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 of a Friday night.
There’s only one problem though – in reality it’s a bit of a crap car.
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 platitudes and let us face it…
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 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 used you have to check out that it hasn’t been thrashed within an inch of it’s life and for rust if you live somewhere wet or for heat damaged plastics if you live somewhere hot. If you want a little MX-5 though, you can easily pick up a nice minty fresh low mileage example relatively inexpensively that’s been kept garaged 10-15 years.
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 don’t pretend something like the old Foxbody design is anything but a cheap base platform to build upon because the truth is a stock Foxbody is an awful, awful car. The advantage the old Mustangs have though 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 small limited car that will always be out accelerated by a Toyota Camry.
When talking about modifying a Miata, let’s not forget that if the new owner is tall then they have to change it so they can fit, so how great a car design is something on the world market that a six foot tall man can’t fit in? 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”… and your head is touching cloth. 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 driverpart of that equation.
Oh, that’s right I said second thing.
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 now they realise that by the time they’ve saved and spend all that money they might as well have bought an S2000.
Then they bolt on that lower, stiffer suspension and tell you “it’s a momentum car”.
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 lady to drive around town in a cute car she can enjoy and gain attention in, or a young guy if that’s their thing.
My point being it’s a fun little car for someone who wants to enjoy the light side of driving, but it’s not a serious enthusiasts car 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.