By on May 28, 2011

TTAC Commentator Ronman writes:

Hi Sajeev and Steve, hope all is well. I have a query for a friend. He is a photographer in California, and has recently felt the urge to buy a convertible. His requirements are kind of eclectic with a sort of tight budget.

Here it goes: he wants a convertible so that he can enjoy the sun in his neck of the woods, he wants one that drives well with some decent power and with the top down he would like to be able to use the car for tracking shots and the like. He would prefer a hardtop for safety reasons (theft) as some of his gear might be in the car at times. Also since his budget spans from 12 to 16k, he would prefer the used car he is going to ultimately buy not be a pocket burner in terms of maintenance. So a model that can be acquired with extended warranties would be preferable.

He’s already tested a 2002 SLK280, but he’s wondering what would be nicer on the mid term, the SLK, a similar vintage Boxter, or Audi TT convertible. I had advised him about the presence of the Honda S2000, Mazda MX5 (he said it’s too girly), and the Pontiac Solstice or Saturn equivalent (not sure if those slot in the budget) however he did mention that if it’s worthwhile he would try to up his budget somewhat. a 2 seater convertible is not a strict thing but it is preferable. So what do you and the B&B think?

Sajeev Answers:

Ronman, with those needs and that budget, your buddy is looking at what I sometimes call “The Dark Ages” of German value engineering. Buying a used model from this era (especially with no service records) is beyond stupid. The Boxster’s IMS engine failures and (some) Audi’s engine sludging are well known, but it takes more forum digging to learn all the expensive problems on the other models. And he better, unless he doesn’t mind surprise repairs that can be in the thousands.

Not that the new stuff from Germany is simply outstanding in terms of long term value, so I’d recommend your friend buys a hardtop MX-5. The GM Kappas are a good alternative, but finding a hard top might be tough. Maybe a Thunderbird, if he needs more space/comfort and wouldn’t mind the occasional retro kick in his photography.

And honestly, is a MX-5 any more “girly” than a TT or SLK? But I suspect he’ll buy whatever he likes on the test drive. And if its an SLK, TT or Boxster without reassuring amount of service records, be totally okay with rubbing it in when he complains about the repair bills.

Steve Answers:

Let’s see. Your buddy thinks the MX-5 is girly? Based on what?

I have yet to see one of those come with a standard make-up case. Seriously. Everyone from Jeremy Clarkson to yours truly likes the MX-5. Even a guy I met who deals with some of the nastiest scum of the Earth as a public defender in Northwest Georgia drives one. Four kids and built like a marine, I’m sure he would have gone for an old Wrangler if he was concerned that folks would see him as ‘girly’ in a car that a lot of guys like.

This isn’t even a question given his criteria. He should buy the MX-5 and load it up with whatever he likes. It’s wonderful to drive. Reliable. Sporty, and damn simple to keep up and maintain. All the German models your son mentioned were built at a time when German quality was a painful oxymoron. Skip em’.

Need help with a car buying conundrum? Email your particulars to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com , and let TTAC’s collective wisdom make the decision easier… or possibly much, much harder.

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50 Comments on “New or Used: Makeup Case Not Included...”


  • avatar
    newcarscostalot

    off topic: I was just on the Dodge site, and an article excerpt from TTAC is featured on the main page. wait for the Dodge Durango to come up and you can see the excerpt next to the pic. Congrats!

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Yeah if the MX-5 is too girly then I guess someone that insecure in his manhood shouldn’t buy one anyway. Make mine manual, green paint, and tan leather.

    • 0 avatar
      JKC

      +5 Dan. That sounds perfect.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Dan, being SERIOUSLY biased here, I prefer my 2007-vintage MX5 in Granite Gray, 5 speed, black cloth interior. But as I am cheap, and that this is a “fun” car for my wife and me to enjoy, we decided to skip the leather and just go with the great sport model we bought just over a year ago! Oh yes – it does have A/C, which comes in handy.

      So, Ronman – tell your buddy to man up and get the MX5 – he won’t be sorry!

      EDIT: Dan this being a hoilday weekend, I see lots of classic cars cruising around and just saw an extremely beautiful fire-engine red restored Dodge 330 wagon, down at Kroger. You were the first person I thought of when I saw it, as you are such a wagon fan.

