Sacred Cow #1 - Why The World Is Wrong About The MX-5
You can’t escape the MX-5/Miata. It’s in every lazy list of great cars you can buy for under X amount of cash. It’s the car recommended to anyone and everyone on forums. It’s the darling of the financially challenged car enthusiast. It’s at every track day, autocross, car meet, canyon road as well as the local McDonalds car park at some point on a Friday night. There’s only one problem though - it's not that great.
Yes, I know the standard cliches… “perfect 50/50 weight ratio”, “connected to the road”, “slow car fast”, “the relationship between driver and car,” and all the other phrases that will end up in the comments after this. In fact, I can’t think of another car that has been the subject of so many… Excuses.
First of all, enthusiasts don’t actually buy them new. You don’t know anyone that’s a true enthusiast and has bought one brand new because, instead, they went out and bought a Fiesta ST or something quick for the same money.
To underline that point I bring you auto journalists. This car has been the darling of the auto journalist since it first came on the market. Show me one that bought a brand new MX-5 with their own money and I’ll show you a liar. They, like everyone else are waiting yet again for the next version that never actually comes that they can fit in comfortably and has a serious power plant that will accelerate away faster than a kid in a beat up old Civic at the traffic lights.
The people that do buy them new tend to buy them because it’s an inexpensive little convertible for a nice drive at the weekend. That’s why when you shop used for any other enthusiast car, you have to check that it hasn’t been thrashed within an inch of it’s life. If you want a little MX-5 though, you can easily pick up a nice low mileage example that’s been kept garaged 10-15 years relatively inexpensively. No rock chips, no close calls, no crappy aftermarket steering wheel, and certainly no track days bro’. So, once someone has picked up a cheap MX-5, what’s the second thing any Miata owner does once they have purchased it? They modify it. They take the “legendary drivers car” and they make it “better”.
There’s a huge aftermarket second, probably, only to the Mustang for these cars. Owners of older Mustangs though, they don’t pretend something like the old Foxbody design is anything but a cheap base platform to build upon because the truth is that a stock Foxbody is an awful, awful car. The advantage the old Mustangs have is you can build anything from the base. A drag car, a canyon carver, an autocross beast, a track monster, a hillclimb animal… anything you want. An MX-5 though, no matter what you do to it you have a limited car that will always be out accelerated by a Toyota Camry.
Let’s not forget that if the new owner is tall then they have to change it so they can fit, so how great can a car design be if it's on the world market and a 6-foot tall person can't physically sit inside? If you have long legs, you’re not fitting. If you’re just tall, it’s going to get cramped real soon in that “drivers car”. Oh sure, you can do the “tall man mod,” but it just underlines the point that well-designed drivers car shouldn’t need to have foam cut out of the seat and seats mounts modified to fit the all-important driver part of that equation.
The first thing an MX-5 owner does? They go on the internet and look at the price of turbo-charging it because they quickly realise this thing is not quick by any stretch of the imagination. It felt fast initially because the car is small and low to the ground, but the reality is even with the bigger engine options it’s not even remotely quick off the mark. People then realise that forced induction is an expensive proposition and that by the time they’ve saved and spent all that money, they might as well have bought an S2000.
The legend of the Mazda MX-5/Miata is hollow. The reality is simply a cheap fun car on the second-hand market. It’s a great car for your mom, dad or grandparents for the weekend to take a drive out in with the wind in their hair, maybe for young guy or girl to drive around town in a cute car she can enjoy and gain attention in, or a young guy if that’s their thing and they can handle the verbal abuse.
My point is that yes, it’s a fun little car for someone who wants to enjoy the light side of driving but it’s not the serious enthusiasts car people make it out to be without a lot of modification. Even then, it gets found out because the engine is always lacking without spending serious coin… and at that point you may as well have bought something that had a little power in the first place.