Mazda MX-5 Skyactiv-G 160, Toyota GT86 Pure, Hyundai Veloster Turbo 41 Photos Zoom

Mazda MX-5 vs. Toyota GT86 vs. Hyundai Veloster: Asian roadsters fight it out

High fun, low price The new Mazda MX-5 challenges the more powerful Toyota GT86. Can the front-wheel drive Hyundai Veloster Turbo crash this naturally aspirated party too?

Reactions to the unveiling of the new Toyota GT86 back in 2011 were fairly unanimous: “now this is something we haven’t seen in a long while!”. A boxer-engined sports car with 200 BHP and rear-wheel drive, all for around 30,000 euros. And all that at a time in which BMW is distancing itself from natural aspiration! Now that’s good timing!

The Toyota GT86’s pricing competitors had to – and indeed still have to – make do with front-wheel drive. And even if it never managed to absolutely convince everyone, we can agree that the concept was and still is fantastic. For purists, only the Toyota GT86 or the structurally identical Subaru BRZ came into question – never a Peugeot RCZ, to say nothing of the Audi TT.

But now, this all could change. The new, more assertive and fish-mouthed MX-5 is here, and weighs in considerably lighter – if anyone is taking notes, up to 90 kg lighter to be exact. Generating 160 BHP from its two litre engine, it is precisely as powerful as its predecessor. So is that enough to assert itself in this market, against such strong competitors as the Toyota GT86 and the Hyundai Veloster Turbo?

Hyundai makes a statement with three doors

At first glance, the four-seater Hyundai Veloster Turbo looks entirely out of place in this line-up. With prices starting from 27,990 euros, it is cheaper than the other two-seaters with which it competes – with that turbocharger, may we add. Fun fact: ignoring the Mini Clubman (which has five doors, strictly speaking), the Hyundai Veloster Turbo is one of the few cars on the market with three doors - two right, one left. It has somewhat of a split personality, which could be the point: it’s a coupé for the driver, a hatchback for the passengers.

And despite this schizophrenia, it works well as a whole. The Hyundai Veloster Turbo has centrally placed twin exhausts, which combined with the wiry rear lights make for a great looking rear. Coupled with the crouching, poised profile of the car, we can safely say that this is an attractive car!

Beneath the bonnet, a 1.6 litre turbo engine generates 186 BHP. The powertrain shares many similarities with that of the Kia Cee’d GT, and is only 28 BHP worse off. This slight “de-tuning” hasn’t affected its driving performance too badly though: from 1,500 rpm you have 265 Nm of torque, at 5,500 rpm the nominal power. It sounds powerful – indeed, the Hyundai Veloster Turbo is only 6 BHP weaker than a Mini Cooper S.

Hyundai Veloster Turbo last to the line

Despite this, the car with the highest torque received a spanking in our drag race. After 8.2 seconds, the speedo of the Hyundai finally edges over the 100 mark. That’s 0.9 more than the weaker Mazda MX-5 and a whole second more than the Toyota GT86. So what’s up? It certainly isn’t the gear ratio of the silky smooth six-speed gearbox. It’s most likely to do with the turbocharged but low capacity engine, which talks the talk but ultimately fails to walk the walk. Additionally, the Hyundai Veloster Turbo is the heavyweight in this competition, tipping the scales at 1,315 kg. That wasted potential could – potentially – be regained by considerably increasing the boost pressure. An example of this would be the successful 244 BHP VLN racer.

Could have, would have, if... Whatever we say, it’s not going to affect the outcome today. The Toyota GT86 thunders past the Veloster, pulling away from the pack almost leisurely. All that, even though the naturally aspirated two-litre four-cylinder engine seems to be panting and sweating. You could say that the Toyota GT86’s engine is the exact opposite to that of the Veloster: At low revs, it seems flat. You can push the accelerator as hard against the metal as you’d like. Nope. Not happening. A downshift is necessary. After a little practise this becomes second nature – quick, easy. The gearbox is just like the GT86 itself – raw and maybe a little stubborn. After getting used to it however, car and driver seem to melt into one. Then the engine shows what it’s really made of. With a jerk, the boxer engine lets you know that it has remembered something. There’s 200 BHP somewhere in here. It finds them at the last moment, just before the rev limiter, as is typical for high-revving naturally aspirated engines. Once the needle edges past the 7, you grab the short gear stick again. Bam. Next gear. It’s best to do it this way. The limiter has such a kick that you feel that your head is about to go through the windscreen.