    • 0 avatar
      wallstreet

      Amen. Make mine British racing green , MT & tan leather.

    • 0 avatar
      mdensch

      Dan — I did make mine a 2001 SE, British Racing Green, tan PERFORATED leather, tan top and 6-speed manual.

      And it’s NOT for sale.

    • 0 avatar
      Ronman

      Hey Guys, thanks for the input, being a member of the B&B i really appreciate your help, seems like i was right all along, hopefully he will act upon that if he ever decides to go through with the purchase.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    Only way to avoid “girly” is a Mustang GT or Corvette Convertibles. Car thieves will break a hardtop’s window as fast a cutting a ragtop. They’ll probably break the window to steal the top itself.

    Then again, why not embrace the “girly”? Chick’s dig those cars and may complement or start a conversation. Manly cars attract, um… men.

    • 0 avatar
      MoppyMop

      The old saw that convertibles are easier to steal stuff from than closed cars is mostly a myth now. Modern convertible tops are thick enough that cutting a usable opening in one isn’t really any easier than prying open a door or smashing the window. And if someone does jack your stuff, putting on a new top is a much cleaner/simpler job than window or body work.

    • 0 avatar
      Piste

      I disagree. I don’t think cars can get much girlier than the Mustang GT or Corvette convertibles.

  • avatar
    Akaishi

    A friend of mine has verified that you can move 1/13th of a cord of firewood in the trunk of an MX-5. It is practically a van!

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Buy the Miata, replace the front fascia and add some (tasteful) aftermarket skirts. It’ll still cost less than anything else on that list.

    Another option, save for the lack of cargo space, might be the MR2 Spyder or the GM Kappas.

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      >> Buy the Miata, replace the front fascia and add some (tasteful) aftermarket skirts.

      LOL. I think that came out wrong. You want to put “skirts” on a “girly” car?

      Kidding aside, I don’t think the MX-5 is a girly car at all. It looks good, is low maintenance, and handles incredibly well — it will forgive you when you make a mistake. Hmmm… all traits desirable in a car and a girl.

  • avatar
    anchke

    (sigh) All my best efforts to dislodge the notion that marketing propaganda should be taken seriously, and here’s someone else who thinks cars have gender. But here’s an observation about summer 2011 — it seems to my informal count that a lot of drivers who decide they must have a convertible are simply buying something like a 10-year-old Buick and drive it until (I suppose) the need passes. They don’t try to restore the car. Sometimes they don’t even wash it. But happily drive ‘em they do. Saw one just now. The only concession to repair was some rustoleum sprayed over the rust on the rear quarter panel, but driver and passenges were enjoying the weather and their ice creams. And the car seemed to like reliving its glory days. Well, it seems cool to me. Certainly better than fretting about what the passersby might think.

    • 0 avatar
      Educator(of teachers)Dan

      If you just want a convertible to cruise with the top down and eat ice cream there are lots of 10 year old V6 Mustang convertibles that will fit the bill. (And they’re dirt cheap too.)

    • 0 avatar
      anchke

      Ah, Dan’s ref to thrift reminded me — Saab 9-3 convertible. Prices are down and they’re reliable. In my locale, I see plenty from the early 90s still happily whizzing around. C&D once included the 9-3 in a ragtop comparo that included a Bimmer and liked the Saab better. Plus it has a back seat. Just find a local Saab indie.

      Yes, Miata’s are fun. My missus gave me her blessing to buy an ’08 special edition last month. Test drove it. It’s fun. But that’s all it is. Had the feeling that I’d look at it out in the driveway come November and think, “What did I do that for?”

  • avatar
    mazder3

    1. Bring your friend to a Spec Miata race. That’ll show ‘im how “girly” they are!

    2. Your friend should get a Miata in white and rattle can on some blue stripes (or, if wealthy, go to MAACO.) No white two seater with blue racing stripes is “girly”!

    3. Many vehicles are easy to break into, regardless of materials used. Modern sheetmetal can easily be punctured by a Phillips head screwdriver. Seriously. One of my trucks were broken into by some twit who didn’t want to make the sound of breaking glass, so he went through the door skin next to the door handle.

  • avatar
    chaparral

    Miatas are fun enough that I don’t care what I look like driving one. They save enough at the shop to make up for the damage they do at the pump.

