For many years, the Mazda MX-5 Miata has had a clear playing field as the best affordable front-engine, rear-wheel drive two-seater on the market, starting at $26,830 (soft top)/$33,045 (retractable hard top). Sure, there was a Fiat Spider 124 version for a few years, but that had a lot of MX-5 in it. Now, Toyota has brought back the Supra, and for 2021, there’s a more affordable version with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a starting price of $43,090. That’s more expensive than the MX-5, but still on the affordable side of $50K. The two vehicles, MX-5 and Supra, are driver’s cars with very similar intent. Which one should you buy?
2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The MX-5 Miata debuted as a 1990 model, and has been developed over four generations of production. The current version debuted as a 2015 model, and is now available as a soft-top version or retractable hard-top version (RF). All Miata models use a naturally aspirated (non-turbocharged) 2.0-liter four-cylinder SKYACTIV-G engine (181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque). A six-speed manual transmission is standard, and a six-speed automatic transmission is available. Rear-wheel drive is the only choice.
Among the Miata’s great qualities is its light weight (2,339 lbs MT/2,381 lbs AT). With fewer pounds to move around, the Miata feels quick and responsive – most estimates put it at 5.7 seconds from 0-60 mph. The manual transmission is the best way to go. It’s a great execution, with slick shifting and a perfectly weighted clutch pedal, and really enhances the driver’s connection to the vehicle.
The Miata’s driving position is great for a wide range of body types, though anyone much over six feet tall will be very aware of the confines of the cabin.
Steering, handling, and braking are all great, with a healthy amount of road feel and minimal body roll. Every curving onramp has the potential to be fun; every country road calls for a romp. The cabin is laid out for minimal distraction, and comes with all of the modern electronics you expect to find.
Thanks to its 30-years-plus of development and production, the Miata is very well-supported by the aftermarket. If you want to use your MX-5 to compete in autocross or grassroots track events, it’ll only take a modest investment to make the car safe and competitive. If you decide to look for a used Miata, first-, second-, and third-generation models are easy to find at reasonable prices, and have proved very durable over time.
2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0
The Supra’s roots go back even farther than the Miata’s. The original Supra was the 1979 Toyota Celica Supra. The 2+2 was imported over four generations before departing the United States in 1998. The new GR Supra debuted as a 2020 model, now branded with the initials of Gazoo Racing and toting a turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six-cylinder engine (382 hp/368 lb-ft of torque). For 2021, there’s a new version, the GR Supra 2.0, which uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine (255 hp/295 lb-ft of torque) with an eight-speed automatic transmission and rear-wheel drive.
The Supra 2.0 is lighter than the Supra 3.0 (3,181 lbs vs. 3,400 lbs), but is still a full second slower from 0 – 60 mph than the 3.0 (5.0 seconds vs. 3.9 seconds). The transmission shifts quickly on its own, and the driver can take control of the shifts with standard paddle shifters for more engagement.
Supra’s cabin is snug, but comfortable and very nicely laid out. The fixed roof will put a limit on height of driver and passenger, but most people will fit. Add a helmet for track use, and you’ll have to be flexible to get behind the wheel if you’re over six feet tall.
The Supra feels solid on the road, and is a blast to romp around in. The cabin is quiet, but allows a good amount of engine noise (some call it music) to intrude. Build quality is very high, and there’s a luxury feel to the interior, even on the base Supra 2.0 model.
The Supra is a gorgeous vehicle inside and out, an original design that doesn’t call back to its Toyota roots as much as it does to the BMW Z4 model with which it shares a platform.
GR Supra 2.0 vs. MX-5 Miata
While the GR Supra is an excellent introduction to the class, and the four-cylinder GR Supra 2.0 is a smart addition to the lineup, it is still at least $10,000 more than the MX-5 Miata, and must be judged accordingly.
The GR Supra 2.0 is significantly faster in a straight line than the Miata, 5.0 seconds vs. 5.7 seconds, but both cars are very nimble in the turns – the Miata might have an advantage here, because it is so much lighter. Less weight means less momentum that needs to be shifted from side to side in cornering, so Miata feels sharper, and can be pushed a little harder through turns.
The Miata rides on a shorter wheelbase than the GR Supra (90.9 inches vs. 97.2 inches), and is narrower (68.3 inches vs. 73.0 inches) and shorter in overall length (154.1 vs. 172.5 inches), which also helps with greater maneuverability. It also helps with parking and storage – something to consider with a rear-wheel drive two-seater that will probably spend the winter parked in the garage.
A good driver in a tight autocross might prefer a Miata; the same driver might prefer a Supra 2.0 with its more powerful engine.
If you fit well in the cabin of each car, either one would make an excellent commuter and daily driver. The Supra has twice the trunk space (10.2 cubic feet vs. 4.6 cubic feet), so it’s better for big grocery runs and trips to the warehouse store.
There are no bad choices here. Both the Supra and the Miata are great cars, beautifully designed with a substantial dose of fun-to-drive. Since I have to pick one, it’s going to be the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata over the 2021 Toyota GR Supra 2.0, with the main reason being the bottom line price – the Miata simply delivers more for the money.