If the considerable number of unopened bottles of wine in my cabinet is any sign, it is that I’m quite unlikely to be an alcoholic. This isn’t some humble bragging of being “high on life” and “not needing alcohol to have fun”, I’m very much a social drinker who doesn’t need a moment’s encouragement to pour out a glass of fine whiskey in fine company, of which the sealed bottles bears testament to my dry social life.
That’s beside the point. The point being is that all vices aren’t universally addictive, as addiction isn’t exclusive to certain individuals. Everybody has their poison . What’s frivolous to some is “kryptonite” to others, from the obvious like drugs and sex to the obscure like Pokemon and death row art, any subject and object can be a form of escapism, and mine has always been cars.
From Hot Wheels to Tamiya, and on to the real deal, I’ve always spent an inordinate amount of time obsessing over cars, so when I finally got round to selling off my faithful first-generation Mazda MX-5, as I made my move to Melbourne, it was time to crack out the classifieds and go down the rabbit hole that is used car shopping.
Australia might be a world away from the major car-making hubs of Asia, Europe, and the United States, but it is not like you would have guessed it from the cornucopia of delectable used car choices on hand. From the country’s iconic V8 giants to fast Subarus and the best European hot hatches, all of which you could have used for under AUD20,000, the world really is your oyster here. The only caveat to my buying criteria was that it shouldn’t be an MX-5, not because of my previous experience of the MX-5’s fatal short-nose crank engine defect, but because I thought it was time to try something different.
However as I started to run through my list, the choices started to whittle away. For starters, I have a perfectly working first-generation Honda Jazz that does nearly anything that you could ever ask it to do – except pull a stuck cow out of the mud – without throwing any mechanical fusses. That meant getting a hot hatch like Renault Sports’ excellent 2010 Clio RS200 or a Volkswagen Mk V Golf GTI was a little redundant. No amount of badgering is going to convince the missus of getting another hatchback with worse ingress and even worse rate of consumables.
Considering that I too am not willing to give up the size- and fuel-economical Jazz, I worked the angle of finding something to complement its abilities and if there was one shortfall of the Jazz is that it doesn’t do touring very well, and this is what the big locals with their lazy-V8 were built to do.
Unfortunately, while there are quite a number of Commodores and Falcons out there that were well within budget, their immense appetite for fuel was rather hard to swallow for my peasant-grade income. That also struck off some of the more interesting Japanese wagons on the list such as the Subaru Liberty and the Nissan Stagea, both of which might take smaller swigs at the pumps, but with a preference for distilled RON98.
This, of course, led me to some interesting choices that were great on the highway, but not so great as a corner carver. Cars like the indestructible Mercedes-Benz W124-series, or even the indomitable Toyota Aurion. All solid and fantastic choices that came short due to my personal preference for corners rather than straights.
In the end, I found myself back to poking around in the MX-5’s territory, cheap sports cars.
The Mercedes-Benz SLK would probably be the best compromise of touring capability and mountain roads agility, but concerns about its long-term reliability and parts costs demoted it off the list rather quickly, and so was the case with BMW’s butch Z3. With that being said, there was little need to explore what Lotus had to offer besides a round of Russian Roulette – undoubtedly exciting with the added spice of triggering a potentially life ruining decision.
This, of course, led me to three rather attractive choices, the Toyota 86, Nissan S15 Silvia, and the Honda S2000, all three of which can be had for nearly the same amount of coin in the used market.
The 86 still is one of the easiest cars to get the rear wheels to dance, but its rather gutless engine powerband doesn’t make it all that ideal as a tourer, and so is its pricey RON98 diet for meagre power output returns.
The Silvia, with its 2-litre turbocharged inline-four, is the better choice here. From the outside, I’ve always admired its looks and adored its triple round air conditioning vents inside. However, while I’m someone who doesn’t care much for appearances, the S15’s rather infamous reverence amongst hoodie-wearing drifting yobos has made it more of a magnet for law enforcement and unsavoury types.