Also, if you want to achieve that 0-100 figure of 7.2 seconds, you’re going to need some serious slippage at the start line. It’s the only way to escape that torque black hole. If it doesn’t work, the Toyota will be on the back foot. But it won’t be the Veloster that tears ahead. It’ll be the weaker Mazda MX-5 showing the GT86 its twin tailpipes – even though it lacks 26 BHP in comparison to the Veloster, and 20% of the performance of the Toyota. This huge 40 BHP performance difference quickly becomes relative when you step out of the GT86 and into the MX-5.

The Mazda MX-5 is fun everywhere

The Mazda MX-5 is one of those cars that already has you under its spell by the time you’ve left the garage. Whilst the X6 driver looks down at you pityingly then turns up his air conditioning. You’ve long since dropped the soft top and are enjoying the autumn sunshine. He glances back from his BMW fortress and sees nothing where the 1,073 kg Mazda once was. He looks back ahead and sees the MX-5 tearing away, the light only just having turned green.

The in-line four-cylinder engine means business even at low revs – something its boxer colleagues can’t comprehend. Power in the mid-range allows for short bursts of speed, which are a lot more fun than those of the rev-hungry Toyota GT86. The Mazda’s engine sounds the best too. Sonorous, raw, motivated – fitting. Turning the key, the Mazda MX-5 erupts into life with a cocky clearing of its throat.

The fun doesn’t end at the city limits. Much to the contrary: whilst in a VW Golf GTI, you’re often – ahem – stretching the law, the Mazda MX-5 allows you to let rip and throw it into tight corners, entirely within the limits of the law. The rear axle, which is fitted with a differential lock, is slightly playful and kicks out in the corners slightly. Just enough to increase the driver’s dopamine levels, not enough to overly stress the driver. The Toyota GT86 can’t keep up, especially not with those brakes. They feel uncomfortably dull and apathetic, and seem only to work by standing on the pedal.

Toyota GT86 with weak braking performance

Our measurements confirm this – it takes a shocking 40 metres to come to a standstill in our standard test. The Yokohama Decibel tyres screech loudly and just make everything worse – even in Hockenheim. The GT86 wins points back for its sensitive, precise steering, but the car quickly loses grip. Sure, it’s a lot of fun, but it makes the Toyota slow too. It’s almost two seconds slower than the time recorded for its supertest (1:19.4, sport auto 2/2013).

Both the Mazda MX-5 and the Toyota GT86 need you to hit the gas early. Only then do you get the full benefit of the differential lock. That bit of power tightens everything up, eradicating any understeer at the apex of the curve. This is how driving should be, or at least it is if you ignore the Toyota’s brakes. We were surprised to see that the Hyundai Veloster recorded the best braking performance. Sadly it isn’t tuned for agility, and the rear axle finds it hard to handle even minor load changes during the turn. It’s a shame, as the steering of the Hyundai Veloster is very precise, and the car doesn’t noticeably tilt to the side, unlike the Mazda and the Toyota. As there is no differential lock, you need to be patient with the gas when exiting the corner. Otherwise you are faced with hopeless understeering – we even slightly left the track on one corner.

The featherweight Mazda MX-5 is best coaxed gently towards a quick time. Aggressive driving will just slow you down in the Mazda. It doesn’t like it. And you can see why. The steering is too direct, the suspension too soft. Despite this, it tears past the opposition to a lap time of 1:20.4. Mazda, we take our hat off to you! This is something we haven’t seen in a while.




Rossen Gargolov


31 January 2016
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