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The Answer To Everything
and the master of none
I say it a lot, that the MX-5 is the answer to everything. What I mean by that is that it does everything well. It's a sports car, it's a convertible, in this form it's a coupe, it rides well, it handles predictably it has robust mechanicals, it's completely practical, cheap to run and reliable. If you need one car to do everything it is usually at the top of the list. Which is why when I see people shitting on it I often wonder why. I could put it down to idiocy, but even Chris Harris, someone I have a great deal of respect for as a motoring journalist, loathes it.
I've had a think about it and after this trip I think I understand what they're getting at; it doesn't excel at anything. As I said above it does just about everything well, but that's it. My old Mk3 Mr2 for example dynamically crucified it. It was a far better riding and handling car to the point that I'd put it against and even preferred it to my Elise a lot of the time. The Mr2 indeed did a lot of what the MX-5 does, but it's a practical nightmare. It has no storage to speak of and it's the car's ultimate downfall.
So we come to the Elise. It can be a daily driver, when it's working. Which mine rarely did, and when it did break it did so in ways that required recovery (on multiple occasions) and Lotus will try to avoid fixing it under warranty (on multiple occasions). I simply didn't trust it as it was so unreliable. Add to that a roof that was a literal afterthought, meaning you will get wet when it rains. Even getting in and out of the thing is difficult for anyone who's not a bendy midget. So again it might excel in one or two areas like the Mr2, but it's let down catastrophically in others.
The SLK and Z4 I'll put together as they're similar beasts. Both folding hard top versions stow the roof in the boot ruining them for touring when you need to put your stuff in there. You could have a soft top on the Z4 I suppose, but then you still have to put up with it's incredibly hard ride when you're not spanking it. The Z4 coupe appeals to me massively. I love the BMW straight six, big fan of the whole package, but that ride ruins it for me. The SLK I'm not sure you can even call a sports car, it's more of a mini-luxury GT, without the ability to tour. Cool roof though...
You see what I'm getting at, there are cars that are better in some regards, but they're always compromised by others. So to be a competent all-rounder you have to balance what a car can do. To make it ride you sacrifice high speed handling a little, but it still does as it's told. It isn't the fastest car, but in 2.0 guise it's fast enough to get a move on unless you're going around a track. I've been on tours with much faster machinery and can usually keep up whilst not driving suicidally. It's just that it doesn't excel at anything and that all comes down to getting that balance.
My car has the suspension from a MX-5 Sport and it could do with slightly wider tyres like the sport has because I can feel that they're a limiting factor. But if I did that it'd shift the highlight to the fact that with slightly stiffer springs and better damping, it'd work way better at speeds of 70+ when pushing on over uneven roads that can upset it. It could easily go faster, turning the engine up to 180hp is trivial and costs a little over a grand. But you'd need to do something about the brakes that I'm working on at the moment as even as it stands I seem to be able to bend something in them that's causing them to judder. There's always something else you have to adjust if you change something and every time you do you increase the compromise elsewhere. Low speed ride would be impacted by suspension more suited to higher speed stability. More power comes at the risk of less economy and reliability. The list goes on.
The Cayman is the only other car I've owned that pulled off this trick and I suppose by lineage a Boxster would be similar. But it's difficult to think of many others. So where I think people loathe the MX-5, I think they do so when considering it at a certain role and don't consider it as being what they are, a car that can do everything competently. It ain't the best at anything, but it can do everything. That said, I do still miss my Cayman, sadly it's the price of those that is now their problem.
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