By on June 15, 2018

This edition of Buy/Drive/Burn was inspired by the comments some of you left on the recent QOTD Crapwagon Garage post on coupes. Though roadsters and convertibles were off limits there, the conversation turned to them wistfully. Don’t worry, convertible week is coming.

In the meantime, we’ve got a ragtop from 2005 to burn. Which one will it be?

About a decade ago, consumers had more choice for fun and affordable ragtop rides than they do today. Even with a strict price limit at $25,000, fun in the sun was yours for the taking. One of today’s contenders even has the engine in the middle.

Mazda Miata LS

It’s the one you knew would be here for sure. 2005 was the final model year for the second generation (NB) Miata, as the simple roadster was replaced by the larger and more rounded NC generation. Always a value leader, both the base and up-level LS trims came with a 1.8-liter inline-four producing 142 horsepower. All those horses go to the rear wheels via the five-speed manual. The LS trim netted buyers a six speaker Bose stereo, cruise control, and leather seats. Yours for $24,903.

Ford Mustang V6 Premium

The odd man out in our affordable trio, the Ford Mustang gives much more size and power than the other entrants, at the expense of fuel economy and additional weight. The fifth generation Mustang was brand new for the 2005 model year, and one can easily recall how the chunky, retro styling was all the rage. The Premium trim was one level up from basic Deluxe, but had the same 4.0 Cologne V6 and five-speed manual transmission. 210 horsepower was found underfoot, and Premium trims gained a power driver seat and upgraded stereo. This pony car asked just $24,815.

Toyota MR2

The roadster generation everyone forgets, the final MR2 showed up for the last time at North American Toyota dealers in 2005. Two different trims were differentiated by the manual transmission offered: standard five-speed on the lower end, or a premium priced six-speed auto-manual. The 1.8-liter engine produced 138 horsepower in the lightweight cabriolet. The five-speed version (today’s choice) did without cruise control, metal trim on the shift knob, or satellite controls on the steering wheel. This last chance MR2-nity (ugh) asked $25,145.

Which one gets the Buy and which one Burns?

[Images: Mazda, Ford, Toyota]

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54 Comments on “Buy/Drive/Burn: Affordable Convertibles From 2005...”


  • avatar
    MBella

    Since I actually did buy a Miata, that’s the one I have to say buy. Drive the MR2. Burn the Mustang because of the outdated engine and solid axle this version has.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Buy the Toyota – mid-engined!

    Drive the Miata – the Japanese MG

    Burn the Mustang – that 4.0L V6 ugh

  • avatar
    tonycd

    Really no Burns here, even if the ‘Stang is a bit rental-grade in V6 form. I think that’s because we ask less of these convertibles. We don’t hold them to the same standards of quietness, body tightness, rear seat or cargo room. They all succeed at being fun and ragtoppy.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      “Really no Burns here” +1

      In 2005, I’d be happy with any of these three. In 2018, I’d probably have the MR2 as a “drive” if only because I’d be concerned about production numbers and replacement parts.* (Maybe there’s support out there; I haven’t researched it.) In 2018, I’d still have the Miata or Mustang as a “buy,” assuming decent condition and history. A friend and I had a rental Mustang convertible for a Vegas to Los Angeles drive in ’05, and it was a fun trip. Complaints that the SOHC Cologne was a dog are–as they invariably are–vastly overstated. I have little familiarity with that engine from a reliability standpoint, but it was fine from a power standpoint. No one in an ’05 V6 Mustang convertible was competing against race-prepped Miatas or C6 convertibles. They were relaxing and catching some sun, and they had enough torque to outpace automatic I4 Camcords away from the stoplight. Honestly, we’ve reached a point where any engine with less than 400 HP will be referred to as a dog by someone, somewhere.

      – – –
      *GM gets ripped for discontinuing the Fiero one year after upgrading the front suspension, but their planners weren’t incorrect. The Fiero/MR2 market cratered in the ’90s. Within the past 5 years, I’ve seen more 1st-gen MR2’s in the wild than 2nd or 3rd-gens. I think that’s 99% a reflection of how many were sold in the first place.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        I don’t think of it as a dog, just a truck engine with timing chain issues.

