American BMW owners would literally spit out their drink and laugh at a comparison like this. In America, BMWs are currently thought of as only high-end, premium luxury cars that no other brand without a three-pointed star or four rings can compete with. Many American BMW buyers are unaware that the brand was actually built on small, lightweight and humble coupes that prioritized fun and dynamics over luxury and comfort. In that regard, BMW is very much in competition with Toyota and Mazda. So this new comparison test from Car Magazine, which pits the BMW 220i against the Toyota GT86 and Mazda MX-5 RF is a very intriguing one.

In many ways, the latter two Japanese cars are the sort of cars BMW should be making. They emphasize lightweight, nimble chassis and modest power over all else. BMW’s smallest coupe, the 2 Series, feels relatively massive by comparison. However, the Bavarians still know how to make a sports coupe, so let’s see how it gets on with this two other cars.

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As far as performance goes, the BMW 220i leaves the other two for dead. Even with the brand’s least powerful petrol engine, the 220i is far punchier and far quicker than the Toyota or Mazda. Under the hood of the 220i is the brand’s 2.0 liter turbocharged four-cylinder but detuned to make 184 hp. The Toyota GT86 uses a 2.0 liter naturally-aspirated boxer-four engine and makes 200 hp and the Mazda MX-5 RF’s 2.0 liter four-pot makes 160 hp. Though, horsepower numbers don’t make as much of a difference as torque. The Bimmer packs 214 lb-ft from just 1,350 rpm, thanks to turbocharging. By comparison, the Toyota only makes 151 lb-ft at 6,400 rpm. The Mazda makes 148 lb-ft at 4,600 rpm. So the two Japanese competitors are practically anemic compared to the Bimmer. It makes the BMW 220i by far the fastest car of the test.

However, what the Toyota and Mazda lack in power, they make up for with dynamics, handling and driver involvement. Both the Mazda and Toyota have manual gearboxes while the BMW 220i in this test has an eight-speed auto (in fairness, the 220i is available with a manual, too).

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But it’s not just the gearboxes that make the little Mazda and Toyota a bit more engaging than the Bimmer. Their chassis are tight, simple and full of feedback. While the 2 Series is a good driving car, there’s a lot fo road feedback intentionally filtered out. While that’s more BMW catering to its current market, rather than incompetence, the Mazda and Toyota feel more like BMWs of yore.

In the end, though, Car Magazine gives the Toyota GT86 the win over the Mazda and the BMW. The BMW 220i is bigger, heavier and less involving than the other two cars but that’s really what its customer-based wants. It’s still a great driving car just not as sharp as the Toyota GT86. If only the latter car had more power, though. Makes us optimistic about the future BMW/Toyota partnership.