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It’s a meme, a punchline, and in some ways, true. But unfortunately, the answer can’t always be Miata. When combining fun, efficiency, and practicality into one neat package, the answer will always be Golf GTI. Even if the Mazda Miata is rear-wheel drive.

Front-wheel drive Golf GTI vs rear-wheel drive Mazda Miata

Mazda Miata is rear-wheel drive while the Golf GTI is front-wheel drive.
Mazda MX-5 Miata | Mazda

Okay, so the Golf GTI takes an immediate hit by being wrong-wheel drive compared to the Mazda Miata. The front-drive hatch struggles to put its power down at launch as the weight shifts to the rear tires. But once it gets going, the little VW hatchback absolutely bullies the Mazda Miata between the lights.

Going from zero to 60 mph takes 5.1 seconds in the hatchback compared to 5.7 seconds in the two-door roadster. From there, the VW just continues to pull away.

That said, straight-line pace has never been a hallmark of the Miata experience, and handling is clearly the Mazda’s forte. Still, the Golf GTI wins out in Car and Driver’s skidpad test. At 0.97G road-holding capability, it’s nearly a full 0.1G better than the little Miata. Keep in mind though, that the Volkswagen’s tires are 30 mm wider than that of the Mazda, which helps contribute to its cornering capability.

Practical and fun, the GTI is a perennial favorite

2023 Golf GTI in red
MK8 GTI | Volkswagen Group

There’s something about the Golf GTI that has captured the attention of enthusiasts for generations. The combination of turbocharged punch, satisfying handling, and cabin space make it perhaps the most practical fun car on the market today.

The current iteration boasts 241 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque from the vaunted EA888 2.0-liter turbo. Available with either a six-speed stick or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, getting through the gears is always fun in the little VW. The latest model also features revised differentials and updated suspension kit to improve agility and manage understeer. It does the former rather well, but understeer is still evident when powering out of low-speed corners.

Close-up of the Golf GTI badge
Golf GTI badge | Volkswagen Group

Still, a legitimate five-seat capacity and over 20 cubic feet of cargo space make the Golf GTI an excellent choice for a daily runabout. From Costco hauls to gym bags, the rear hatch area offers plenty of room to work with. The back seats are spacious enough for car seats, teenagers, or adults, though fitting three adults across the rear can be a bit tight.

Finally, an EPA-estimated 32 mpg highway makes the GTI an efficient option, as sports cars go. The fact that you’ll be paying for premium at the pump does put a damper on the hatchback’s affordability, but overall it’s one of the best all-rounders there is.

The Mazda Miata is a different kind of practical

Flipping the coin, the Mazda Miata isn’t practical in the same way as the GTI. Versatility goes out the window, but the Miata can still be a great everyday car. So long as your lifestyle doesn’t require a back seat, the Miata provides a friendly, rear-wheel drive sports car that is easy to drive every day.

The 181-horsepower engine allows for just enough fun without causing too much trouble. In short, it’s the type of car that is fun at everyday speeds. Its nimble handling and lightweight feel tip the Miata further into fun territory, and at 35 mpg highway it won’t cost a fortune to keep on the road.

Just five cubic feet of trunk space do put a damper on the Miata’s ability to handle those larger daily tasks. But if family life isn’t your thing, the little Mazda is a perfectly functional, efficient, and fun way to get around every day.

As a do-it-all option, the Golf GTI bests the Mazda Miata

It’s no secret, but with its mix of interior space and engaging dynamics, the GTI can truly be the answer to just about any daily driver need. But that doesn’t mean the Miata hasn’t earned its place in our hearts – and our memes.


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