        • 0 avatar
          Featherston

          Yeah, as I said, I don’t know much about the later Colognes w.r.t. reliability. I’m more than a bit of a worry wart, so I may want to rescind that “buy” on the basis of concerns over adapting an OHV design to SOHC.

          I do sort of wonder why Ford didn’t just carry on with the 3.8 Essex until the Cyclone was ready. They introduced a degree of complexity with only marginal gains in power.

          • 0 avatar
            Ostrich67

            They had been using that engine in the Explorer for almost a decade. Really, they could have put it in the SN95 Mustang and made a better car of the base model.

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            I would easily take the 4.0L over the Essex, but that isn’t saying much.

    • 0 avatar
      Lou_BC

      I have to agree on the “no burns” but if I really had to burn one, it probably would be the Mustang since it is the most common vehicle of the three. The caveat being IF it happens to be the V6 base model. The MR2 I’d buy due to its rarity. The Miata would be the one to drive.

    • 0 avatar
      Acd

      I would feel bad about burning any one of these three and would have a hard time deciding between the Miata and MR2. Good thing I already have a Z3 and am not in the market for another convertible.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    Dare I bring up the Toyota Solara convertible? Although 2005 MSRP for the base model might have been just over the $25k limit for this exercise… yup, according to the Book of Google, Chapter 23408972972304, verse 87923459, it was $26,480.00. Never mind.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    I hate to burn the Ford, but its the only logical choice. The 4.0L SOHC belongs in a Ranger, not a sporty car. A massaged Duratec would’ve reversed this decision.

    Buy the Miata, best looking bodystyle thus far.

    That leaves Mr. 2oyota to drive.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    I didn’t get a wordpress confirm follow email :(

  • avatar
    notapreppie

    Part of me wants to buy the MR2 because it’s the most different and sold in fewest numbers but…
    MX-5
    Is
    Always
    The
    Answer

    So, it’s a toss-up between those two and I don’t think you can go wrong either way.

    Burn the Mustang. Burn it in North Korea’s cleansing (thermo?)nuclear fires. Burn the 52.5 HP/L Cologne V6 engine. Burn the front MacStruts. Burn the live rear axle and panhard bar. Burn the lack of vision and automotive progress. Burn the faux-retro styling that was all this generation had going for it.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Oh, good God, why do I have to burn any of these?

    Having said that…
    Buy the Miata
    Drive the MR2
    Burn the ‘Stang.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I’m going to go with my heart, not with my head.

    Buy the Miata – I’ve never been behind the wheel of one, but everyone seems to like it.

    Drive the Mustang – I’ve never been behind the wheel of one, but I’ve heard it is a bit of a dog. So, as a rental, I’d drive it.

    Burn the MR2 – I’ve never been behind the wheel of one, but I’ve heard good things about how it drives. I just cannot get past how horrifically ugly it is. To go from the previous MR2 to this just proves Japanese automotive design lost its way around the turn of the century and completely stopped caring about aesthetics. Burn it as an example to the others.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      For goodness sake, borrow a Miata and drive it!
      You will suddenly realize that driving a car can actually be enjoyable. It’s almost as much fun as a motorcycle, but a heck of a lot safer.
      And make sure it’s not an automatic. That’s like dating a supermodel who never takes off her raincoat.
      Seriously though, drive a Miata, and you will want to own one.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    Burn that Mustang, because that’s what the death of the Camaro/Firebird twins gave us: no competition equals garbage engines.

    Buy the Miata, because I have before and will again. Currently driving a 2000 SE.

    Drive the MR2 out of curiosity and respect for its forebearers.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      The Camaro and Firebird were alive when the previous garbage engine was in the Mustang (3.8L), so how does that have anything to do with it?

      The success of that Mustang is the only reason we have a Camaro today (exactly how it worked in the 1960s).

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        Do you think we’d have the 5.0 today if not for the return of the Camaro? We’d be down a hundred hp with the old 4.6.

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          Well, since the Mustang is not the only product to use it, and certainly not the highest volume product that uses it, I’m sure it would be here regardless. Further development of the “Modular” engine family was not because of Camaro alone.

          I’m not arguing against competition, far from it, just that having competition didn’t stop terrible V-6 engines from appearing under Mustang hoods before this one.

