Having high levels of horsepower is something most people crave for, but there’s also something deeply satisfying with a well-balanced sports car. By perfectly dialing in not just the engine output, but the steering, chassis, and brakes as well, they become more of good dance partners, following your lead without trying to overwhelm you at every corner.
In this episode of Dancing with the Cars, are two sports cars that perfectly fit the mold of providing excellently balanced driver fun: the refreshed Toyota 86 and the Mazda MX-5. It comes with an added bonus as well with neither car breaching two million pesos. Of course, opting for a three-pedaled set-up would make for the purest form of man-machine interaction, but let’s face it: who ends up buying a manual nowadays? Both equipped with automatics, the Toyota 86 and MX-5 challenge each other to a dance off.
Time has certainly been kind to the Toyota 86 as it enters the fourth year in the market this 2016. And the secret lies in part because of its conservative styling. It’s sleek and sporty, but also largely generic. One can argue it’s largely as generic as its spiritual predecessor, the AE86, which only happens to catch your attention when it’s painted with “Tofu Delivery Service” on the door. This year though, Toyota has done their part, modernizing the 86’s look with a new stylized bumper, LED headlights, better looking wheels, and new LED tail lights. Sadly, the “Boxer 86” logo on the faux fender vent is now gone, replaced by a simpler rounded one. They should have removed it altogether and go for a badge-free look at the side.
Next to the 86, the phrase, multum in parvo or “much in little” perfectly describes the MX-5. As the smallest roadster to have ever come out from Hiroshima, it’s hard to imagine how Mazda could fit their complex design theme in there. But they somehow did and it works beautifully. Compared to the largely generic, angular, and angry lines of the 86, the MX-5 uses gentle curves to cast a more sensual silhouette. Plus, the interplaying surfaces work with light and reflection, visually exaggerating the overall shape. Though great, it’s still not perfect: the headlights look too small in proportion to the entire front-end and the antenna could have been tucked in neater somewhere. At the end of the day though, the perennially smiling MX-5 is the most visible cue that your car is having as much fun dancing through corners as you are.
Winner: Mazda MX-5
As a roadster, the MX-5 has had some compromises done to its interior; after all, it’s supposed to withstand a bit of foul weather with the top down. And while it’s not obvious in photos, the materials used here are pretty much of the hard-wearing variety. Though well-textured throughout, the dashboard, door trims, and even the piece of leather running the passenger side are all hard to the touch. The feel of the plastics notwithstanding, the rest of the cabin gets top marks. The single best thing is how the exterior color is playfully rendered on the top part of the doors. Meanwhile, the rest of the interior is shared with other modern Mazdas which is both good and bad. It’s good, because the driving controls are all logically placed and fall where the driver naturally expects them to be; it’s bad because there’s not much in terms of differentiation compared to a more pedestrian Mazda2 or Mazda3. Get this, even the three-spoke steering wheel is bigger and isn’t as thick as the one in the 86.
Meanwhile, you could say that majority of the work done with the 86 happens inside, where the execution has definitely made it a more premium feeling sports coupe compared to when it first came out. First up, the rice factor has been significantly turned down with only the front seats and door trims now receiving over-the-top red highlights. Then, the soft-touch upper dashboard’s continuous carbon fiber insert now goes all the way to the passenger’s side without any unsightly cuts. Finally and most importantly, the driving controls have received their fair share of tweaking on the way to make it the segment’s best. The gauges, now incorporating a digital multi-info display shows everything from oil and water temperature to a G-meter to a lap timer, in a playful and useful manner. Even the small diameter steering wheel is now even made compact, while still incorporating satellite controls for the audio and trip computer functions. Together with the 86’s tilt/telescopic wheel adjustment and more movements to the driver’s seat, means it’s much more forgiving to more body types and sizes than the MX-5. If there’s one thing that needs changing in the Toyota though, it’s the cheap-looking audio system. It’s a level up from the old Clarion and Kenwood systems, but it’s still awful to look at and use.
Winner: Toyota 86
The MX-5 can’t talk, but it minces no words when it comes to lecturing you on the perfect driving position. With only small adjustments possible to the steering wheel and driver’s seat, you have to feel comfortable in Mazda’s prescribed Jinba-ittai driving position. It feels constricting at first, especially compared to the amount of seat adjustment possible in the 86, but the scientifically-backed driving position does improve the overall driving feel and comfort. The best driving position is with the seatback less upright and the legs not as spread out. Even the arms are nicely tucked close to the steering wheel with the elbows having an almost 90-degree angle to them. The cabin is so well-contoured and tailored to the driver that the small frame feels just right. It’s not roomy, but not claustrophobic. Unsurprisingly, the sole passenger may not share the same level of enthusiasm. Not only does the limited space not allow much room for slouching, but the transmission does protrude a bit into the passenger’s foot well. Surprisingly enough, the MX-5 does have considerable more trunk space than the Toyota 86.
Compared to the MX-5, the Toyota 86 is far less demanding on the driver or passenger. With a bigger cabin to play around with (it’s supposed to seat four in a pinch), the 86 also offers way more in all fronts: head, shoulder, and leg room. Apart from just mere space, the 86 manages to fit in more cubby holes. While the Mazda lets you fit a mobile phone in front of the shifter, a pair of sunglasses on the center console, and everything else in a lockable bin between the seats, the Toyota has a proper glove box. Enough said. And though it doesn’t boast of the same deep trunk of the MX-5, the 86 does have a proper spare tire too. And though the notion of driving a roadster is definitely romantic, the fixed roof 86 does have marginally better NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) isolation.
