I drive a lot of cars.
I drive high-power Porsches and eco-friendly Kias, luxury 'Benzes and 400 horsepower Hyundais. Each week, I climb behind the wheel of anything from a full-size pickup to a bare-bones entry-level econo-box.
Reviewing cars is a fun gig, I have to admit, even when the controls are a bit wonky or I can't figure out how to work the dang navigation. I get pretty much all the New Car Smell I can handle.
There are some pitfalls. For instance, it's hard to climb back into your creaky daily-driver after a week of wafting about in a BMW. And then there's the Hell of being trapped in some awful penalty box for an entire week-don't let anyone tell you there are no bad cars anymore.
Mostly though, if I let slip what I do while conversing at some party, people seem to think I'm pretty lucky (and I am). And then, of course, they all want to know, "What's your favourite car?" Or maybe, "What's the best car you've ever driven?"
Well kids, you're lookin' at it: the Mazda MX-5.
Hi there! While Mazda's Nagare design language is on the way out for most of its main-line models, the anime happy face of the Miata -sorry, MX-5-has always suited the car's playful nature.
This particular model is the Special Version (SV), which includes a slick-looking blackedout power-hardtop, 17" gunmetal alloy wheels, black trim for the roll-bar, side mirrors and interior trim, and Velocity Red paint: a metallic hue that's a bit more subdued than it might appear in photographs.
The black roof and gunmetal wheels really butch up the appearance of the MX-5. When driving top-down through Stanley Park, two cyclists had a brief conversation on how much they liked the styling. Winning over the bicycle crowd? Not bad, Mazda.
Not everyone is going to be able to fit in an MX-5, and that's a real shame. If you don't, maybe inquire about having your legs shortened: it's worth it.
The SV enhancements to the interior include leather heated seats and lots of piano-black trim. Other MX-5s have silver trim, but the shiny black of the SV model is quite a bit classier. I'd expect the 2013 models to incorporate more of this.
Any nits to be picked are going to be found inside the MX-5's cabin. For instance, the side mirror adjustment is located by your left elbow (I don't adjust my mirrors using the Gordie Howe method-do you?), and there's neither Bluetooth nor variable intermittent wipers.
The MX-5 ranges in price from $28,995 to $39,995, and as the price tag on the SV model is in the low-30s ($33,845) these are perhaps expected shortcomings. Still, overall value is good, though I would probably spend my money on the GS model; trading the power hard-top for a sport-suspension and limited-slip rear differential.
Make no mistake. If you find yourself at the drag-strip in an MX-5, lined up next to something as hum-drum as a V6 Toyota Camry, you are about to be completely obliterated. V6 family sedans are all running 0-100km/h times somewhere in the low five-second range, and the MX-5 will be nearly two seconds slower with the extra weight of the hardtop.
What's more, today's powerful SUVs will also leave the little sportscar for dead; an MX-5 is within a half-step of a dang minivan, for cryin' out loud. But forget the numbers, you can't accurately describe the way an MX-5 drives by pointing out its modest 167hp engine.
As mentioned, this SV model hasn't got a limited-slip differential, nor does it have the sport suspension. It is also a bit heavier than the cloth-top versions, though it does come with a 6-speed manual.
Despite these theoretical shortcomings, it is far and away the most fun you can have on fourwheels. There is simply nothing quite like an MX-5 for shaking off the driving doldrums and quickening your step as you walk toward it in the car park.
It's not exactly slow either. With razor-sharp steering and a willingness to rotate through the corners, the little rear-drive coupe is a willing dance partner on a winding side road, and the 2.0L four-cylinder still has enough torque to deal with stop-and-go traffic.
There are some caveats: slot the sweet-shifting 6-speed manual into top gear and when you reach 100km/h, you will find the engine turning over at a quite-high 3000+rpm. As such, it's loud, and less efficient than you might think.
But I wouldn't change the closeratio cogswapper for some commuter-friendly high-ratio gearbox. Nor did I ever feel I really need either a stiffer suspension or limited-slip diff helping to put the power down. The MX-5 felt faster than it really is and, unlike other cars that are fast and isolate you from the road, can be driven in a perfectly legal manner and still return huge thrills.
Something else to note, a recent weekend provided the perfect backdrop for a roadtrip up the Sea-to-Sky past Pemberton. On the sunny drive up, the MX-5 was as perfect as you might expect: top down, tunes up, carving up the curves without having to keep an eye out for the constabulary. However, it was on the rainy drive down that the little drop-top really surprised.
Even in moderate-to-heavy rainfall, if you keep the speed above 40 km/h, the MX-5 won't admit much more than a few drops. There's absolutely no excuse for not having that top down nearly all the time.
As mentioned, the SV package adds a raft of extras over the base GX model for less than the price jump of moving up to the sportier GS. Standard features include necessaries such as anti-lock brakes, electronic stability, power windows and a six speaker stereo system.
The SV package adds the power hard top and a number of cosmetic enhancements, as well as moving up to those 17" alloy wheels and a 6-speed manual transmission-the basic MX-5 just has a 5-speed.
The GS is, as pointed out, the enthusiast's choice, with a sportier set up and marginally lower weigh. However, it is lacking in a few areas, and only the GT model has a powerful stereo and Bluetooth handsfree.
Fuel economy ratings on all models are 9.7/7.1L/100kms city/hwy, with the basic model rating slightly better. More so than most cars, achieving these numbers is difficult with the MX-5's short-ratio transmission.
MX-5 is the fun-to-drive benchmark; engaging even at low-speeds; practical for its size; good value.
Short gearing; some odd
button placement; at the end of the week they made me give it back.
The Checkered Flag
Pound for pound, dollar for dollar, the best car in the world. Wait, that's just silly. This could very well be the best car in the UNIVERSE.
. Scion FR-S ($25,990) Talking 'bout a revolution: the internet is abuzz about a car, and it's one that has just 200hp, and no torque to speak of. Actually, this is a brace of vehicles; the collaborative Subaru/Toyota effort that is, respectively, the BR-Z and the FR-S.
Like the MX-5, the FR-S is a nimble, lightweight four-cylinder machine with modest power and a focus on feeling fast rather than outright speed. Unlike the MX-5, the FR-S boasts 2+2 seating capacity and a fixed roof.
Expect to see the FR-S and BR-Z in very limited quantities starting this fall.
. Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T ($24,899)
The base model of Hyundai's Genesis Coupe is still quite the machine: equipped with a 2.0L turbocharged engine pumping out 274 horses, a sporttuned suspension, and fat 245-series tires, the turbo Genesis might have you asking, "Why buy the V6 model?"
Good question. Mind you, it's not exactly that fast, given all those horses. 0-100km/h comes in mid 5-seconds, which is very good, yet still not good enough to out-drag that pesky V6 Camry. Moreover, the Genesis might have a power edge, but it lacks absolute balance and precision, qualities the MX-5 has in spades.