    I have fond memories of running a ’94 flat-out through the mountains of New York chasing a 190-horsepower CRX driven by a top FWD autocrosser. Only car to ever lose him when I outran him through Hykkinen Hollow…

  • avatar
    thirty-three

    I used to think that the Miata looked girly too, until I sat in one for the first time. That car fits like a glove! Now I don’t care what it looks like, I want one.

  • avatar
    MarcKyle64

    One car I haven’t seen mentioned yet is the Nissan 350Z convertible. I don’t know if they are in the price range or not, but they look more macho than a Miata.

  • avatar
    RGS920

    MX-5 girly?? Well there are plenty of 80-90′s Corvette convertables in that price range if he is really that insecure. Just saying!

  • avatar

    I think what this situation calls for is a clean, low-mileage Buick Reatta.

  • avatar
    Prado

    By all means your friend should buy a SLK if he thinks the MX5 is girly.

    • 0 avatar
      Porsche986

      Exactly. What is manly about an SLK again? Not one thing.

      I have owned two (one 1994 NA, and one 2005 NB Miata’s) and they were 100% reliable, and have so much SAFELY accessible fun!

      I now own a Porsche 986 Boxster, twice the power, certainly better on a track but barely so… and it costs an arm and a leg to maintain properly.

      I vote 2007 Miata PRHT if you can find one in the price range… he really won’t look back.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    I would recommend a LOW mileage Jaguar XK8 convertible.

    It meets all the requirements:
    1. They are a beautiful car to photograph.
    2. It has a trunk for his equipment.
    3. Sun on the neck.
    4. They are amazingly low cost used.
    5. They are very reliable. My cousin had one and it was trouble free.

    Here is an eBay example:
    Link: http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/1997-Jaguar-XK-Convertible-MINT-low-miles-No-Reserve-/110693474759?pt=US_Cars_Trucks&hash=item19c5d861c7

    Myself, I love the look of the Jaguar XK8 hardtop coupe over the convertible.

  • avatar
    Fromes

    Lets me honest, know one in there right mind should buy a MX-5 over a C5 Corvette.

    • 0 avatar
      wallstreet

      You mean to say:” Let me be clear, nobody in their right mind should buy a MX-5 over a C5.”

      Is this what happened when school is out?

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      Lets me honest, know one in there right mind should buy a MX-5 over a C5 Corvette.
      When it comes to so called girly cars, this car has to be pretty damned close to the top of the list.

    • 0 avatar
      chaparral

      I own a C5. My mom drives an NB Miata.

      The C5 deserves all the praise it is given. It’s a Ferrari Daytona with Camaro running costs.

      The Miata is better. It is more fun to drive, faster-reacting, grips harder, is more communicative through both the steering and the chassis, and cheaper to run than any other car in the family.

      What the Corvette does best is to reel off 800 miles in ten easy hours with the air conditioner set to “freeze” and the 12-CD changer cranking out the tunes, or rip up a stretch of open road with the V8 power, the huge tires and great limited slip, and the great brakes.

      What the Miata does best is what you do every day – blow through little gaps in traffic, make a tight road seem bigger, clear out the cobwebs in a couple minutes with the top down.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        The C5 was the first Vette I started to like after my Father’s 75 C3 disaster. The C6 looks even better. However, for the type of driving I do the Miata would be a better fit. I spend a lot of time on narrow twisty roads, so smaller and lighter is better.

  • avatar

    I am a Honda Fan so I’d say S2000, but unmolested examples in the alloted budget are hard to find.

    So,on a budget, the MX-5 / Miata is the uncontested winner in this category. In some colors, it may seem girly but the truth is found behind the steering wheel: it’s just plain fun without sucking megabucks in upkeep and maintenance.

    With a manual transmission, of course…

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    I love my Miata and could care less if some people think it’s girly. They are missing out, pure and simple. It’s a blast to drive and cheap to own. And btw most of them appear to be driven by middle aged guys like myself.

    If you judge girly by who’s driving them, the surprise girly car around here is the BMW 3 series. Seriously. I conservatively estimate 75% of them on local roads are driven by women. I personally know seven 3 series drivers plus one who has one order. All but one are women. Would that stop me from owning one if I were so inclined? No. ( BMW reliability would)

  • avatar

    He can get a CPO Solstice GXP (260HP turbo Ecotec) for $17K, not much more than his price range. Smooth Line will sell you a hardtop ready to paint for about $1300. Though to drive at 9/10ths or higher you might want to add some suspension parts from the Club Sport package.

