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    Sporty Cars for Driving Fun

    By Philip Ruth

    “Alexa, next.” My neighbors who hear me bark that many times per day probably wish I’d go ahead and clean up my playlists, rather than continuing to order my AI device to skip “Ebony and Ivory” and “I Want It That Way.”  

    That kind of bland issuance of orders characterizes the driving experience of many new cars, as technology and autonomy eclipse the joy of a well-tuned engine and suspension. It’s an environment where seamless compliance has the highest value.

    This week’s Mazda MX-5 Miata Club and Subaru BRZ turn that on its head. To this longtime new-car reviewer, the Miata and the BRZ feel like old friends who have benefited from helpful adjustments along the way.

    These sportsters landed in my driveway at about the same time, and that pointed up how fundamentally similar they are. Neither has excess horsepower; enthusiasts have groused for years that the BRZ and its twin, the Toyota 86, could benefit from a boost in thrust. Personally, I wouldn’t ask for much more—maybe another 40 horses or so—and they’d preferably be positioned low in the rev range for sharper around-town scoot. The Miata could use a little more down low as well, but its lighter overall feel corrects for that a bit.

    Mazda MX-5 Miata

    It’s helpful to emphasize the more fundamental nature of these two, particularly if you’re thinking of either for your primary transportation. I happened to park on Castro Street in front of another BRZ, and the owner said he loved driving it—but he was about to sell it, because it proved to be too noisy and sharp-riding in his trips to Palm Springs. “This is a good second car for someone like me,” he said. But it was too uncomfortable to be his only rig.

    Subaru BRZ TS

    Keep that in mind as you’re considering either of these, as city parking typically restricts people to one car, if that. It means committing to a certain set of demands every time you drive, which again is the opposite direction most buyers are headed. You’re a deliberate outlier if you sign a BRZ or Miata purchase contract.

    Both cars will handsomely reward your boldness. Like the gear shifters, the BRZ’s has a longer throw, but that can be easily tidied up with an aftermarket short-shift kit. The Miata’s is just about perfect, with a deliciously satisfying mechanical flick landing it in place. Mazda has been refining the Miata over decades, and that kind of evergreen development shows in its generally slick response.

    The BRZ has the rougher charm of a Subaru, with its horizontally-opposed engine kicking to life with the thrums of the DL 4WD wagons that originally got the company on its feet. The BRZ’s personality is present from the turn of the key.

    That’s pretty much the opposite of the unthinking acquiescence we’re being conditioned to appreciate in all our tech: we don’t want Alexa talking back. Meanwhile, the BRZ and Miata both have a lot say, each in their own voices.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant ( Check out his automotive staging service at