Back in the 80’s and 90’s, you were spoiled for an affordable, RWD, 2-seat (or 2+2) sports car. These days, the 2022 Toyota GR86 and 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF are among the last. The MX-5 RF (ND) has been with us for 6 years now but the Toyota GR86 is new for the 2022 model year with some much needed updates. So which one is best?
Engine – Starting with the familiar one first, the 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF is powered by a 2.0L naturally aspirated 4-cylinder that produces 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque (135 kW & 205 Nm). It is significantly less than the power figures of the GR86 but the MX-5, even in RF guise, is lighter. The MX-5 RF tips the scales at 1,116 kg (2,460 lbs) while the Toyota GR 86 weighs 1,285 kg (2,832 lbs). This weight difference lets the MX-5 get off the line a bit more quickly than the GR86 but the power of the Toyota’s engine will reel it back in and overtake it. However, the engine in the MX-5 is a joy to rev. Peak power is at the top end but peak torque is in the mid-range of the rpms.
The 2022 Toyota GR86 is powered by a 2.4L flat-4 (or boxer) engine that produces 228 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque (170 kW & 249 Nm). Like the MX-5, the peak power is right at the top of the rpm range but unlike the previous generation of the 86, the peak torque is now in the mid-rpm range. This gives the car a more enthusiastic and energetic characteristic. It also makes the car easier to drive around on city streets and city traffic because it doesn’t need to rev that high to get going. It’s also a pretty good sounding engine although some of the sound is piped through the audio system.
Fuel Economy – Between these two sports cars, it’s the Mazda MX5 RF that is more fuel efficient. It is rated for 9.0 L/100km (26.1 MPG) in a city and 7.0 L/100km (33.6 MPG) on a highway with the 6-speed manual transmission. The 2022 Toyota GR86 is rated for 11.9 L/100km (19.8 MPG) in a city and 8.7 L/100km (27 MPG) on a highway, again with the 6-speed manual. Both cars require premium fuel.
Transmission – Both sports cars are available with automatic transmissions but it’s the 6-speed manual that will most likely be the more popular option. Between the two, it’s the MX-5’s manual transmission and shifter that feels more crisp and connected. Each throw of the shifter is precise, short, and has a satisfying “click” as it goes into gear. The shifter in the GR86 is by no means bad or sloppy but the throws feel a bit more notchy through the first few gears. The clutch pedals in both cars are light with a solid bite point feeling.
Braking – If you opt for the GSP package with the Mazda MX-5 RF, it’ll come equipped with Brembo 4-piston front calipers. The Brembo brakes provide a slightly stiffer feeling brake pedal and, of course, a tremendous amount of stopping force. The Toyota GR86 doesn’t have Brembo or any sort of fixed calipers but the brakes still provide plenty of stopping power. It’s just that the brake pedal doesn’t feel quite as firm as the one in the MX-5 with the optional Brembo brakes.
Handling – As Colin Chapman’s famous quote goes “Simplify, then add lightness” is the philosophy of the Mazda MX-5. The addition of the hardtop roof does increase the weight over the soft-top but only by about 50 kg (110 lbs). 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 driver inputs. It provides excellent feedback as to what the front tires are doing. The MX-5 responds very well to smooth steering 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 205 wide tires do let go, and they will let go even with 181 hp.
The 2022 Toyota GR86 on the other hand has to contend with a bit more weight. It did receive a stiffer front sway bar and stiffer springs over the previous generation along with a faster steering rack. These changes make it sharper and more responsive than the old GT86/FRS. From behind the steering wheel, it feels neutral around corners but that neutral feeling can easily be upset with a stab of the throttle. Sliding the GR86 sideways is just as easy as the last one. However, it doesn’t feel as communicative as the MX-5. The weight difference highlights just how much fun the Mazda MX-5 is around corners.
Ride Comfort – Both of these are sports cars and as such, they have relatively firm rides. The MX-5 with the Bilstein shocks does have a ride that is firmer still over the standard MX-5 but it’s not completely unbearable on city streets. Though you’ll want to avoid deep potholes and large manhole covers. The GR86’s ride feels similar to that of the MX-5 with the Bilsten shocks. Firm but smooth enough to not be too tiring on daily commutes.
Interior Space – For my 6’4” stature, the Mazda MX-5 is too small for me. I fit in the seats just fine but every time I brake, my right knee is hitting the dashboard. Over time, it will cause bruising. Headroom though is plentiful with the top down or up.
In the Toyota GR86, I have plenty of space for my height. Both legroom and headroom are adequate for someone of my height. The rear seats however are a different story. Behind my driving position, no one can sit back there. However, if a shorter person sits in the passenger seat, then a shorter person could fit behind them however it’ll still be tight.
