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Sunday Drive: 2022 Subaru BRZ vs. 2021 Mazda MX5

By Craig and Deanne Conover - | Dec 4, 2021
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Deanne with the two coupes, a Mazda MX-5 and a Subaru BRZ. Which one should we pick for the day?
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The exterior of the 2021 Mazda MX-5.
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The exterior of the 2022 Subaru BRZ.
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The interior of the 2022 Subaru BRZ.
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The interior of the 2021 Mazda MX-5.
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The engine under the hood of the 2022 Subaru BRZ.

It’s not often we have two of the same type of vehicle during the same week. It was just happenstance that we got either one of these great coupe offerings, and to get them during the same week must have had something to do with good karma. Regardless, it provided us the opportunity to really compare the two without having to think back a few months about what we liked or didn’t like about one or the other.

These sports coupes are probably two of the most affordable coupes in the U.S. at the current time, with both of our test rides starting at just north of $30K. This price is really quite reasonable for all the fun and excitement either would bring to the drive.

For many manufacturers, their version of a sports-type coupe is all they have left in the car market; they’ve turned to SUVs for their mass production. Not so for Mazda and Subaru. They both still have other offerings in the sedan market, for what it’s worth.

We found that the Mazda was quite a bit smaller than the Subaru and was just slightly harder for us to get in and out of (as we are in the advanced age category). The Mazda sits at 5.3 inches off the ground while the Subaru is at 5.5 inches, so it is pretty close. It must have just been the appearance that gave us the illusion there was more room.

On the curb weight side, there is quite a bit of difference, with the BRZ weighing it at 2,835 pounds and the MX 5 coming in at 2,403 pounds, a difference of over 400 pounds.

Both coupes we tested sported a six-speed manual transmission, and we felt this would really be the only way to go when driving one of these two made-for-twisty-roads vehicles. It seemed that an automatic transmission would take half the pleasure away from the driver and prevent them from really feeling at one with the road!

On the engine side, they both sport a four-cylinder naturally aspirated motor. There are no turbochargers to be had, so all of the power comes right away, old school. We loved the acceleration in both of these coupes, but we had to give the Subaru a slight edge with its larger 2.5-liter engine that produced 228 horsepower. The Mazda comes with a 2.0-liter power plant that gets 181 horsepower.

Even with the over 400-pound weight difference, we felt the BRZ was slightly faster, even though the two coupes are said to be equal in a quarter-mile zero-to-60 contest.

The Subaru also sports a back seat, which we found helpful as a place for putting things we would need during the day. With the Mazda, there is no back seat, and with the convertible hard top we drove, even the trunk space is at a premium. The Subaru beats the Mazda here with 6.3 cubic feet to only 4.59 cubes.

However, on the open road or just out for a Sunday Drive, the Mazda with the top down could not be beat in the beautiful fall weather we enjoyed during our week.

How one feels about the exterior will be up to personal preference. Deanne liked the Mazda with its softer, rounder exterior features, and Craig preferred the Subaru with its more aggressive — manly, if you will — features.

Both coupes handled extremely well, especially on the tight mountain roads along the Wasatch Front. It is so much fun to be grounded in a coupe like these with all the power you could ever want and just gliding through the curves as if you are on ice skates.

Inside, both are equipped with great bucket race-like seats that were trimmed with leather. Subaru has added some great red stitching to the limited model this year. They both came with heated options for the front seats.

On the infotainment side, both feature touch screens, with the Mazda getting a 7-inch screen in the center console and the Subaru sporting a new 8-inch screen. We found it easier to navigate and reach the screen in the Subaru.

The BRZ also came with dual climate control, which we like, but it was not that big of a deal when we were out in the Mazda, especially if the roof was down on a cold fall day. We were both wanting heat at that point.

The MX 5 sports an upgraded eight-speaker Bose entertainment system; the Subaru comes with the company’s standard setup.

Both had safety features like blind spot monitoring and all-around view cameras when backing up and can be had with adaptive cruise control in an automatic transmission model. As much as we love adaptive cruise, we would still opt to have the manual transmission in either model.

Two beautiful coupes, and it was great to have them at the same time. The question at the end of our time with these fantastic and affordable vehicles was: Which one would we choose?

Well, it turns out we would each choose a different one for different reasons. Deanne would take the Mazda as it felt more like a get-out-and-cruise car to her, and, truth be told, she loved the top-down feature and being able to wave at the neighbors with her hair in the wind.

Craig, on the other hand, would have taken the BRZ, again going back to the aggressive looks and perhaps the fact that he could get in and out of it more easily. More importantly, it seemed faster, even if on paper they are both pretty even.

Check both of these great coupes; you really couldn’t go wrong with either of them.

MX5 base price: $34,525

MX5 destination: Charge $945

MX5 price as driven: $36,265

BRZ base price: 30,495

BRZ destination: Charge $960

BRZ price as driven: $31,455

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