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Scott Lear
Scott Lear
9/9/20 9:10 a.m.

[Editor's Note: this article originally ran in the May 2011 issue of Grassroots Motorsports.]

 

There’s a running gag on the Grassroots Motorsports online forum that insists the answer to any question is “Miata.” 

Anyone have a good suggestion for a daily driver in the suburbs of Chicago? “Miata.” 

Okay, but what if I need to carry six people? “That’s easy, you just need three Miatas.” 

What should I have for lunch? “Miata.” 

Start a forum thread with any question, and you’ll be lucky to get in three replies before someone delivers the punch line.

Internet-based exaggerations aside, the Miata does do a very good job of answering for itself. When Mazda’s affordable roadster hit the world stage in 1989, it reminded enthusiasts that a lively, lightweight two-seater with rear-wheel drive and a convertible top can be a magical creature. The build quality and reliability were topnotch, too—traits that set the Miata apart from the often fickle and rust-prone European sports cars of the 1960s and ’70s. The sports car formula had a new champion.

Photography Credit:

The first-generation Miata sold in droves, which in turn attracted similar efforts from other manufacturers, including BMW, Honda and Porsche. Roadster concepts began popping up at auto shows in the mid-’90s, and before long the market was flush with genuinely cool options for blowing your hair back in a stylish and sporty two-seater. 

Mazda had cornered the entry-level roadster market, so these newcomers all came in at a higher price point—most offered more luxury, more performance, or both. As a result, if you were shopping in the year 2002 for a modern sports car for less than $15,000, the answer was still a used Miata. 

Fortunately, our friend depreciation has worked its inexorable magic across the entire category, so today there are many open-top sports cars vying for attention on the used-car market. Sure, many of them still wear Mazda badges, but the Miata is no longer the only option for shoppers looking to scratch their roadster itches for less than 15 grand. That’s a good thing, because no matter what our Internet jokesters may say, one size doesn’t fit all.

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buzzboy
buzzboy Dork
9/9/20 12:50 p.m.

An S2000 weights ~100lbs less than a Z3 and feels like it weighs about 300lbs more. Around town the lack of torque makes the car feel slow and heavy off the line, only really coming alive after 6000rpm. Sure, the gears are WAY deeper to make up for the torque difference but then you spend all your time shifting. And on the street, it's a little impractical to rev out every shift just to keep up with a highschool girl in a new V6 camry.

I'm sure it's different on track.

spandak
spandak HalfDork
9/9/20 1:15 p.m.

I compared the facelift NC and a 2.7 Boxster. I ended up with the Boxster. It's heavier and the sport seats are...not great, but it has so much more character and that's what drew me in. I was ready to buy the Mazda and I really wanted to like it but I found it lacking. The transmission was decent but the cockpit was cramped and the engine was too bland for me. It would rev but it never got exciting. The 2.7 isn't a power house but it at least makes a good noise!
I do wonder sometimes if I made the right choice. The Boxster is wonderful but I blew my budget and anything worth changing is $$. The Miata would have been cheap fun modding and its reputation is so well known I can't help but wonder if I missed out on something. 

aw614
aw614 Reader
9/10/20 9:15 a.m.

First thing I was wondering when I saw the top picture was if that was Dan Shield's Boxster that I see at the local Suncoast PCA events, guess I was right lol. 

Coming from a 4 cylinder na eco car, I never had an issue from the lack of torque off the line in an S2000. I can see the lack of low end noticeable if you are coming from a 6 or 8 cylinder car, but for me, it was hey, this thing has some power over my non VTEC integra

 

93EXCivic
93EXCivic MegaDork
9/10/20 9:21 a.m.
buzzboy said:

And on the street, it's a little impractical to rev out every shift

Isn't that the point of owning a Honda?

racerdave600
racerdave600 UltraDork
9/10/20 10:46 a.m.

I drove a S2000 before buying a Boxster.  Two things stood out, first you have to push it extremely hard to enjoy it, and second, it drives a lot like a Miata at low revs.  In the end, I thought the Porsche was a better all around car, but I did enjoy my time in the Honda.

wspohn
wspohn Dork
9/10/20 11:41 a.m.

Do you like to drive hard (maybe had a competition background?). Go for the S2000. They usually have two kinds of owners - the youthful females who likely never get the rpm above the magic 6K mark and the guys that know what they can do and use it all the time. 

Do you like to drive hard once in awhile? The Porsche is probably the best all round choice (although I'd opt for a Cayman S)

Brake_L8 (Forum Supporter)
Brake_L8 (Forum Supporter) Reader
9/10/20 12:09 p.m.

I'm gonna get eviscerated for this comment, but at city/around-town speeds, the S2000 feels like a Civic with the roof removed. They are only "fun" when you have space to wind 'em out.

I'm also a little dour as my roommate died in one and another friend unintentionally lost his roommate in one. Both cases experienced some form of snap oversteer and the cars went in the air and into trees. They are not forgiving for drivers with little or no HPDE-type experience.

