When it comes to affordable sports cars, the Subaru BRZ and Scion FRS have been rocking the car world with outstanding rear wheel drive performance at a modest price point. However, the GT86 twins are new and did not define the genre. For this reason, we have this Miata vs BRZ comparison.
A note from the editor: The Mazda MX-5 Miata has been in continuous production since 1990 and follows the same formula as the Toyota GT86. At RallyWays, we’ve been wanting to do a Subaru BRZ vs Mazda Miata comparison for a while now. The most relevant iteration of the Miata to pit against the BRZ is the NC Miata which started in 2006 and is still in production in 2014. What better than to have someone who has owned both give you the rundown? I give to you, Alfred Morales, who owned, modded and autocrossed a 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata and now rocks a Subaru BRZ. Here is his very own Subaru BRZ vs Mazda MX-5 Miata comparison – DC
BRZ vs Miata: Differences between the BRZ and NC Miata
I recently decided to trade in my beloved Mazda MX-5 NC Miata for a new 2014 Subaru BRZ Limited, as my job requires me to carry gear around ready to deploy anywhere around the world at a moment’s notice. The NC just wasn’t cutting it in that department. I chose the BRZ over the Scion FRS because it had the better interior of the two. I also found the BRZ’s front end more attractive then the FRS’. There are major glaring differences between the Miata NC and all the Toyota GT86 variations (BRZ, FRS, GT86) but there are also major similarities.
Let’s start with the exterior
In my opinion, both the NC and BRZ are attractive cars. The BRZ is bigger in just about every dimension compared to the NC. That being said, it’s still a small car. You can really see how tiny the NC is when parked next to the BRZ. My favorite part of the BRZ is the rear end. It just looks good! I’m also quite pleased to say that the paint quality is better than Mazda’s. I’m not saying that the paint on my MX-5 was crappy. It does look great! It’s just that the paint on my Pearl White MX-5 NC was so thin, that after several months of driving it, it looks as if it accumulated 100,000 miles worth of rock chips. I’m not a fan of the stock wheels on the BRZ. I just don’t find that design attractive. The stock wheels on the NC look great and always have looked great. Black or silver.
Miata Interior vs BRZ Interior
The bottom line with the Miata vs BRZ interior is this: The Miata NC has inferior materials, but better build quality. The BRZ has better materials, but inferior build quality.
I’ll flat out say it. The NC has better ergonomics than the BRZ. Being 5’7, I fit quite well in the NC. Everything is within reach and my hand naturally falls on the shifter. My legs and feet fall naturally on the pedals. Everything in the NC was made to fit the driver. Not the other way around. Mazda did their R&D when it came to this. The BRZ on the other hand merely has good ergonomics. The shifter is too close to the far end of the center console and it feels unnatural for me to reach a couple inches more to shift. Longer people should find no issues with this. The BRZ’s seats are superior to the NC’s. They’re heavily bolstered and comfortable even on long drives. The NC MX-5’s seats lack lateral support. Steering wheel goes to the BRZ as well. It’s slightly smaller than the Miata’s, but much thicker and more comfortable to hold.
Design-wise, Mazda takes the cake with the MX-5. It may be a 9 year old car, but the interior design is so much better than the Subbie’s. The interior in the BRZ is so…. boring. It may be a little too simple for my tastes. I loved that my NC had no NAV and all that fancy stuff. The BRZ has a terrible, terrible stock NAV unit. It’s terrible and I could do without it. It’s so bad, I’d rather have an empty hole in the dashboard.
Pedal placement goes to the NC. Heel and toe is natural. On the BRZ, the brake and gas pedals are too far apart. And the gas pedal sits too high as well. Needless to say, I had to readjust how I heel and toed in the Subaru and I can do it now. However, it doesn’t feel as natural as the NC.
