Miata finally has a real competitor

It is easy to recommend the current Mazda MX-5 Miata. Since its debut in 2015, there has been almost no compelling competition; it’s an affordable sports car that delivers more excitement than cars three times as expensive. It is free from complexity and overflowing with sensations. And the spirit. the Original Subaru BRZand its close twin the Scion FR-S (becoming the Toyota 86), came close, but they couldn’t quite match the Miata’s on-road excellence. With this new generation of BRZhowever, the Miata has met its match.

Subaru not only fixed the well-known issues with the first-gen car, but refined what was already adorable without stripping it with unnecessary tech and/or bloat. The company shrugged off the drastic fringe demanding a turbocharged engine, realizing that would add weight and drive the price up unreasonably. Yes, it was a big fringe. But instead, the 2022 BRZ gets a naturally aspirated 2.4-liter flat-four that produces 228 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, 23 hp and 28 lb-ft more than the previous generation. Those increases aren’t huge in absolute numbers, but for a 2843-pound car, it’s the difference between barely acceptable and really exciting.

There is no long wait for the red line to arrive. Peak torque drops to 3,700 rpm and the torque drop that plagued the previous BRZ’s 2.0-litre engine is gone. Instead, there’s a linear power delivery that gets more addictive with every shift. It’s the powertrain the BRZ should always have had; lively and impatient without being buzzy.

It’s more than the new engine though. The chassis, the highlight of the original car, benefits from a redesigned structure with more welds for an even stiffer monocoque. There are aluminum front fenders and an aluminum roof panel that offset the weight savings elsewhere. Paired with a retuned suspension with aluminum front stub axles, the whole car feels almost flawless on smooth and rougher tarmac. It’s not a cushy luxury car, but it offers the same world-class balance as the Miata without excessive body roll. The ride is tailored to real-world roads; it does not collapse as soon as you encounter some difficulties. But it has a great track setup as delivered by Subie.

This kind of balance also translates well in low-grip scenarios. Because it was winter here in New York, the car arrived on a set of Vredestein Quatrac Pro winter tires. It was a chance to see how the BRZ would perform to its limits and beyond in a closed, low-speed environment. So we took the car to a frozen lake upstate for a few minutes of ice trail. So funny. Disposable, but contained even with little grip. He’s a borderline nibbler, not a biter.

Because the BRZ springs from feel, it’s easy to maintain slow, controlled glides across the ice without having to grip the wheel. A quick rack and responsive accelerator pedal means all adjustments happen quickly and hassle-free. After a few laps we were going through the turns smoothly and connecting the peaks with ease. This car is a great learning tool for any skill. Newbies and veterans alike will get tons of joy from this car.

The test car came in “Limited” trim, which includes things like Ultrasuede interior trim, blind-spot monitoring, heated seats and, weather permitting, 18-inch wheels wrapped in tires. Michelin Pilot Sport 4 measuring 215/40 R18 all around.

While the MX-5’s cabin isn’t overpowering, it’s not a very practical place to spend long periods of time. The Miata is quite cramped inside and because it’s a convertible, it’s extremely loud, even with the top up. The BRZ looks like a refined grand tourer by comparison, with more headroom and a smartly designed center console. The new 8.0-inch infotainment screen and a cool set of climate dials. The gauge cluster has gone fully digital, cleverly in the form of a boxer-four engine. It is easy to read and provides useful information to the driver, although an oil temperature gauge would be appreciated as many of these cars will be regularly used on the track.

Then there are the rear seats. Most owners will reserve them for backpacks, but they can be used to move – little people who don’t whine – people in the blink of an eye. Two friends stuffed into this BRZ for a short lunch were unhappy with the lack of leg room, it worked. And now each of them knows where they are in the friendship hierarchy. Likewise, there is a real usable trunk in the back. There’s six cubic feet of space in the back – perfect for tools, jack stands, spares and other supplies for a day at the track.

Cabin appointments make multi-hour road trips easy, though after a while a little cheapness shines through. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, but they’re not wireless. The infotainment touchscreen responds well to inputs but it’s not a brilliant graphics display. There’s also the cruise control stalk, which is the same parts bin unit that Subaru has used for at least two decades. But these are small gripes.

There are a handful of things the Miata undoubtedly does better than the BRZ, of course. Subaru has improved its shifter by redesigning the gates for smoother, more linear shifting. But it’s still a bit too light and plasticky to be great. It’s not a bad shifter, but it doesn’t hold up to the perfectly smooth and deeply satisfying action of the MX-5.

The BRZ’s 2.4-liter engine doesn’t look terrible, but it doesn’t look great either. Subaru compensates by pumping out a fake rumble through the speakers, but it ends up being more annoying than exciting when you’re actually behind the wheel. The Miata’s 2.0-liter four-cylinder is a masterpiece for many reasons, and while it doesn’t sound good for the Honda K-Series, it’s still better than the BRZ’s.

The BRZ also deserves better brakes. They are easy to mod and work well for street use, but at R&T 2022 Performance Car of the Year test, they didn’t last long on the trail. Miatas does not have this problem. Tracking the BRZ should start with minimal pad and fluid upgrades, lest you prefer to navigate the barriers on lap three.

Without having a BRZ and an MX5 side-by-side, it’s hard to pick a clear favorite. (We’ll do a proper comparison test soon enough.) Which you should choose is highly dependent on your use case. Will this be your only car? Then it’s probably the BRZ, with its added practicality, that you want. But if you’re looking for more of a weekend cruiser, it’s the Miata. And if you really want a convertible, well, you don’t really have a choice.

The BRZ makes everything else on the market today seem like an overly complicated, overly complex bloatfest. The exterior proportions are perfect and the seating position is perfect. There are no modes to cycle through or inputs to adjust. Electronic power steering is attached to a pleasingly undersized wheel that translates a lot of feel from the front tires. Get in, shift into first gear and go.

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