In Defense Of: The Mazda MX-5

Derek Kreindler
by Derek Kreindler
in defense of the mazda mx 5

In the rarefied world of auto journalism, EVO magazine has assumed a place at the top of the food chain, for its derring-do tales of “flat out motoring”, performance car snobbery of the highest order and rich douchebag “contributors” whose only qualification is owning an absurdly expensive car that masquerades as a “long term tester”.

Like foodies, hipsters and other urban vermin, the EVO crew clearly gets off on the elitism of motoring rather than the appreciation of an automobile or the joy of driving. Figures then, that Chris Harris, supposedly a thinking man’s Jeremy Clarkson, criticized the Mazda MX-5 as being “shit”. According to Harris, the Mazda is “slow, imprecise and unsatisfying”. On what planet?

Harris goes on to state

I don’t really see it as a sports car at all – it never feels like one through your legs, feet and bottom – because sportscars are supposed to be exciting. And the MX-5 isn’t exciting. An Elise is exciting because it’s a proper sports car, whereas the MX-5 is just a way of being a little more exposed to the elements.

Harris apparently has some kind of outside income, since he seems to drive a 997 GT3, which leads us to the inverse problem that most journalists have. Since many earn a meagre living and own crappy cars, everything feels amazing in relation to them. Harris, on the other hand, is effectively stating that the tuna tartar isn’t bluefin and therefore not fit for his consumption. It would be easy to dismiss this as a way of trolling to draw attention to the site, but our author claims that this isn’t the case. When prodded in the comments, he justifies his reasoning in a rather vague manner.

There’s a wallowy loose-ness to it as well: you turn, the bodyshell flexes, the steering column shifts, the suspension rubbers compress – it’s actually very hard to get feedback from the car at all. In this respect almost any hot hatch is better: certainly the 205s/AXs are much more appealing in the way they steer and respond.

If you couldn’t tell from the picture, I own a 1st generation Miata, and it’s been to the track on several occasions. I agree, it does feel a little soft but it’s also a 15-20 year old car. I haven’t had the pleasure of tracking the new car, but people I trust – and by that I mean people with competition licenses and racing experience, say it is lovely. For my money, I have yet to find anything more satisfying in a tactile way than my car. I find its small size helps me place the car wherever I want on a road course. I love the way I can feel what all four corners are doing, whether the front is about to push due to more throttle than necessary, or the subtle pulsating of the limited slip as it starts to lock.

And even though such a pursuit is considered to be the sole dominion of hairdressers and pantywaists, there is nothing like dropping the top on the first day of spring, cranking Abraxas through the not-bad headrest speakers and scaring a lady friend with (to borrow EVO’s most famous phrase) “a dab of oppo” while driving “flat out” through a highway ramp. I have taken my car to the track more than a few times, and have even had a successful club racer (the former coach and now rival of TTAC’s Jack Baruth, in fact) in the car as both a driver and instructor. Never once has he complained about a steering column flexing or bushings that crumble under load. Of course, a dumb North American auto journo couldn’t possibly suss out vehicle dynamics without the benefit of a blast up to Wales and back, so I’ll have to take his word for it.

Sure, there are so many better cars than my Miata. After say, the Ford Shelby GT500, it does feel like a tin can piece of crap, but really, what else can be expected? The same logic applies here. If all Harris does is drive the top echelon of sports cars, then an of course an entry-level roadster with a wheezing four-banger will feel “slow” and “imprecise”, especially if one’s daily mount is a 997 GT3, one of the all-time great sports cars.

In my teens, I loved EVO Magazine, because spouting off whatever opinions I read in it made me feel superior to other people when discussing cars. I thought that every car had to be a hardcore performance machine, and had grand visions of me wheeling my parents BMW 530i on full opposite lock, or lifting the inside rear wheel of their MKV Jetta 2.0T on the way to school. No surprise that I became an insufferable knob when it came to discussing the merits of automobiles. When a friend’s mom got a 128i convertible, I scoffed at the notion. Why wouldn’t she buy a 135i with the M Sport Package, 6-speed manual and Brembo brakes. It didn’t matter that she was over 50, used the car mostly for recreation and could not drive stick. Anything else was just not acceptable, not quite “EVO” enough.

I was too young to realize that the “Troy Queef” column in Sniff Petrol, one of my favourite online publications, directly lampooned the kind of breathlessly inane verbiage that is in EVO every single month without fail. The overwrought prose, the nonsensical, erudite English metaphors, the pumped-up tales of vehicular bravado, are all like the “Penthouse Letters” for auto geeks. When EVO first came on the scene, it was a welcome relief from the U.S. magazines full of Valentine One ads and “journalism” that hit as hard as yogurt flung from a drinking straw. Of course, jerking it to magazines and actually nailing porn stars are very different things, and rest assured the crew in England are firmly on the onanism side of the scale.

Since then, the magazine has become laughably predictable. Anything built for the “common man” will fare poorly – the latest Mercedes CLS500, a car that is by all accounts sublime scored 3.5 stars because

it’s precisely the car Merc wants it to be, but at the moment it’s not quite the car we want it to be.

Yes, Evo is supposed to be a performance magazine, but for 99.9% of the readership, who can’t afford or don’t drive a 964 much less a brand new Porsche, the CLS500 is beyond the amount of car they could ever need. Just to confirm I’m not ridiculous, they criticized the KTM X-Bow R for not being light enough, despite having a curb weight of around 1738 lbs and a 320 horsepower engine. With these kinds of standards, it’s not unreasonable to think that the MX-5 and its predecessors wouldn’t pass muster with the EVO crew. Conversely, it also shows us how irrelevant the “enthusiast” media is, as it delves from an accurate portrayal of how a vehicle behaves when pushed to the limits, to jerk-it fodder for the kind of people who like the image and identity attached to performance cars and high speed driving rather than the discipline, preparation and investment (mental, physical and monetary) that comes with it.

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  • Itsgotvtakyo Itsgotvtakyo on Feb 15, 2011

    The problem I see with too many writers (legitimate authors and commenters alike) is that they fail to frame their opinions around context all too often. Of course a Miata will seem soft and useless when the benchmark is a GT3 or any other world fighting car, it's a Miata! Taken in their own, obviously very different contexts they're both fantastic cars and it's okay to say that. PS- I checked out this kid's old website a couple of times; keep up the good work, kid, you're coming along very well as a writer.

  • Kvolkan Kvolkan on Aug 07, 2011

    Well said. Came off of a Boxster with a blown engine to a mazdaspeed mx5 miata. This thing is very very stiff, stiffer than the Porsche, probably faster stock and definitely faster with some simple bolt on mods. Stone reliable, good AC, radio, shot peened close ratio 6 spd gearbox, etc.Low mileage examples are to be had dirt cheap. Or you can buy a normal miata and easily supercharge or turbo it, add whatever kind of suspension you like through the huge aftermarket. What's not to like? Only the somewhat cra ped space for a 6' bigger person, but this too can be cured through the aftermarket. I am talking myself out of selling nine now!

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