The bottom line with the Miata vs BRZ interior is this: The Miata NC has inferior materials, but better build quality. The BRZ has better materials, but inferior build quality. Inside, the BRZ feels… hollow. I don’t know how to describe it. The NC hugged and fit me like a glove completely. It was a perfect fit from day 1. The BRZ just feels… foreign to me. At least for now.
Transmission, shifter and clutch
The clutch and shifter on the MX-5 flat out beats the BRZ. The gearbox on the NC is brilliant, while the BRZ’s is just great. What I loved about the NC’s gearbox is how smooth the shifts are. There’s a very mechanical feeling to it. Very precise. Like loading a bolt action rifle. It felt great. The clutch on the NC is better than the BRZ’s as well. It’s slightly heavier, and it’s more grabby than the BRZ’s with more feel throughout. Some people don’t like grabby clutches, but I love them. It’s a very mechanical, very precise engagement. Something no longer present on most cars today. Another thing is that when performing a clutch engagement adjustment on the NC, it doesn’t take away the pedal travel. When doing the same thing on the BRZ, you’re moving the pedal up and down.
When I test drove the BRZ, the stock clutch pedal placement was high, and so was the engagement point. I hate them high, so I adjusted the clutch pedal and it now it suits my taste.
The gearbox on the BRZ is just “great”. Shifting, while smooth and precise, feels a little rubbery and insulated. Not saying that it doesn’t feel good. In fact, it’s an awesome shifter – just not as good as the Miata. It’s just missing the mechanical feeling I’ve grown to love.
Miata vs BRZ: The Engine
Both of these cars have great engines! The MZR in the NC is known for its reliability and is the very same engine used in the Playboy MX-5 Cup cars. What they lack in fancy tech and power they make up in reliability. Some would say bulletproof. You can redline them every day (and some people do) and they will last and last and last with normal maintenance.
Power delivery on the NC is very linear. It has a good mid-range and pulls all the way to the 7500 RPM fuel cut. For best results, stay above 4000 RPM. Believe it or not, the NC feels a little more torquey than the BRZ at lower revs.
The BRZ has a relatively new engine which makes 100HP/L without any fancy variable valve and timing technology. The FA20 has 8 fuel injectors. 4 are direct injection in each of the cylinders, and the other 4 are port injected in the intake manifold. There have been issues with “crickets” and RPM dip, but none of which seem to be affecting the performance or reliability.
The BRZ’s engine is also quite a character. It’s high strung, and loves to scream at high revs. It has decent torque before 4000RPM, so it’s not Honda VTEC-like in it’s power delivery. I’m sure you all have heard about the ‘torque dip’ that’s been tuned in from the factory. I’m sorry to say that it is quite noticeable from roughly 4000-5000RPM. But after that, you’re in the power band again. It pulls hard all the way to its 7500RPM fuel cut. Stay above 5000RPM and you’ll be fine.
The MZR in the Miata has great mid-range and only decent top end, as it feels like it’s loosing steam above 7000RPMs. While the FA20 in the BRZ has good low end, then torque dip, and then a screamer. Several mods do get rid of the torque dip. Throttle response goes to the BRZ. The NC has a noticeable delay when the throttle is pressed. The BRZ has less of a delay although both cars use drive-by-wire. Both cars feel rather quick, and most tests have both cars relatively even at 0-60 in the quarter mile. But the BRZ is faster than the NC in a straight line. Sound-wise, the BRZ is better. But not by much. Honestly, they both sound like typical high revving 4 cylinders. the BRZ has a deeper note, while the NC has a higher pitched note. Nothing really remarkable, but not terrible either.
Suspension, handling, and ride quality.
The NC uses a shortened RX8 chassis with aluminum double wishbones up front and 5-links in the back. It’s an amazing design. For a sports car at less than 30 grand, the MX-5 has THE BEST suspension engineering money can buy. It’s very well engineered with camber, caster, and toe adjustability from the factory on all 4 corners! It’s wonderful.
