Mazda MX-5 Miata vs Subaru BRZ: Affordable Sports Car Battle

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To quote the classic 1986 film The Highlander, “There can be only one.” For enthusiasts everywhere, that definitive line between Mazda Miata and Subaru BRZ has been drawn in the sand. But for us, we’re tasked with the burden responsibility of choosing between the two. For those of you easily offended, you still have the chance to turn back now.

The best place to start is from the beginning. Both the Miata and BRZ bring some goods to the table straight from the factory. Lightweight, punchy, and handsome are a few key terms you should be familiar with right off the bat. The detail, though, goes much deeper than just a few initial impressions.

Performance

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Subaru BRZ

Handling: 9/10

Power: 6/10

MPG: 7/10

When Toyota and Subaru set out to create the fun-to-drive sports car that is the BRZ, they had a few key goals in mind. The first: keep it light. What good is rear-wheel drive and 200 horsepower if you’re having to lug around a heavy, uncoordinated body on top of it?

In that aspect, the BRZ excels. It tips the scales at just 2,762 pounds. It’s extremely light on its feet, and paired with scalpel-like direct steering that just slices the corners, it makes for one of the most satisfying drives on the planet.

The second goal: put to use the tried and tested Subaru Boxer engine. Problem is, it sounds better on paper than it actually performs in the real world. That Boxer just isn’t enough for most enthusiasts in this usage. And we don’t disagree—the low-end torque is abysmal. It’s only when you get near the 4,000 rpm range does the engine really come to life. Unexpected for an engine that puts out 200 horsepower.

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Mazda MX-5 Miata

Handling: 7.5/10

Power: 8/10

MPG: 8/10

The spec sheet doesn’t lie; the Subaru BRZ is the more powerful of the two. But does it really matter? Not in the slightest. At 2,332 pounds, the Miata is a few hundred pounds lighter, and gets the power down more quickly in a straight line. Probably has something to do with the stickier tires too.

The steering is precise, though not as scalpel-sharp as the BRZ, and there’s a bit of body roll, making it not necessarily as performance-oriented from factory as purists would have hoped. But that’s not really a bad thing, that ‘fun factor’, engineers tell us, is truly what makes the Miata a Miata.

As far as gearboxes go, the Miata wins this round. The short-shifting six-speed on the Miata is precise, and the clutch is smooth without requiring an expert level skill set. The BRZ, on the other hand, makes things difficult with its hard-shifting, no-nonsense gearbox, and overly-stiff clutch.

Design

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Subaru BRZ

Exterior: 8/10

Interior: 6.5/10

Look up the term ‘sports car’ in Webster’s, and you’re likely to find a silhouette of the Subaru BRZ adjacent. It is the very definition of a sports car in terms of design; a long hood, a short rear, and side proportions that mimic something significantly more expensive.

That handsome design follows suit to the interior…to an extent. It’s not the most luxurious interior, granted, but the well-thought out design features ambitious red stitching, appropriately designed buttons and knobs, and quality materials throughout. The BRZ doesn’t offer leather seats, though, and on longer drives, the cloth seats become about as comfortable as a wet towel on a metal bench.

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Mazda MX-5 Miata

Exterior: 6.5/10

Interior: 8.5/10

While Subaru went the straight and narrow path in terms of design, Mazda designers took liberties in making the Miata as creative and unique as possible. That being said, it has its hits and misses.

The front fascia is significantly more aggressive than the one its replacing. Mazda designers took that whole ‘chick car’ stereotype to heart, and really made something even the most hardcore Miata haters can get behind. The rear follows suit, but misses the mark with the taillight design. Something about it just doesn’t flow.

Inside the Miata absolutely shines. Leather seats (in the one we tested), a stellar infotainment setup, quality materials, and a well-equipped steering wheel for volume and channel control. Subaru doesn’t have a leg to stand on when it’s up against the MX-5′s interior.

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The Verdict

Subaru BRZ: 7.5/10

Mazda Miata: 7/10

It was a tough decision; one that actually needed a recount. But our final stats show the Miata falls overall to the BRZ—but just barely. The defining factor being the BRZ’s flat and precise cornering. It shoots above its class, rivaling cars well over twice the price. The Miata definitely brings a fun factor to the segment—especially with the top down—but doesn’t do the much for the pure enthusiast in us. If you want an overall fun car that is more comfortable and has a modern interior, the Miata has that in spades.

With the Miata starting at $24,915, and the BRZ starting at $25,395, both cars bring a unique flavor to the segment, and neither should be overlooked. But ask us which one we’d choose, and we’d tell you to go with the BRZ.

Specs

Subaru BRZ

Engine: 2.0L 4-Cylinder Boxer

Horsepower: 200

0-60: 6.7 Seconds

Price: $25,395

Mazda MX-5 Miata

Engine: 2.0L 4-Cylinder Skyactiv

Horsepower: 155

0-60: 6.0 Seconds

Price: $24,915

Positives

BRZ corners completely flat

Miata interior is sublime

Both are fun, affordable vehicles

Negatives

BRZ infotainment system needs an update

Miata exterior design isn’t perfect

BRZ still feels underpowered

Miata has a bit too much roll

Photo Credit: Jeff Perez for BoldRide

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