2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF vs. 2022 Toyota GR86: Autocross Duel

2022 Toyota GR86 Premium vs. 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Club autocross review highlights:

  • I raced a 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF and 2022 Toyota GR86 Premium back-to-back on Road America’s autocross course
  • The 2022 GR86 is a fun, planted, solid RWD sports car that has a penchant for slides
  • Around the course, the 2022 Mazda Miata RF was slightly faster because it communicates better, giving the driver more confidence

What we have here is a battle between today’s greatest affordable RWD sports car champions. In one corner, there’s the 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF, the stylish hardtop version of the definitive smile-inducing roadster. Meanwhile, in the other is the 2022 Toyota GR86, a lightweight coupe that, like its Subaru sibling, offers tons of reasonably-priced fun. So, which wins when the tire hits the track? After taking both around Road America’s autocross course, I found out.

The 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF and 2022 Toyota GR86 continue their sports car rivalry with new attitudes

2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Club2022 Toyota GR86 Premium
Engine2.0-liter four-cylinder2.4-liter boxer-four
Horsepower181 hp228 hp
Torque151 lb-ft184 lb-ft
TransmissionSix-speed manualSix-speed manual
Curb weight2452 lbs2833 lbs
0-60 mph time5.9 seconds5.8 seconds
Price$38,200 (base)
$39,810 (as tested)
$30,300 (base)
$32,975 (as tested)

For 2022, the Toyota GR86 enters its duel with the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF significantly refreshed. Toyota and Subaru stiffened their coupes’ chassis, tweaked their suspension, improved their interiors, and crucially, overhauled their powertrains. And the 2022 GR86’s 2.4-liter boxer isn’t just bigger, more powerful, and torquier than the outgoing 2.0-liter version. It’s also more refined and responsive and has fully banished the dreaded torque dip. Basically, the 2022 Toyota GR86 removed virtually all its predecessor’s flaws and improved all its strengths.

Unlike the GR86, the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF didn’t get overhauled for 2022. However, the 2022 Miata does have a new feature: Kinematic Posture Control. It pumps the brakes on excessive body roll by, well, lightly pumping the brakes. When the 2022 Miata enters a corner, the car gently brakes the inside rear wheel, which counters the effects of body roll. And it does so without ruining the ride via stiff static sway bars or adding the extra weight of heavy active ones.

2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF vs. 2022 Toyota GR86: Performance features

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On paper, the 2022 Toyota GR86 is ahead of the Mazda MX-5 Miata RF in terms of raw speed. Their 0-60 times are nearly identical, but Car and Driver found the GR86 finishes the ¼-mile 0.5 seconds sooner and 7 mph faster. And it does so for less. Even a fully-loaded 2022 GR86 Premium is cheaper than the least-expensive 2022 Miata RF.

However, keep in mind that the Club is the cheapest version of the 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF. The soft-top Club, with standard Bilstein shocks, limited-slip differential, and front strut-tower brace, starts at $30,800. In addition, the RF Club includes the Brembo BBS Recaro Package that’s optional on the soft-top model. So, you get Brembo brakes, forged BBS wheels, and heated Recaro seats on top of the standard Club features. Also, a hand-painted roof. And now the hard-top roadster’s $38K asking price makes a bit more sense.

Admittedly, the 2022 Toyota GR86 Premium also has a standard limited-slip differential and heated sports seats. Plus, standard Michelin Pilot Super Sport tires. However, if you want a front strut-tower brace, performance brake pads, or forged alloy wheels, those cost extra.

But comparing numbers and features only helps so much. The real test is on the course.

On the autocross course, the GR86 loves to play…

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No matter what kind of autocross race you attend, you’re bound to see at least a few Miatas and Toyobarus running through laps. These light, simple, affordable RWD cars are arguably the best tools for teaching the ins and outs of weight transfer, grip, braking, and heel-toeing. That’s great for me, as I’d never competed in autocross before. Just a few corners in, though, and both the 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF and Toyota GR86 made me feel right at home.

No, they’re not the fastest sports cars on the market, but that forces you to make the most of every horsepower. But it also means you can bury the gas pedal without worry. Furthermore, these cars tell you how to maximize their modest outputs. The tires, chassis, suspension, brakes, and steering all talk to you so you can carve better faster lines. Slow car fast beats fast car slow, all day, every day.

Speaking of fast cars, you might think I set a faster time in the 2022 GR86. But you’d be wrong. It was only by 0.1-0.2 seconds, but I was quicker in the 2022 Miata RF Club. Why? In a word, confidence.

Don’t get me wrong, the 2022 Toyota GR86 is a hoot. It’s planted and balanced with strong brakes as well as fast, accurate, hefty steering. Also, not only does the boxer engine give the Toyota a lower center of gravity than the Mazda, but it sounds great when you rev it out. In addition, the shifter has well-weighted throws. And this car loves to slide—if you like drifts, you’ll like the GR86.

…but the Miata gives me the confidence to win

However, the GR86’s steering isn’t quite as tactile as the 2022 Mazda Miata RF’s system. It’s close—maybe 85% there—but the 2022 Miata RF still sends more information through the steering wheel. Furthermore, while the GR86 does communicate to the driver through its chassis, the Miata does it better. Again, not drastically, but enough, and that matters at the limit.

During my final GR86 run, I came to one of the last corners, a sweeping left-hander. And I remember thinking, “If I give it more gas, I could go faster…or I might slide.” I never questioned myself like that in the Miata because the car told me exactly where its grip was. I knew the GR86 would likely grip, but I didn’t 100% know it. That split-second lack of confidence ultimately gave the Miata the win.

2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF vs. 2022 Toyota GR86: What kind of affordable sports car do you want?

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Lap times rarely tell the full story. Perhaps if I had more time with both cars, I might have eventually gotten faster in the 2022 Toyota GR86. But in this case, the idea was to set the fastest lap time possible in a limited window. And in that window, I could push the 2022 Mazda Miata RF just a bit more.

So, does this mean you should buy a 2022 Miata instead of a 2022 GR86? Well, that depends. The GR86 is more practical and easier to live with, not to mention easier to drift. If I had to do things outside of the racetrack, I’d get the Toyota, not the Mazda. And the few grand I’d save would buy me some tires, brake pads, and driving lessons. If I just wanted a weekend track toy, though, I’d get the Miata.

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