          • 0 avatar
            DenverMike

            Ford introduced the off-road dohc “Cammer” 5.0 in 2005, for the Grand Am Cup series (multiple trophies) FR500 series Mustangs, which most certainly inspired the “Coyote” dohc 5.0

            Also the FR500 Mustangs were forced to run restrictor plates after too many wins and podium finishes.
            Camaro who?

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        The 3800 was garbage?

        Repent, ye sinner, or surely ye shall burn.

        Sincerely,
        The Church of 3800

        • 0 avatar
          JohnTaurus

          Who said anything about the General’s 3800?

          My comment was about Ford’s 3.8L disaster, the origins of which can trace back to the Buick 3.8L way back when, but it was a totally different animal by this point. Maybe if they’d stuck with cast iron heads, it wouldn’t have been so bad.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Buy the Miata for a chick you may have in your life. Drive the MR2 because it’s got a different kind of sameness. Rust is actually an extremely slow fire, so the Rustang, like many Ford products, will burn itself.

  • avatar
    mikey

    I owned a 2008 Mustang 6 cyl. automatic convertible . I loved it, and it broke my heart when I sold it. I recently picked up a sweet ,unmolested, zero graphics , 05 GT ,stick, drop top..My DD is a 15 EB Premium package .

    So I’m thinking, buy the Mustang

    Drive/ rent the Miata, because its a blast to drive.

    Burn the Toyota !

  • avatar
    StudeDude

    Buy the Miata, though the NB is my least favorite of the stylings.
    Drive the Toyota—not the prettiest but unique and interesting.
    Burn the Mustang, though I do like the current model convertible.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Off topic, but since we’re talking about V-6 Mustangs, has anyone tried the current one out? Apparently you can still get one with a manual. At twenty five or so, it’s tempting.

  • avatar
    paxman356

    I really want to burn the Stang, since I grew up in a GM family, and it is the oldest design of the group. But as a daily driver, it would be best, with it’s extra seats (no matter how small and useless) and comfortable ride.

    But which to drive, and which to burn? The MX-5 has nothing bad going for it outside of being a girl’s car, maybe. But the MR2 is a mid-engined nightmare of snap over-steer and high revs on the highway. So…

    Buy: Stang
    Drive: MX-5
    Burn MR2

    (I tried real hard to be the first to burn the MX-5, but I couldn’t find a reason why.

    • 0 avatar
      RHD

      A VW Cabriolet, yeah, mostly girls drove them (they’re gone now). The New Beetle, more women than men as well.
      The MX-5 is an enthusiast’s car. Anyone who dismisses it as a girl’s car has not yet driven one, is therefore ignorant in addition to being an idiot.

  • avatar
    seth1065

    Ok buy ,but only drive in the summer ,the Mitia

    Drive the MR2, not as nice as the first gen but hopefully this will not rust as quick as the Mazda would be driven all year round in metro NY A Plus is you do not come across them to often.

    Burn the mustang – it is the worst of the bunch with not a lot of redeeming features from the looks to the interior to the engine.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    The real problem with the MR2 is the complete lack of usability even by roadster standards. A Miata (or my S2000) still has enough trunk room for a couple of duffel bags for a weekend away, or a week’s worth of groceries. The MR2 can’t really even manage that making it solely a toy.

  • avatar
    PentastarPride

    I think at some point in my life I’m going to get nostalgic for a 2005 Sebring GTC.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      Those Sebring JX cloud car drop tops were fairly ok. The 2.7 with autostick was a decent power train. Daimler should have just improved upon the existing platform instead of using its Mitsubishi based replacement.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        The 2.7L was a truly awful engine.
        When I drove a first gen Sebring convertible, the NVH was absolutely horrible. I don’t see how someone could live with that on a daily basis. I’ve driven other mainstream ‘verts of the era, they weren’t nearly as bad.

        I’d take a Lebaron convertible over a Sebring. But, my ideal cloud car was a Plymouth Breeze, so take it with a grain of salt.

        • 0 avatar
          MRF 95 T-Bird

          A friend of mines father had a late 80’s Lebaron Turbo convertible in red with the burgundy leather. Quite nice and well made.
          It’s funny how Mopar made quite a leap from the efficient but well used K-platform to the JX Cloud and LX cab forward models.

