RE: Mazda MX-5 1.5: PH Trade-Off!

RE: Mazda MX-5 1.5: PH Trade-Off!

Sunday 14th April

Mazda MX-5 1.5: PH Trade-Off!

The pared-back simplicity of our MX-5 long-termer has won us over. But is there something simpler still for half the money?



If you've been keeping up with our long-term Mazda MX-5, you'll know it's been endearing itself to us of late. Our 1.5-litre example is with is to try and help us work out whether, as some say, it's the best MX-5 - or whether, as logic dictates, you actually want the greater power (not to mention the limited-slip differential) of the 2.0-litre version.

The jury's out on that conclusion as of yet. But one thing's for certain: we like the 1.5, quite a lot in fact. "The MX-5 just works in damn near every situation because it's been so cleverly engineered," says Matt.

"There isn't a button for a sharper throttle, or weightier steering, or a different sound from the speakers - and it's never felt like needing one. Many if not most of the sports car benchmarks that Mazda always hoped to emulate made it without modes, and hopefully the MX-5 can continue in that vein - because there's simply no need when the car is this well sorted."

The MX-5 is even terrific value. A 1.5 SE-L like ours can be had for as little as £20,795 these days, which isn't much at all. And that's going to make this week's Trade-Off rather tricky, because it gives us just over £10,000 to play with - with which we'll need to find something that's just as much fun as the MX-5, and just as usable, but also just as simple. Eep.


We'd be mad not to mention the old model, of course. Our budget will easily get you into a post-facelift 2.0 Sport Tech, probably the best of the lot, with low miles like this one. Of course, you get all the usability of a modern MX-5, and while it won't be quite as deft or as dextrous as its modern progeny, the Mk3 MX-5 was hardly a big old lump of wood to drive.

Even so, this feels like the easy way out - and it's one that'd probably leave you feeling a little deflated each time you rocked up at the lights next to the new model. There are better options out there.

One of them might be a Lotus Elan M100, like this one. Yes, it's getting on a bit, but this example's only covered 88,000 miles; more to the point, it's just had a full glass-out restoration and a service with all the bells on. Its history is all-encompassing, too; in short, this is one of the best Elans out there.

It's a naturally aspirated example, too, rather than the more complex Turbo, so it stays true to the purity and simplicity of our MX-5. And if you're worried about the reliability qualms that Lotus badge might bring, don't be; the Isuzu lump is as tough as old boots, and the rest of the car is about as well-built as Lotuses got, its fibreglass body resisting rust and only its electrics being a potential worry.


The Elan's terrific to drive, too, its incredible body control and immense grip making it capable of remarkably high cornering speeds. But there's a problem: that front-drive chassis may be about as good as they come, but it still doesn't give you as many options as a rear-driven roadster would; that lack of adjustability has led to the Elan gaining a reputation for being fast, but a little remote - entirely the opposite ethos to our MX-5.

So instead, our choice this week is a car that's about as involving as they come. It's always a joy to remember that in this day and age you can buy a good Vauxhall VX220 for less than £10,000; this example, in fact, will set you back £500 less than that.

Now, let's address the elephant in the room first. No, a VX220 won't be as easy to live with as our MX-5. You'll have to tolerate a firmer ride, smaller doors, and a hood you can't simply flop away. However this example's been upgraded with a better heater and a Bluetooth stereo; what more do you really need in life?


What's indisputable is that the VX220 shares the Mazda's purity of purpose, this naturally-aspirated example being pretty mechanically simple and unspoiled by the Turbo's power surplus, making it relatively easy to enjoy without fear of it spitting you off.

It looks to be a tidy one, too, with just 41,000 miles on the clock and a full history. So, while it's not exactly a spring chicken, it is at least newer than the Elan - and it should still be pretty reliable. The 2.2-litre Vauxhall lump is known to be pretty robust, and even if it does go wrong it's seen service in countless Astras, Vectras and Omegas, so parts won't be made of unobtanium.

Then there's the fact that on those days you want to take the long way home, you won't be able to stop smiling. If purity and no-nonsense entertainment are the main aims of this search, you'll struggle to find anything that fits that bill quite this well for our budget. Given what this VX220 offers, you can live with a few hood poppers, can't you?


SPECIFICATION - MAZDA MX-5 1.5 SE-L NAV+

Engine: 1,496cc four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 130@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 112@4,500rpm
0-62mph: 8.3secs
Top speed: 127mph
Weight: 1,076kg (inc driver)
MPG: 44.8 (WLTP Combined)
CO2: 138g/km (NEDCc)
Price: £20,795

SPECIFICATION - VAUXHALL VX220

Engine: 2,198cc, four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: Six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 145@5,800rpm
Torque (lb ft): 150@4,000rpm
0-62mph: 5.9secs
Top speed: 135mph
Weight: 875kg
MPG: 33.2 (NEDC Combined)
CO2: 205g/km
Price: £9,500

Author
Discussion

Nerdherder

Original Poster:

544 posts

37 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
Seven 310 for me please.

DoubleD

7,441 posts

48 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
Nerdherder said:
Seven 310 for me please.
For £10k?