In the trunks, the Mazda MX-5 RF has 127 L (4.48 cu-ft) of space while the Toyota GR86 has 177 L (6.25 cu-ft) of cargo space. You can also fold down the seat backs in the GR86 for more cargo capacity.
Noise, Vibration, & Harshness – I can’t comment too much on the NVH of the Toyota GR86 because the owner of this particular car fitted stiffer bushings to the engine mounts and suspension components. Because of that, you feel more of the engine’s vibrations over a stock GR86.
A stock Mazda MX-5 RF does have better sound insulation than the soft-top version. There is still some wind noise intruding from the side windows where they meet the roof on highways but it’s not too bad.
Odds and Ends
Pricing – Of the two, the 2022 Toyota GR86 is the less expensive option. It starts at $31,490 CAD ($27,700 USD) with a fully loaded version costing $36,890 CAD ($31,800 USD), excluding paint, accessories, freight, pdi, etc. The 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF starts at $40,300 CAD ($35,350 USD) with a fully loaded version costing $44,300 CAD ($38,550 USD). 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 is more competitively priced at $33,300 CAD ($27,650 USD) to start.
Gadgets – In a fully loaded MX-5 you’ll get Nappa leather upholstery or Recaro bucket seats if you opt for the Sport package, heated seats, wireless Apple CarPlay & wired Android Auto connectivity, LED headlights, keyless entry & push button start, backup camera, 7-inch touchscreen with navigation, Bose 9-speaker audio system, and automatic climate control.
Arguably the biggest gadget that you get with the RF MX-5 is the metal folding roof. The top can go up or down in 13 seconds and up to a speed of 10 km/h. 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 & Android Auto integration, heated seats, Alcantara & 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.
Interior Design – The interior of the Mazda MX-5 prioritizes driving above all else. There isn’t a whole lot to distract you from the job of driving. The controls are simple and easily reachable. Even the rotary knob and buttons next to the shifter don’t obtrude when you’re driving down a twisty road. You do have to use the rotary knob for the infotainment system when you’re moving but you can use the 7-inch touchscreen as a touchscreen when stopped.
The GR86’s interior is just as simple to use as the one in the MX-5. Large rotary knobs for the climate with physical buttons for each function. The GR86 also gets a larger digital instrument cluster than the MX-5 RF however, I personally like the analog gauges of the MX-5.
Exterior Design – Both of these cars have smooth flowing lines with angry looking front fascias. The MX-5 has been stereotyped as being driven by hairdressers or women but that’s just simply not true 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 GR86 retains some styling cues from the original GT86 and I do like the massive duckbill spoiler.
The MX-5 RF’s buttresses do hamper over the shoulder visibility on the left side but the car comes standard with blind spot sensors and you shouldn’t have any blind zones if you adjust the mirrors correctly.
Safety – The 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF is equipped as standard with forward collision alert and emergency automatic braking (even with the manual transmission), lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, auto high beam, and the aforementioned blind spot sensors. The 2022 Toyota GR86 has automatic high beams, lane departure warning with lane keep, and automatic emergency braking as standard but only with the automatic transmission. Move up to the Premium trim and both the automatic & manual versions get blind spot sensors with rear cross traffic alert. Again though, only the automatic transmission gets emergency braking, lane departure and lane keep.
Warranty – Like many other Toyota vehicles, the 2022 Toyota GR86 is covered by a 3 year / 60,000 km basic and 5 year / 100,000 km powertrain warranty. For more information on Canadian warranty, click here. For information on USA warranty, click here. (Scroll to bottom of page)
Mazda, on the other hand, offers a very unique auto industry warranty. The Mazda MX-5 RF is covered by a 3 year / unlimited km basic warranty and a 5 year / unlimited powertrain warranty. Unfortunately this unlimited km warranty is not available in the United States. In the U.S.A, the warranty is more “normal” at 3 year / 36,000 mile basic & 5 year / 60,000 mile powertrain warranties. For more info on Canadian warranty, click here. For more info on U.S.A. warranty, click here.
Conclusion – So which is the better sports car? As an instrument of driving and providing the most connected feeling of man & machine, it’s the 2022 Mazda MX-5 RF that does the better job. It’s lightweight and agile driving characteristics still make it the best little sports car on sale. The 2022 Toyota GR86 is a fantastic driving car in its own right. It may not be quite as sharp and communicative as the MX-5 but Toyota listened to its customers and improved what needed improving on the old GT86 to make a better RWD sports car. The GR86 is also more practical and more affordable than the MX-5 which makes it overall a better vehicle in my eyes. Also partially because I can actually fit relatively comfortably in it.