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Everyday Driver Reviews The Mazda MX-5

Posted in Import Review, Mazda, Videos by Kurt Ernst | January 28th, 2011 | 9 Responses |

Everyday Driver does car reviews for the masses; enthusiasts will prefer The Smoking Tire, but not everyone wants to know what it’s like to flog the snot out of a tuned Audi R8. Those of us with modest incomes want reviews of cars we can actually afford, instead of just cars we salivate over. I’ve owned Mazda Miatas or MX-5s for years, and I have to say this is a pretty accurate (and well filmed) review of Mazda’s latest generation. While Everyday Driver got most things right, there are a few key points I’d disagree with. Read on for the video and my rebuttal.

When I bought my current MX-5 in 2006, I had every intention of buying an S2000. I drove the Honda on three separate occasions, each time trying to convince myself it was the car for me. It wasn’t, for one key reason: the Honda makes nearly all of its power at top end. This is fine on the racetrack, where you can wind the car out to redline in every gear, but it’s less than ideal for the real world of rush hour commutes and driving residential streets. Despite nearly a sixty horsepower advantage, the S2000 felt slower than the MX 5 in normal driving, and the Honda’s lack of torque made stop-and-go driving in traffic a chore. As a weekend only car, the S2000 would have been fine. As a daily driver, I preferred the MX-5.

That said, I agree that the S2000 has a significantly better suspension out of the box. I tested the handling limits of the S2000, but couldn’t find them at 2.5 times the posted limit on a highway onramp. Unless you’re looking to lose your license, you’ll never come near the handling limit of the S2000 on a public road. Straight off the showroom floor, the Mazda has more modest limits. Much of this comes from the MX-5s SUV-like ride height, necessary to meet pedestrian impact standards. Change the shocks, swap the springs for Mazdaspeed coils and stiffen the sway bars, and the current MX-5 is an entirely different beast. In fact, I’d say it’s nearly as capable as the S2000 in corners with these few simple changes.

As for power, if the MX-5 disappoints then you really don’t understand the car. Sure, more power would be nice, but I’ve never felt that the current generation is underpowered. You don’t even need to add a blower to get more power, as simply changing the exhaust from the engine back, adding a cold air intake and reflashing the ECU will get you modest gains. If that’s still not good enough, Flyin’ Miata will sell you a very well prepared second generation Miata with an LS3 motor under the hood. If that’s still not enough power for you, see a therapist.

As for the track day thing, it’s not quite as easy as Everyday Driver makes it out to be. Most organizations (NASA, SCCA, etc.) have very specific rules about rollover protection in convertibles. The factory hoops in the MX-5 don’t meet their standards, and neither do most of the other non-braced bars on the market. There are a few that currently look promising, but I’m not convinced they’ll be NASA approved just yet, and I’m not going to spend $600 to $800 on a roll bar that isn’t track-approved. I promise an evaluation of roll protection in the MX-5 later this year.

So what’s the bottom line? The MX-5 really is the Swiss Army Knife of sports cars, and it’s one of the few that can be driven at 100% each and every time you climb behind the wheel. If you love driving and you haven’t tried one, go visit your Mazda dealer. The whole chick-car stigma goes right out the window after your first trip to redline and your first rev-matched downshift. Like the Italian roadsters of old, the MX-5 has a personality that’s lacking in a lot of modern cars.

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9 Responses

  1. Zojirushi says:

    Kurt, I know you are a fan of these little death traps…And for the life of me, I dont know why. You state this car can be driven at 100% each and every time…that tells me there is nothing more left to inspire or excite within the vehicle, nothing to push towards. Underpowered is an understatement. Would you seriously take this current gen. MX-5 over a s2000 or a TT?

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Before I bought my current gen MX-5, I was ready to buy an S2000. I drove the car (a 2006 model, new and not used) about five different times but just couldn’t warm up to it. I loved the suspension and the gearbox is handbuilt by God (seriously, it’s about as good as it gets), but I hated the way the car made power. It had very little torque and didn’t come on cam until after 6,000 RPM or so. That’s fine for a racetrack, but that’s the last thing you want for rush-hour commuting. The MX5 made less power, but it had more usable power, and for a combo daily driver / weekend car, it was a much better choice. Even if the cars had been the same price, I’d have opted for the MX-5 over the S2000.

      I used to be as negative about the Miata as you are, until I drove a buddy’s showroom stock SCCA racer back in about ’97. One drive was all it took, and I bought a used ’93 Miata just a few months later. The NAs (first gen cars) were seriously underpowered, but the latest generation has adequate power. Bob Hall, the father of the Miata, said it best: if you can’t go fast with 90 horsepower, 900 horsepower isn’t going to help you.

      I know you’re a BMW guy, but your anti-MX-5 view tells me that you’ve never driven one yourself. I’ll make you this offer: if you’re ever in Jacksonville, FL, give me a shout and you can drive mine. It’s got the Mazdaspeed springs, Mazdaspeed sways and a Flyin’ Miata exhaust, so it does everything just a little bit better than a stock one. If you can drive my car, then tell me you still don’t get the attraction, I promise to stop telling you how good they are.

  2. BigRuss says:

    the latest generation of the MX-5 is fun and even though its 3 competitors are no longer being manufactured its still an extremely competitive car… between the MX-5, Pontiac Solstice(either N/A or Turbo), Saturn Sky(same as the Solstice but its a bit cooler), and Honda S2000 only half are 100% street friendly cars… yes the turbo’d Solstice and Sky are fun but the power band is similar to the Honda’s…. Kurt killer write up man

    • Kurt Ernst says:

      Thanks Russ!

      • BigRuss says:

        if i was in the market to buy a new car id probably have to go with the Saturn Sky Redline… just because of the looks… sure the turbo is nice and pumps out extra power but they all fit me like a glove

        • Kurt Ernst says:

          Russ, the Saturn Sky Redline will be a collector’s car in the not too distant future. If you’ve got the money and garage space, now the time to be shopping for one.

          • BigRuss says:

            I know… but the funny thing is it looks better than its competition… its the same as the Solstice, and they both copied the MX5’s conceptual vision…

  3. eddie_357 says:

    recently i got a chance to drive my best friends MX5, took some arm twisting because he thinks iam a car flogger.which is true because i drive a tuned honda,which i finally got some torque out it but only after decking the block and headwork and getting a new manifold.if i had to do it all over again i wouldnt.i would buy a mx5 and be done with it.the car has a wonderful sports car purr in mid range driving. handles like a dream on back roads, this is where the pleasure of driving shows itself.two thumbs up for miata from me

  4. Roberts says:

    The MX-5 is such a? beautiful car. Amazing piece of engineering that makes for such a well balanced and handled car which, in my opinion, is far more important the power. It’s the prime example of the fact that more horsepower doesn’t always mean more fun.