That, of course, left me with the S2000, the more superior MX-5 in power figures alone. Ignoring the rumours of the S2000’s edgy handling and snappy tail when pushed too hard that I picked up from longtime owners, the S2000’s propensity to be at its best when you are really banging on the limiter didn’t endear to what I was looking for in an MX-5 replacement.
While I still maintain that wringing the life out of the JDM Civic FD2R Type R is one of my life’s most treasured memories, I know I will quickly grow tired of its peaky powerband. Hard driving just doesn’t come naturally to me. And to add to that, Honda’s little roadster doesn’t quite suit my touring aspirations for it. It is a brilliant roadster no doubt, but it isn’t quite the complete package in my books.
And finally, after this exhaustive yarn, I finally had to admit defeat and return to sifting through numerous MX-5 listings. Not just any MX-5 generation, but the same old first-generation model, the real OG.
The more I thought about it, the more I fell in love with the MX-5 again like a forlorn lover, only this time with a renewed appreciation for just how complete of a product the people of Hiroshima had conceived. Where do I begin?
Power? Sure it is lacking in terms of outright numbers but it is the way it is delivered that counts. Its humble powerplant sips proletariat grade fuel, yet feels eager, is hardy, and delivers a torque curve that suits all sorts of purposes, from darting between city streets to long-distance jaunts, and even taking on the odd track day. Best of all because of its low power outputs you can really wring out that engine anywhere without having to worry about waking the fuzz. But where it lacks in outright speed, the MX-5’s real talent more than makes up for it by what it can deliver at any speed.
It needs not to be said that many performance cars nowadays are producing way too much power for its own good, many of which can only perform at their best when driven above and beyond the confines of the law. Cars like the BMW M3 is a real pain in the ass to drive if you aren’t pushing past 140km/h, which it will do in a snap whether you like it or not. The little MX-5 on the other hand not only feels fun even at a 50km/h crawl but push it to 160km/h along a winding road and rather than wilt or shy away, the MX-5 rises to the challenge and takes it in its stride.
Contrary to many who view it as a platform for aftermarket improvement, even in its stock state, the MX-5 is amazingly adept. Its suspension is wonderfully dampened for long-distance drives, the body roll – intuitive, the steering – direct, the chassis is so playful when you want it to be and so docile when you don’t, and the seats offer ample comfort for long drives and plenty of support for hard corners without limiting access. Fit on a removable hardtop, and with its extra body rigidity and sound insulation, it turns into a perfectly capable tourer. Then there are its looks.
Yes, it lifted its design off the Lotus Elan without capturing the delicateness of the former’s structure, but it is a lovely 90s tribute to a bygone era that its creators wished to cherish and revive. Furthermore, unlike the slender curves its successor adopted, and the Bauhaus-lines the successor after wore, the original MX-5’s shape doesn’t look like a product of its time. Instead, it is shod with a timeless quality that seems to grow ever more younger with age. As is the case with its interior, which is the only car of its generation then and thereafter that looks absolutely appropriate with a wooden rimmed Nardi steering wheel.
As much as I hate the internet catchphrase, I have to agree with them on this point – the “Miata Is Always The Answer”. Even for someone like me who have had their fill with one. It might be an oversimplification of the MX-5’s wide berth of abilities, but the more I examined it, the harder it was to come to an alternative conclusion. The MX-5 just fills all the right boxes for what I’m looking for with no quality wasted nor left unfulfilled.
Maybe my main weakness isn’t cars in general as I once thought, but it is one particularly centred around the odd bet from a Japanese car maker who had no right to get into the British sports car game, and you know what? I’m just fine with that, and I’ll gladly drink to that.
*This review of a slow, old, and tiny car is completely based around the writer’s personal preferences and driving habits, and is by no means a recommendation for being the best car for everyone. The Motor Muse highly recommends that readers must determine what they are looking for in a car, test a variety of candidates and choose the one that delivers on most – if not all – of their personal requirements.