above its weight.

Both of these cars have wonderful six-speed manual gearboxes, but the Mazda’s is just that little bit easier to operate, and there’s more grip to handle greedier throttle use. The MX-5 welcomed novices and smooths over their rough edges.

The Mazda’s interior is a smarter with all of your musical and navigational needs taken care of by an easy-to-operate touchscreen, the rest of the dashboard is nicely uncluttered. Three big, round dials make the air con a doddle to operate, too. You’ll want to crank the heat right up with the roof down, as it gets pretty blustery inside. It’s a simple task to do so.

Both cars match up well together with their strong points and weaknesses, but the truth is that the MX-5 looks like nothing else on sale with such an impressive party piece with the folding roof. With spring having sprung and summer around the corner, the MX-5 is the sure winner for us.