The BRZ uses a modified GR Impreza’s (last generation) chassis and suspension components. McPherson’s up front, and a multi-link set up in the rear. There is no camber adjustability from the factory, which is a major bummer for a performance car. From a technical standpoint, the NC should run circles around the BRZ… But the BRZ’s center of gravity is so low, that even with it’s inferior suspension, it manages to deliver amazing handling equal to, if not better than the NC!
The BRZ being a coupe, has a much stiffer chassis than the Miata. The BRZ is predictable and neutral. The NC is the same way, but it doesn’t feel as planted as the BRZ. The NC feels a little more light footed. Steering is superior in the NC’s hydraulic setup. It talks to you. Simple as that. The BRZ’s steering is electric, and is very good for an electric system, but it just doesn’t have the same feedback that the NC has. I do like the weight of the steering on the BRZ. It’s nice and heavy, while the NC feels light and dainty.
At the limit of handling the BRZ is neutral with a tad bit of understeer, but one can induce oversteer with throttle. The NC in stock form, likes to plow at the limit. Body roll is huge on the NC. It’s very boat-like, even with the factory sport suspension. But it works well. The BRZ has minimal roll thanks to its low center of gravity. Road manners are about equal on both cars. Both have very good shocks and spring rates. Going through bumps, they feel similar. Firm, but compliant. Never bone jarring. They’re both quite easy to live with.
Both cars have similar handling characteristics, but go about it differently. Braking is wonderful on both cars. They feel almost the same. In fact, one would be hard pressed to tell the difference when driving them back to back. The BRZ does have 2 piston calipers up front and 4 ventilated discs. While he NC has single pistons up front and only the front brakes are vented. The NC feels… rough, but not in a bad way. The NC is a very visceral experience. The car talks to you and it can be a sensory overload if you’ve never driven a car like it before. It’s one of the last great cars of this generation that will give that “Jinba Ittai” feeling. You feel one with the car. Everything you do, the car is talking to you. It’s quite an experience. The BRZ on the other hand, is smoother and more quiet. It doesn’t quite have that visceral, sensory overload experience that the NC has. While the BRZ is roughly 250-300LBS heavier than the NC, it doesn’t really feel like it. The BRZ manages its weight quite well.
BRZ vs MX-5: Performance Potential
Again, I’ll flat out say it. The NC has higher performance potential in autocross than the BRZ due to better suspension engineering. I remember when I was autocrossing in San Diego, a lot of the guys who went from the NC to the twins were wanting to go back to the NC. While the NC and the twins don’t directly compete in the Street Touring category (NC is STR and BRZ is STX), the NC is capable of pulling faster times than the twins at full Street Touring modifications.
On the track, with high speed corners and straights, I think the BRZ would beat the MX-5 in stock form or similarly modded. What I loved about owning and modifying the NC is that people like Brian Goodwin are around. I bought most, if not all of my mods from him. He has everything I need, nothing I don’t. The Twins’ aftermarket selection is massive! In 2 years time, you have soooooo many different parts to choose from. It’s overwhelming to say the least. You can turn your BRZ/FRS in to anything you want to with the amount of aftermarket available. The NC aftermarket is a little more track/autocross focused, but significantly less than what’s available for the Twins. The BRZ is also easier to work on and modify (especially when switching to coilovers).
I love both the NC Miata and the Subaru BRZ. They are both wonderful affordable sports cars and each has its pros and cons. If I didn’t need the room to lug my equipment in, I’d still have the NC. But I thank the motoring gods that the Subaru BRZ and Scion FRS are around. Both cars have their differences, but they both manage to make driving enjoyable. The NC is nearing the end of its lifespan, and it will be missed. I hope the ND Miata can pick up where the NC left off. The BRZ is an amazing car. While it may not have that “in your face” feeling that the NC has, it still manages to induce the same exciting feeling when driving it spiritedly. I love both cars and no one can go wrong with either car.
For dedicated Mazda MX-5 Miata articles and tech information be sure to check out the Miata section of the RallyWays website.