CAinCA
CAinCA GRM+ Memberand Reader
9/10/20 2:00 p.m.
Brake_L8 (Forum Supporter) said:

I'm also a little dour as my roommate died in one and another friend unintentionally lost his roommate in one. Both cases experienced some form of snap oversteer and the cars went in the air and into trees. They are not forgiving for drivers with little or no HPDE-type experience.

Ouch! That does tend to put a damper on my excitement for a car.

AAZCD (Forum Supporter)
AAZCD (Forum Supporter) Dork
9/10/20 2:33 p.m.

In 2014 I had bought about a dozen Honda Del Sols (after a CRX stint). The Del Sols - even B20 swapped - were fun, but felt like a cheap toy. I wanted a more 'refined' car. S2000s had just come into my price range and I started searching for one. I didn't find a S2000 locally, but my Craiglist search turned up a "2000" Porsche Boxster  "S" instead. I had never even considered a Boxster, thinking they were priced similarly to a 911. I have now bought over a dozen Boxsters and still think I'd enjoy a high revving Honda just as much.

nderwater
nderwater UltimaDork
9/10/20 3:13 p.m.

Good comparison, it's hard to go wrong with any of the test cars. 

It's wild to think how spoiled for choice we were a few years back.  Today a base Boxster starts near $65K, a Z4 starts from $50K, and the Honda is no more.  Can't get a manual in BMW and Mercedes roadsters and Fiat is killing off the Spider, so it's left to Mazda alone to hold the torch.

P.S. -- I'm finding fewer than 50 new Boxsters in the country with a manual transmission.  Almost all of them are priced over $85K and half are over $100K frown

BlueInGreen - Jon (Forum Supporter)
BlueInGreen - Jon (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
9/10/20 3:33 p.m.

Yeah, that was a good era for sports cars.

10+ years later and all four are still great looking cars, especially the BMW.

Carbon (Forum Supporter)
Carbon (Forum Supporter) UltraDork
9/11/20 10:29 p.m.

Zzw30 mr2 belongs in this comparo.

Flynlow (FS)
Flynlow (FS) HalfDork
9/11/20 10:54 p.m.
Carbon (Forum Supporter) said:

Zzw30 mr2 belongs in this comparo.

They had one booked but there wasnt enough cargo space for the owner to bring both his helmet AND driving suit, so he couldn't put it on track ;). 
 

Great driving car, and you're right it would be a good addition to the group.  Just pack light.  

350z247
350z247 New Reader
10/7/20 10:15 a.m.

"Miata is always the answer" has always bothered me. 90% of people running a Miata would rather be running a Boxster/Cayman if they could afford it. A used 981 Boxster/Cayman S will run you the same amount as a new ND Miata with the BBS wheels, Recaro seats, Brembos, and Bilstein dampers; yet, the 981 will outperform it in every way and look better while doing it. A used 987.2 will run you the same as a properly built NA/NB with a turbo. By the time you build a Miata that can lap with a the Porsche, you've spent more money. With FCP Euro, there's no excuse to say maintenance and consumables are too expensive, especially with how reliable modern Porsches are.

I'll gladly pay more for a better car; life's too short to drive around with less than 200 horsepower. The Miata and BRZ/FRS/GT86 offer a great canvas to build a fast and fun car, but a used Porsche already supplies a better car. Just buy and enjoy.

twowheeled
twowheeled New Reader
10/7/20 10:36 a.m.
350z247 said:

"Miata is always the answer" has always bothered me. 90% of people running a Miata would rather be running a Boxster/Cayman if they could afford it. A used 981 Boxster/Cayman S will run you the same amount as a new ND Miata with the BBS wheels, Recaro seats, Brembos, and Bilstein dampers; yet, the 981 will outperform it in every way and look better while doing it. A used 987.2 will run you the same as a properly built NA/NB with a turbo. By the time you build a Miata that can lap with a the Porsche, you've spent more money. With FCP Euro, there's no excuse to say maintenance and consumables are too expensive, especially with how reliable modern Porsches are.

I'll gladly pay more for a better car; life's too short to drive around with less than 200 horsepower. The Miata and BRZ/FRS/GT86 offer a great canvas to build a fast and fun car, but a used Porsche already supplies a better car. Just buy and enjoy.

I'm in the other camp. I tested a 987 cayman prior to getting my NC. Neither car felt fast. Coming from motorcycles they both were varying shades of slow. I don't like the light front end feeling of a MR car, so I bought the miata. I've since added a turbo and even at 300whp or so it doesn't feel quick. I should have just left it stock and enjoyed the car for what it was. 

ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter)
ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) Reader
10/7/20 11:48 a.m.
350z247 said:

"Miata is always the answer" has always bothered me. 90% of people running a Miata would rather be running a Boxster/Cayman if they could afford it. A used 981 Boxster/Cayman S will run you the same amount as a new ND Miata with the BBS wheels, Recaro seats, Brembos, and Bilstein dampers; yet, the 981 will outperform it in every way and look better while doing it. A used 987.2 will run you the same as a properly built NA/NB with a turbo. By the time you build a Miata that can lap with a the Porsche, you've spent more money. With FCP Euro, there's no excuse to say maintenance and consumables are too expensive, especially with how reliable modern Porsches are.

