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Front Page - Friday, April 22, 2022

Behind the Wheel: Big fun: Subaru BRZ vs. Mazda MX-5 Miata RF

The combination of high car prices and the imminent arrival of higher interest rates can make it difficult to justify spending money on a car primarily meant for fun. But these two models can put a big smile on your face without crushing your monthly budget: the 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF and the 2022 Subaru BRZ.

Subaru has fully redesigned its BRZ sport coupe for 2022. Like the previous-generation car, this new BRZ is small and lightweight. But now it benefits from more power, sharpened handling and some new technology features.

The Mazda MX-5 Miata convertible, meanwhile, has been giving drivers affordable top-down thrills for more than three decades. The RF designation means it has the car’s available retractable hardtop design.

Which rear-wheel-drive sports car is the better choice? Edmunds’ experts compared them to find out.

Performance, handling

Small, fun-to-drive sports cars typically prioritize handling confidence and poise rather than maximum horsepower. As such, neither the Miata RF nor the BRZ is a powerhouse.

The Mazda is equipped with a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine that produces 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. Those power figures might seem low, but the Miata RF is very light, weighing less than 2,500 pounds.

The Subaru BRZ packs a 2.4-liter horizontally opposed four-cylinder that cranks out 228 horsepower and 184 lb-ft. The extra power is welcome, but this coupe weighs about 400 pounds more than the Miata.

Acceleration for the Miata RF and BRZ is pretty quick. When equipped with the manual transmission, the Miata RF hit 60 mph in 6.6 seconds in Edmunds’ testing. A manual-equipped BRZ was even quicker: 6.1 seconds.

Both cars offer an automatic transmission. Performance and driver engagement suffers a bit, but daily driving in traffic certainly becomes less of a chore.

Small sports cars are mostly about agile handling, and the Miata RF and BRZ excel at this. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another affordable modern car that gives you the control, precision and predictability that these two finely tuned sports cars have.

Both will tackle back roads with grace and elegance, but the BRZ feels a bit more stable than the Miata RF when you drive at a very quick pace.

Winner: Subaru BRZ

Driving, comfort

Comfort and small sports cars normally don’t go hand in hand, and the Miata RF and BRZ aren’t any different. Their rides are composed and absorb most road imperfections, but driving over larger bumps will still give you a good jolt.

As for interior noise, neither car is quiet. You might expect the BRZ, being a coupe, to be the quieter car of the two, but that’s not really the case. Tire, road and engine noise can get quite loud, especially at higher speeds.

The Miata RF, with its hardtop design, is at least a bit quieter than the regular soft-top Miata.

The BRZ ultimately pulls ahead in this category by being a bit roomier. Taller drivers, in particular, will find the BRZ’s cabin to be less cramped than the Miata RF’s. You even get two dinky rear seats in the BRZ. They’re effectively useless for people – even children – but you can fold them down to create additional cargo space.

Winner: Subaru BRZ

Value, features, MPG

The Subaru BRZ has a starting price of $28,990, including destination, which is significantly less than the Mazda Miata RF’s starting price of $36,015. However, the regular soft-top Miata’s starting price is almost identical to the BRZ’s.

The Miata RF is priced higher because of its power hardtop and base Grand Touring trim that comes loaded with heated leather seats, adaptive headlights and a Bose audio system.

The BRZ’s top Limited trim offers similar features but is still priced significantly lower at $31,490. But the BRZ is a coupe that can’t drop its top, which is important for some buyers.

Thanks to sky-high gas prices, good fuel economy is now top of mind for many people. The Miata RF’s combined rating of 29 mpg with the six-speed manual transmission and 30 mpg with the six-speed automatic is excellent for a sports car.

The BRZ’s more powerful engine and heavier weight hurt its efficiency. It gets an EPA-estimated 22 mpg combined with the six-speed manual and 25 mpg combined with the six-speed automatic.

With better fuel economy and the option of coupe or convertible driving, the Miata RF wins this category.

Winner: Mazda Miata RF

Edmunds says

Unless you want your hair blowing in the wind and the sun shining down on your face with the top down, the Subaru BRZ is the winner of this comparison. Like the Miata RF, it’s fun to drive and handles like a dream, but it’s priced lower and offers more room, power and practicality.

Michael Cantu is a contributor at Edmunds. Instagram: @michaelcartu