The 2019 Mazda Miata takes an already-great, sharply styled tiny convertible and adds even more power. It’s a great buy. But the 2018 Volkswagen Golf GTI sports an updated look, has even more power and is probably the best-driving hatchback on the road without even trying too hard—but it’s not a true sports car. So if you’re looking for something fun and new for around $26,000 bucks, which one should you get?
What Are We Working With, Here?
The Miata and GTI are both blue-collar heroes in their own right.
The Miata is a rear-wheel drive, two-seat convertible, often not taken seriously by select groups of enthusiasts and unfairly judged despite offering one of the most engaging and entertaining experiences that’s the stuff of memes and dreams, with a recent power boost from 155 horsepower to 181 HP and 151 lb-ft of torque.
The GTI is a totally different approach to affordable fun – a front-wheel drive hatchback with 220 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, with four doors and space for five who prefer a roof over their heads.
But both cars have some similarities. Both are available with a manual transmission, both have power-to-weight ratios close enough to be considered similar, both start around the same price—the 2018 Miata starts at $25,730 and the 2018 Golf GTI starts at $26,415—and so both always come up anytime someone asks us which car they should buy, for whoever refuses to spend some time finding a great deal on a used car. “Should I get a Miata or a GTI?” is a way more common question than you may think, and for good reason.
I’ve now driven the latest version of both, and I’m confident that I can answer this.
What’s So Good About These Cars?
The current ND generation of the Mazda Miata with 155 horsepower was great, but as we reported in our First Drive review of the refreshed one, 181 HP only makes a great thing better. The car is now vastly superior at highway cruising, without having to work nearly as hard to pass or keep up as it did last year. Zigzagging through foggy upstate New York roads on a cool Saturday morning feels like an ascension into heaven, if your standard for heaven is admittedly low.
For me, so many modern cars feel overly dampened and vague, just a series of mostly similarly boring and softened rides trying to be everything and ending up feeling like nothing. But I’m not the first person to say the Miata is exactly the opposite of all of that. It’s attractively simple, purposeful and confident in what it delivers, and it’s packaged as a finely-tuned raw experience designed to make you feel like you’re having fun. It’s something that most automakers have pretty much given up on delivering.
So Which One Should You Get?
All common sense would advise you to get the Golf GTI. This has nothing to do with the time a grown New Yorker Man in a Cadillac glared with disdain and shook his head at me while I was sitting in the Miata, I promise. What does that guy know, anyway?
A Miata could be your daily driver, for sure, just with tons of compromises. You can carry one other person and the trunk is good for a small number of groceries or overnight bags. It’s do-able, long as you have backup plans for a lot of situations.
If you are buying it as your only car, the GTI packs nearly as much fun as the Miata, but can also pack more than a weekend’s luggage and more than one additional living (or dead) being in addition to the driver. The only thing you give up over the Miata is the drop top and the ability to be a little silly with the rear end.