The FR-S/BRZ Problem - 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Convertible Long-Term Road Test

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The FR-S/BRZ Problem

by Travis Langness, Automotive Editor on March 10, 2016

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

My abiding memory of our long-term Scion FR-S is one of fun. It was comfortable, had excellent balance and some of my favorite seats ever. On top of that, we added the whiny supercharger, the Volk TE-37 wheels, and the super-gripy Advan AD08 tires, all of which made it even more enjoyable. I haven't driven an FR-S (or it's Subaru twin brother, the BRZ) since that FR-S left our fleet more than two years ago, but it's certainly a car I'd consider owning and I jump at the chance to drive one whenever it's around. 

What does all of this have to do with the long-term 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata? Glad you asked.

We got a HyperBlue Subaru BRZ in for testing recently and after driving it, I got to wondering which car I'd rather have. Either the BRZ/FR-S or the brand new Mazda Miata. Both are rear-wheel drive, both have six-speed manuals and both start around $26,000.

But they have some key differences. So I took them home on back-to-back nights to consider the details.

Right away, the BRZ felt heavy compared to the Miata, slow even. This wasn't how I remembered the Scion twin, but that car was supercharged when I last drove it. When I consulted the numbers though, the Miata came out on top by a slim margin. It did zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds at our test track while the BRZ took 6.6 seconds. The Miata passed the quarter-mile in 14.59 seconds at 93.6 mph and the BRZ did it in 14.94 @ 92.7 mph. Nearly a toss-up.

Neither of these cars are really about pure straight-line speed, though. They both offer a unique driving experience and that's kinda the point. Before I got to which car I loved more, however, I had to consider which one I could live with.

Practically speaking, the BRZ is the winner. It has a bigger trunk, decent cupholders, legitimate lateral space in the cabin and a usable backseat. It's also more comfortable, with a much more forgiving suspension and a way better driving position.

The Miata does have something to make up for it, though: a folding top that goes down in 1.3 seconds (that's a personal record). The Miata is significantly louder, but it makes you feel better.

Ah, the real-world ,fun-time driving. That's where both of these cars really shine. Both are entertaining on a winding canyon road, but the BRZ takes more effort. The Miata is more of a fun, lighthearted, smile-inducing experience. With the BRZ, I can concentrate hard to squeeze a better performance out of it, but I wouldn't be having as much fun.

I played out a hundred scenarios in my mind as to which car I'd rather have and I still couldn't make up my mind. If I could modify it (supercharger, wheels, tries, exhaust, 1-2 inch drop) I'd go with the BRZ. On a road trip, I'd go with the BRZ. If I spent my time commuting in traffic or darting around on the weekends on local b-roads, it'd be the Miata. Do I live close to a beach of any kind? Miata.

Flip-flopping back and forth all week, I still haven't made up my mind. Maybe that's a testament to how good both of these cars are. They do similar things, in different ways, and they both do them really well.

Which would you choose?

Travis Langness, Automotive Editor @ 6,148 miles

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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Research