There was about a year of deliberation before I decided to finally buy a N/A MX-5. I had daily driven and drifted AE86’s the five years prior. I put a lot of thought into the decision and immediately compared and contrasted the two driving machines. You can easily Google these vehicles and look at the stats, but for me that hardly has any real life application beyond saying these cars are close to the same thing. I will take you through my pros, cons, and opinions, in the hopes of putting the information out there for someone else looking to make the same decision.
First off, these cars are pushing 25-30 years old. They are not usually found stock, nor would I want a numbers matching car, I prefer “tailor made” over “mass appeal”. These are the usual modifications I found.
-CUT SPRINGS, because they are monster truck status stock.
-EGR DELETE, because vacuum leaks are fun to find.
-SHORT SHIFTER, because no one has orangutan arms long enough for the stock throw.
-CELICA/SUPRA RIMS, because they are wider, bigger, better offset, and most important CHEAP!
-ENIGINE SWAP, because friends don’t let friends run 85hp SOHC sr5 engines.
-COLD AIR INTAKE, because its easy and common to every car. (Also a engineer decided picking up air right above the exhaust manifold and running through 2 miles of hose its a good idea. In his defense it probably is, but for reasons unknown to the general public so off comes the stock kit.)
-MUFFLER, because if you have heard a Miata with out one…Yikes.
It may seem like the Corolla wins this round with more found mods, untrue. The AE86 may have more mods but that is because it has been owned more often by a eager creative type, learning their way around a car for the first time. Income is usually a issue so you will find multiple zip ties, duct tape, glue and silly puddy fixes holding the thing together along with the fact it has been driving hard its whole life.
Miata on the other hand have usually been bought original as a summer or weekend car, garage kept and taken car of. Not always owned by enthusiasts, stock rims, stock suspension and OEM parts outnumber the duct taped ones.
Price doesn’t really deserve it’s own section, both are pretty close $1500-3000 on the lower end, $5000 for a proper one. Lets take a look at mods needed and interior/exterior.
Mods I found needed where:
-DAMAGE CONTROL, undoing everything the last owner has done and preforming regular maintenance for a 30 year old car.
-NEW SUSPENSION+SWAY BARS, Because its either shot or improperly done.
-L.S.D., Because a one wheel burn out will never be OK.
-RACING SEAT, because under-powered cars have to get thrown hard to get nasty.
-STRIPPING THE INTERIOR, because you have the show the hood-rats you’re serious.
-SUSPENSION, because the stock stuff is soft and tall.
-HARDTOP, because anything between you and pavement is a good thing.
-ROLL CAGE/BAR- because these cars do not feel safe, for good reason.
-RIMS, to stunt on the hunnies
-INTERIOR LIGHT, stock one is near invisible.
-L.S.D., Because you don’t need this recent vehicle purchase to get even more embarrassing.
Both are relatively the same for exterior modifications, there is stock body + lip +fender flares with a offset wheel or get one of the two body kits available. I’m sure your snappy window stickers, spray paint and dildo shifters will make up for the lack of exterior options doe.
Now comes the driving part, it will depend on your goals of what you want this car to be and do.
The Miata drives incredibly well balanced, tight and has a lot less rattling. The AE86 will sound better, have many more gremlins and a tendency to over steer. My personal goals are drifting and daily driving. If I wanted a track car the Miata takes it hands down, if you drive it to its limits it will be steady and reliable. Push the throttle the MX stays flat, hit the brakes you get under-steer. You really have to force the Miata into drift and it wants to straighten up once sideways, so you throw it and keep on top of it. The AE86 will feel like a well put together go kart, like the Miata but when you get the the limit which shows up earlier comparatively it will over steer. The solid axle of the 86 will lose grip faster and also in unfavorable road conditions, but once it is sideways it stays there. You can throttle, brake, coast, and steer all while it keeps kicked out ,no need to babysit. The biggest downfall of the Miata, for me, was once sideways if I hit the brakes during drift, instead of pivoting into more over-steer like the AE86 it would under-steer during drift which also translated into manji initiation. I would have to e-bake or clutch kick in the mx5, instead of my preference to tap the brakes to get the transition with the AE86. The Miata may take more skill or money than I posses to become a successful drift car. The shorter wheel base didn’t end in as many spins as I would of thought, I imagine the independent rear suspension of the MX-5 grips better than the AE86.
As a daily the AE86 fits a hell of a lot more cargo. The Miata is amazing to go topless on a nice day or to the beach. The 86 will never get common folk laying down compliments at the gas station but will instantly strike up a conversation with a passing import enthusiast. The Miata will get some compliments along with some “hairdresser” comments and odd looks from the average public, enthusiasts are never really sure if you are a stance guy, a drifter, or a homosexual. I would rather be in a stock corolla than a stock soft top Miata any day. Fuel mileage wasn’t a huge difference, the AE86 has a lot more interior to strip and make up for the slight weight difference between stock and thus fuel mileage. Both droned on the highways and both are wonderfully under-powered.
In the end I’m really glad I tried out a Miata and don’t regret it at all. If I couldn’t find a decent corolla I would use a Miata to substitute instanly. But for me the 4age has more soul, I like to be sideways and square pop ups outweigh the less rattling cleaner chassis and silent topdown nights with my boyfr….girlfriend in the mx-5. I respect Miata drifters much more now and understand why they are such a potent track weapon but the practical decision has never really been my style.