Winner: Toyota 86
Performance and Fuel Economy
Neither car is quick in a straight line, as an executive sedan will smoke them to the quarter mile. But what they give up in outright pace, they more than make up for in outstanding driver involvement. Push the starter button and the 86’s telltale boxer engine rumbles to life. The sound is designed to permeate the cabin even at idle and it makes itself all the more present at the slightest throttle application. It makes the 86 feel quicker than it really is, through the piped-in induction sound gets aurally tiring after a while. Apart from the droning engine sound, the 86’s accelerator is also quite jumpy. This is easily adjusted for though, and once you’re used to it, the automatic’s just as good, perhaps even better than the manual gearbox. There’s also no questioning the handling precision dialed into the 86. The steering is linear and quick, with a crisp turn in and obedient front-end. The rear-end isn’t as willing to dance as the front, opting to err safely towards understeer, but applying full throttle is still enough to promote a power-on drift. The ride’s been noticeably improved compared to before, but it still rides stiffly next to the MX-5.
Compared to the 86 which has become obsessed with nailing down numbers, the MX-5 has instead focused on the intangible experience. Not one aspect, from power to chassis to braking, overpowers all the others making this a beautifully balanced machinery. The 2.0-liter unit in the MX-5 makes less power than the 86, but it’s also worth noting that this car’s also lighter. The raspy engine note is also far less obtrusive and that makes it a much more hospitable companion during long trips. And then, you have the transmission which is far superior in both smoothness and linearity. But what sets the MX-5 apart from the 86 is just how it feels telepathic for the driver in the way the entire car behaves. The steering may feel a little less direct in its response or maybe there’s more noticeable body roll in this set-up, but it’s all done deliberately. Throw it into a corner, and you don’t need to wonder how much weight is shifting, because you just feel it. It’s the same with the steering which is less of controlling the movements of the front wheels, but more of feeling how the entire car rotates around you. This car is clearly designed to communicate its intentions clearly to the driver and vice-versa.
Winner: Mazda MX-5
Value for Money
Both of these cars are true entry-level sports cars each with an asking price below P 1,900,000. For 2017, Toyota has simplified the 86 line-up and it just tops out at just P 1,864,000 even when opting for the premium Crystal White Pearl paint job. Yet, it still comes in reasonably loaded: LED exterior lighting (no daytime running lights), push button start/stop, leather-and-suede seat material, dual zone climate control, a Kenwood infotainment system, and even a full suite of 7 airbags, anti-lock brakes, vehicle stability control, and a Torsen-type Limited Slip Differential.
Meanwhile, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 is priced just a tad cheaper at P 1,860,000 and that’s considering it’s the only one that can drop its top whenever the elements permit. Sadly, the more affordable price tag means some features have disappeared like cruise control and shockingly, the LSD system. It does try to make amends by putting in a more premium 9-speaker Bose sound system, but after trying out the LSD-equipped 86, Mazda should seriously re-think and offer the MX-5 with LSD. If it’s offered in the M/T get-up, there’s no reason not to offer it in the A/T as well. Whether you’re driving with three pedals or two, the added stability and security by having LSD apart from stability control is very welcome.
Winner: Mazda MX-5
2017 Toyota 86 A/T vs 2016 Mazda MX-5 2.0 A/T
|Ownership||2017 Toyota 86 2.0 A/T||2016 Mazda MX-5 2.0 A/T|
|Year Introduced||2013 (Refreshed: 2016)||2015|
|Vehicle Classification||Sports Car||Sports Car|
|Body Type||2-door coupe||2-door convertible|
|Engine / Drive||F/R||F/R|
|Under the Hood|
|Aspiration||Normally Aspirated||Normally Aspirated|
|Fuel Delivery||Direct Injection||Direct Injection|
|Layout / # of Cylinders||I4||I4|
|BHP @ rpm||200 @||160 @ 6,000|
|Nm @ rpm||205 @||200 @ 4,600|
|Fuel / Min. Octane||Gasoline / 95~||Gasoline / 95~|
|Transmission||6 AT||6 AT|
|Fuel Economy @ Ave. Speed||7.29 km/L @ 13 km/h||8.33 km/L @ 13 km/h|
|Dimensions and Weights|
|Curb Weight (kg)||1,285||1,063|
|Suspension and Tires|
|Front Suspension||Independent, MacPherson Strut||Independent, Double Wishbone|
|Rear Suspension||Independent, Double Wishbone||Independent, Multi-link|
|Front Brakes||Vented Disc||Vented Disc|
|Rear Brakes||Vented Disc||Disc|
|Tires||Michelin Primacy HP,
215/45 R 17 W (f & r)
205/45 R 17 W (f & r)
|Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)||Yes||Yes|
|Traction / Stability Control||Yes||Yes|
|Other Safety Features||Hill Start Assist
Limited Slip Differential
|Hill Start Assist|
|Steering Wheel Adjust||Tilt/Telescopic||Tilt|
|Steering Wheel Material||Leather||Leather|
|Folding Rear Seat||Yes||No|
|Power Door Locks||Yes||Yes|
|Power Mirrors||Yes, with Fold||Yes|
|Climate Control||Dual Zone||Automatic|
|# of Speakers||6||9, Bose|