I'll gladly pay more for a better car; life's too short to drive around with less than 200 horsepower. The Miata and BRZ/FRS/GT86 offer a great canvas to build a fast and fun car, but a used Porsche already supplies a better car. Just buy and enjoy.

As a dedicated Miata enthusiast who also owns a 981 Cayman S I have a hard time agreeing with this, even when comparing late model years.  I've never seen a clean 981 CS sell for less than $40k, most with the right spec are pushing $50k.  You can get a ND2 Clubsport for low $30's new, mid $20's used.  Track wheels for the Cayman are $2000-5000, Miata are $600.  Tires for the Cayman are $1000-1200, Miata are $500-600.  Track pads for the Cayman are $400-700, Miata are $300-400.  etc.

The Cayman is the best car I've ever owned.  It's amazing on the street and downright magical on the track.  I cross-shopped it against the ND and it's way better than a Miata in every way, full stop.  It is dead reliable, basic maintenance is manageable for a DIY'er, and parts aren't any more expensive than any other euro car.  But it's very expensive to campaign for motorsports, so I still have an NA Miata track ho that I can slay all day for next to free.

dps214
dps214 HalfDork
10/7/20 12:18 p.m.

In reply to ShinnyGroove (Forum Supporter) :

I was going to write a similar response, then I remembered that models other than the Cayman S exist. If you're cross shopping miatas you're presumably at least okay with a boxster, if not prefer it. Manual base boxsters are pretty widely available for less than a new ND and boxster S are about on par with a brembo package ND. And both of those will still be far better overall experiences. I'm honestly not sure they're that much more expensive to track aside for tires being a bit more expensive.

nderwater
nderwater UltimaDork
10/7/20 9:05 p.m.

Stock for stock, my 987 is more capable than than the NA/NB Miatas I’ve owned, but the Miatas were more for to drive and easier to explore the limits in.

My wife digs the Porsche though, way more than the Mazda’s, so there’s that laugh

Yinn
Yinn
4/16/21 8:19 a.m.

Found this trying to figure out what else to buy...and found myself saying "Now what?"

Former owner of:
2006 S2k
2001 Porsche Boxster
2001 BMW Z3 3.0
1990 Mazda Miata

While not the exact cars in this article, in my humble opinion the S2000 was by far my favorite.  It was rough on pot hole ridden roads.  It was not a great daily driver.  But the smiles it put on my face, the way it handled, the way it drove was immaculate.  I regret selling that car.

Second to it, the Miata.  I bought the S2000 when I REALLY wanted another Miata and only bought the used S2000 was a good deal.  It was slow.  Really slow.  But what it lacks in pure speed it makes up in pure enjoyment. It's a great car if you want to be able to full use a car to it's full potential.

Porsche Boxster - I really wanted to like it, but it was just ok.  I eventually sold it because I found myself choosing to drive the S2000 instead of the Porsche the majority of the time.  I eventually sold it for a 2008 Cayman - a vehicle that is same in principle but vastly superior.  The extra rigidity helps quite a bit with the driving dynamics and handling.

Lastly the Z3.  It's a BMW.  It was decent fun.  If you're a town cruiser there's nothing wrong with this car. If you enjoy the thrill of backrounds and pulling Gs, this will do it too but the other vehicles do it better.  I enjoyed my time with it, but I'm not regretting selling this one.  I'm not itching for another.

So here I sit now asking "What other convertible can I buy now that I might like as much as the Miata or S2k?"

fatallightning
fatallightning Reader
4/16/21 10:12 a.m.

987/981 Boxster

Elise.

spandak
spandak Dork
4/16/21 10:19 a.m.

ND2?

ND1 with a blower?

Slippery
Slippery GRM+ Memberand UberDork
4/16/21 11:01 a.m.

In reply to Yinn :

First hand experience ... -'06+ S2000 + Hondata + KW Supercharger. 

390+ rwhp in an S2000 is an insane amount of fun. 

350z247
350z247 Reader
4/17/21 8:10 a.m.

In reply to fatallightning :

I agree on all three. The 986 was a good start, but by the 987.2, Porsche had perfected the roadster. The 981 Spyder is the absolute pinnacle of open top track weapons. If only they had actually produced the Bergspyder...The Porsche Boxster Bergspyder Came Agonisingly Close To Production

mad_machine (Forum Supporter)
mad_machine (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand MegaDork
4/17/21 10:26 a.m.
buzzboy said:

An S2000 weights ~100lbs less than a Z3 and feels like it weighs about 300lbs more. Around town the lack of torque makes the car feel slow and heavy off the line, only really coming alive after 6000rpm. Sure, the gears are WAY deeper to make up for the torque difference but then you spend all your time shifting. And on the street, it's a little impractical to rev out every shift just to keep up with a highschool girl in a new V6 camry.

I'm sure it's different on track.

when the V6 Camry has 301 hp,  any of the above Roadsters are going to have to work hard to keep up with even the lightest footed grandmother

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