  • avatar
    AK

    That 4.0 in the mustang absolutely hates to rev and it makes it known anytime you breathe on the gas pedal.

    Burn it.

    Buy the Miata. Duh.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    Oh, this is easy. Buy the Miata, drive the MR2 to and from the track, and burn the Crudstang so nobody mistakes you for a divorced 50-something.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Just to be contrary, I’ll say Drive the Mustang and Burn the MR2. This generation MR2’s existence just serves to remind me that it’s worse than the previous generation.

    The Mustang might be kind of fun if you drive it as if it had the 2100 rpm redline of a semi.

  • avatar
    gespo04

    Buy the Miata to use as a lovely daily driver. (I currently own a 2001 NB LS so I may be biased here)

    Drive the MR2 because I want to know what all the fuss is about.

    I guess I’d burn the Mustang, but I have no qualms with it.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    My mother briefly had an ’05 Mustang V6 convertible. She had always wanted a red one, and her son-in-law picked one up and let her use it for a summer.

    I was shocked that any vehicle made at that time would have such a flimsy chassis. It twisted so easily that the angle of the back end changed noticeably relative to the front after every bump. It also seemed to electronically resist allowing the rear wheels to spin, even with the nannies supposedly off. It wasn’t fighting the brakes or anything, it just couldn’t do it, even with a brake-torque launch. The engine seemed quite strong for what it is, so it couldn’t have been a mechanical issue. That was an automatic though. Surely the manual would feel more alive.

    My mother was happy to give it back and return to her Sunfire. She preferred driving that, as she didn’t care for the ergonomics, visibility, or size of that Mustang. I didn’t mind those aspects. I’d enjoy a V8 MT hardtop version.

    There were a few years there where I figured I’d own a Miata someday. A girlfriend had a special edition yellow ’93 that I loved driving.

    Buy the Miata.
    Drive Mister Two.
    Burn the Mustang.

  • avatar
    gtem

    FWIW I lost an impromptu drag race against a 4.0L Mustang (couldn’t tell if it was stick or auto), whilst driving my wife’s Camry 2.5L with dog stickers on the back. So there’s that. There’s a really nice yellow MRS in my neighborhood, I used to despise them for replacing the awesome gen 2 turbo, but these days they look really well styled and fun in a big-eyed sort of way. Buy on the Toyota, drive Mazda, burn Mustang.

  • avatar
    MRF 95 T-Bird

    Buy: Mustang- Even though it has the 4.0 V6 the everyday practicality outweighs the ancient nature of the motor.

    Drive: Miata – A Japanese Lotus Elan

    Burn: Toyota – Mid-engined sure but I prefer the original

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    Sidebar, 2005 might have been one of the greatest automotive years in history. Not for any new releases, but because pretty much the whole industry was operating on all cylinders. Acura, Infiniti, Chrysler, GM, everyone had something at least decent and often times really good to sell.

  • avatar
    philipwitak

    gotta ask: why was the mustang even included as one of the three choices?

    seems to me one could also find a decent porsche boxster for less than 25-grand. and in that case, i would certainly buy and drive the boxster, and torch both/all the others without a second thought.

    • 0 avatar
      dantes_inferno

      >seems to me one could also find a decent porsche boxster for less than 25-grand. and in that case, i would certainly buy and drive the boxster, and torch both/all the others without a second thought.

      Used Porsche Boxsters are less than 25 grand for a REASON.

      You will spend an arm and a leg just to maintain the thing – including an entire engine on the earlier models if the original Intermediate Shaft (IMS) bearing hasn’t been replaced.

      The original buyer usually keeps the car until the warranty runs out, then dumps it before the maintenance costs kick in.

  • avatar
    dantes_inferno

    Buy the Miata & MR-2
    Drive the Miata & MR-2

    Crash test the Mustang. Then burn it to the ground.

  • avatar
    arach

    This one is too easy. I’m jumping on everyone else’s bandwagon:
    Buy the MR-2
    Drive the Miata
    Burn the Mustang, but only because you have to burn one. there’s no real hatred, anger, or dislike towards the mustang, but rather compared to the three… it is still depreciating, its “fine”, but you know its not the V8 version, the engine was really oudated and it doesn’t drive all that well, but its fine for the price.

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