Affordable Track Day Toys: Mazda MX-5 Miata vs. Toyota GR86

Affordable Track Day Toys: Mazda MX-5 Miata vs. Toyota GR86

For driving enthusiasts, the allure of the racetrack is undeniable. The rush of adrenaline, the constant battle against the clock, and the pure joy of pushing a car to its limits are experiences that stay with you long after the checkered flag falls. But let's face it, not everyone can afford a high-performance machine dedicated solely to track days.

Enter the Mazda MX-5 Miata and the Toyota GR86, two affordable sports cars that have carved a niche for themselves as fantastic track day companions. Both offer a thrilling driving experience at a relatively accessible price point. But which one is the right choice for you? Let's delve into their strengths and weaknesses to help you decide.

Lightweight Champion: The Mazda MX-5 Miata

The MX-5 Miata is a legend. It's the best-selling two-seat convertible sports car ever made, and for good reason. Simplicity and driver engagement are its core philosophies. Tipping the scales at a mere 2,341 lbs, the Miata prioritizes lightness and agility. This translates to a car that feels nimble and responsive, dancing through corners with a playful character.

Powering the Miata is a naturally-aspirated 2.0L four-cylinder engine churning out 181 horsepower. While not earth-shattering, the lack of weight means every bit of power is readily available. The engine begs to be revved, rewarding the driver with a sweet soundtrack and a linear power delivery.

The Miata's biggest strength on the track is its handling. The rear-wheel-drive layout combined with a communicative steering system creates a car that feels like an extension of the driver. It's easy to predict and control, allowing you to push the limits with confidence. The convertible roof adds to the experience, offering an open-air connection to the track and the raw thrill of speed.

However, the Miata's lightweight nature comes with some compromises. Interior space is tight, particularly with the top up. Cargo room is practically nonexistent, and the absence of a rear seat might be a dealbreaker for some.

Modern Muscle: The Toyota GR86

The Toyota GR86 is the successor to the beloved Scion FR-S and represents a return to form for affordable, accessible sports cars. Compared to the Miata, the GR86 adopts a slightly more aggressive approach. It boasts a 2.4L four-cylinder engine generating 228 horsepower, offering a noticeable bump in power over the Miata. The additional grunt is welcome on the straights, allowing for quicker acceleration and a higher top speed.

The GR86 also benefits from a slightly more forgiving suspension setup. While it still prioritizes handling and driver engagement, it offers a touch more compliance on bumpy surfaces compared to the Miata. This can be beneficial for less experienced track day enthusiasts who might find the Miata a bit too sharp.

The GR86 offers a more practical interior than the Miata. There's slightly more space for passengers and cargo, and the optional hardtop roof provides a more weatherproof experience. However, the added weight (around 2811 lbs) comes at the expense of some agility compared to the Miata.

Making the Choice: It's All About Priorities

Ultimately, the choice between the MX-5 Miata and the Toyota GR86 comes down to your priorities. Here's a breakdown to help you decide:

Choose the MX-5 Miata if:

  • You prioritize the lightest, most nimble handling experience.
  • You enjoy the open-air feel of a convertible.
  • You value a more analog, driver-focused experience.

Choose the Toyota GR86 if:

  • You need a bit more power and practicality.
  • You prefer a slightly more forgiving suspension setup.
  • You value a more weatherproof option with the hardtop roof.

Beyond the Basics: Customization Options

Both the MX-5 Miata and the GR86 offer a range of aftermarket parts to enhance their track capabilities. From performance tires and upgraded brake pads to coilovers and sway bars, the options are abundant. This allows you to tailor the car to your specific driving style and track needs.

The Verdict: Affordable Fun on Four Wheels

No matter which car you choose, the MX-5 Miata and the Toyota GR86 offer fantastic value propositions for track day enthusiasts. They prioritize driving engagement and enjoyment over raw horsepower, reminding us that the most exhilarating experiences can be had in relatively affordable packages. So, buckle up, put the top down (if applicable), and get ready to experience the joy of pushing your limits on the track!

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