    As for girly cars, nothing is girlier than a New Beetle. Remember, the original Mustang was marketed to secretaries and the biggest seller was the six cylinder.

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    I can’t believe this.

    G6 convertible. In the price range (wicked depreciation). They aren’t THAT bad, hard top, a real back seat and can truly seat four, the GM 3.9L V6 is the better choice of engine.

    One downside of any hardtop convertible in this price range – when the top is down you have almost no trunk.

    • 0 avatar
      Japanese Buick

      This downside does not apply to the Miata. The top has its own compartment so putting it down has no effect on the trunk.

    • 0 avatar
      Porsche986

      Ever see the crash test for the G6 convertible? Umm, check it out on YouTube… I wouldn’t buy one.

    • 0 avatar
      chaparral

      It’s no more fun than any OK midsize sedan to drive though! Why even bother with convertible if it’ll be boring?

      Yes, it’s a midsize GM, so it’ll run off 200,000 miles with cheap and infrequent repairs, but it’s not a sportscar alternative.

  • avatar
    Kevin Jaeger

    There’s a reason the Miata is the best selling roadster of all time. The guy has to be a fool to not at least consider it.

    He can get the 2004 or 2005 Mazdaspeed turbo version well within his budget. It’s a blast to drive like every other Miata and it has power, too. Doesn’t come with a retractable hardtop, though. He’d have to spring for a newer one if that’s a firm requirement.

    I’ve had muscle cars, VW GTIs and some other interesting cars, but nothing offers the all out fun driving experience of a Miata.

  • avatar
    CraigSu

    While my knee-jerk response is Saab 9-3 convertible, if he wants a hard-top option then he should consider a Volvo C70 or any of the BMW hard-top convertibles. The VW Eos is another option but that may fall into his “too girly” category.

  • avatar

    Saab 9-3. All the people that cry about Saabs being unreliable just… haven’t owned Saabs. if you want a car with room for photography equipment, you won’t be able to fit anything of substance in a 2-seater (corvette, MX-5, Kappa.)

    The 9-3′s depreciate really heavily, and if you get one equipped right (I’d say a new-style convertible 04+ with the high-pressure-turbo 2.0L 210bhp I4, not the V6, with a manual) and some nice features, you’ll love it. They’re quick, very comfortable, have space for real life, good in all weather, and definetely in your price range.

  • avatar
    JuniperBug

    I just put a deposit on a ’99 base Miata. After test driving a few of them, I have to say it’s the most fun car I’ve ever driven. I bought it to replace my ’09 Honda VFR, which I unfortunately wrecked, and subsequently decided it was time for somthing safer and more practical.

    When a 140 hp car can be as fun as a sports motorcycle, while being as cheap or cheaper to own, that’s something special. Anyone who claims to love driving needs to try one. If it were possible to drive a golden retriever puppy, that’s what the Miata feels like. Ride quality is surprisingly good, to boot.

  • avatar
    ajla

    He should buy a Miata, debadge it, put in a roll bar, lower it, and throw on some aftermarket wheels.

  • avatar

    A TJ Wrangler would also be a dark horse candidate in this price range. With a platform on the roof and a lockable storage box in place of the back seat it would be a great photography platform.

  • avatar
    Sanman111

    With all the criteria mentioned, Miata is the best choice. If you relax a few, a mustang vert, a g6 hardtop vert, sebring vert. All are in the price range, but bigger and less fun to drive.Wrangler may be an option, but will be older as they hold value. The GM Kappas and the MR2 a no go unless he wants to store that camera equipment in the car as they have minimal storage space.

  • avatar

    I’m surprised that the S2000 got as little mention or respect as it did. Fits the criteria, nobody has ever accused it of being girly, decent trunk, high fun factor, and will run forever. It would be the S2000 or the Miata for me, no contest.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    Last year when we bought our daughter a Mazda 3, I had a chance to sit in a Miata in the showroom. It was the coolest thing I’ve sat my fat redneck butt in since that 1972 Z28 back in 75 when i got my license. If I win this Wenesday’s Powerball – I will buy one after I sober up.


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