Nerdherder

Original Poster:

544 posts

37 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
DoubleD said:
Nerdherder said:
Seven 310 for me please.
For £10k?
I’ll happily take yours for 10k! biggrin

The 310 is what I’d choose in the category of fun, light open top 2 seaters. Since PH is already comparing apples to pears I don’t see why I can’t stretch the quest.


Edited by Nerdherder on Sunday 14th April 09:32

DoubleD

7,441 posts

48 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
Nerdherder said:
DoubleD said:
Nerdherder said:
Seven 310 for me please.
For £10k?
I’ll happily take yours for 10k! biggrin

The 310 is what I’d choose in the category of fun, light open top 2 seaters. Since PH is already comparing apples to pears I don’t see why I can’t stretch the quest.


Edited by Nerdherder on Sunday 14th April 09:32
Obviously you can say whatever you like. But the fun challenge of this is finding something thats half the cost of the new car.

sideways man

591 posts

77 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
I was expecting the result to be a S1 Elise... then remembered they aren’t that cheap any more.
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wst

3,234 posts

101 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
The big fear with the VX220 is the ease with which they can be written off. Those big clams are expensive and rare. They are far better cars than "the badge" though, and I would struggle to pick between one and an Elise...

Other ideas... a quick look on the classifieds shows there's a lot in the "convertible, rear wheel drive, £8-10k" space". These are some highlights imo, though I am keeping quiet about the S2000's because I want one and I'm still skint...

How about a very coddled MGF?

A TVR S2 with new outriggers?

A BBR MX5 that will be a rather "silly" experience to drive?

A MGF derived Sylva Vectis kit car - 118hp, 570kg?

A Chim 4.0?


kambites

56,249 posts

161 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
The clam problem is apparently gone now - there's aftermarket companies making them at a pretty reasonable price. Lights are still a pain but there are companies developing after-market versions.

WJNB

1,569 posts

101 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
No way. It has a big fat square arse & is the brand of car issued to sales reps.or ragged to death by pimply youths on council estates.

DoubleD

7,441 posts

48 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
WJNB said:
No way. It has a big fat square arse & is the brand of car issued to sales reps.or ragged to death by pimply youths on council estates.
If you look beyond the badge its a very good car, but some arent able to do that I guess.

kambites

56,249 posts

161 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
yes For many people the badge is more important than the car it's attached to.

The VX220 is undoubtedly one of the best drivers' cars of the last 20 years but many people just see "a Vauxhall".

samoht

887 posts

86 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
WJNB said:
No way. It has a big fat square arse & is the brand of car issued to sales reps.or ragged to death by pimply youths on council estates.
I think for a £10k saving over an Elise (which is basically developed and built by the same people at Lotus), you could probably manage to buy a couple of Opel badges on ebay to fix the latter issue.
As for the 'big fat square arse', this is an aerodynamically sensible shape; the rounded S1 Elise had to have the ducktail spoiler added on, because the original rounded tail shape was generating too much lift. Style is subjective, science is not.

yonex

13,579 posts

108 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
Plenty of £10K options, FD2 Civic and 130i spring to mind but neither are 2 seaters. The VX is a special car, trouble is the car snobs never got them tbh. They deserved better IMO.

Bosxter, never driven one, but aside from the engine issues a bit of a bargain? Monaro's are all over that sort of money.

Truth be told, we have never had so many options.

wst

3,234 posts

101 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
yonex said:
Bosxter, never driven one, but aside from the engine issues a bit of a bargain? Monaro's are all over that sort of money.

Truth be told, we have never had so many options.
Yeah, in my search there were loads of Boxsters. Could buy one and get it thoroughly refreshed without reaching the new MX5 budget?

LordHaveMurci

9,507 posts

109 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
kambites said:
yes For many people the badge is more important than the car it's attached to.

The VX220 is undoubtedly one of the best drivers' cars of the last 20 years but many people just see "a Vauxhall".
Quite, if it had an Audi badge rather than a Griffin I hate to think what they'd be worth.

dunnoreally

272 posts

48 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
I really think I need to get out more. Saw this on the frontpage and literally said "VX220" to myself.

Niffty951

1,688 posts

168 months

Sunday 14th April
quotequote all
The Toyobaru GT BRZ was up for grabs at £10k starting last I looked.

..but then when I turned up at a Toyota dealership with serious ideas about buying one new I was so underwhelmed by the flat engine that I sacrificed RWD and bought a much more spritely Cooper S Works (R56). I never regretted my decision despite suspension so unforgiving that before long I'd take a passenger seat in any other car and weap quietly at how much more relaxing it felt.

lotuslover69

86 posts

83 months

Monday 15th April
quotequote all
samoht said:
I think for a £10k saving over an Elise (which is basically developed and built by the same people at Lotus), you could probably manage to buy a couple of Opel badges on ebay to fix the latter issue.
As for the 'big fat square arse', this is an aerodynamically sensible shape; the rounded S1 Elise had to have the ducktail spoiler added on, because the original rounded tail shape was generating too much lift. Style is subjective, science is not.
Fairly sure that rear lip on the s1 was added as a styling exercise and not to improve downforce which the original designer was not happy about at all.

samoht

887 posts

86 months

Monday 15th April
quotequote all
lotuslover69 said:
Fairly sure that rear lip on the s1 was added as a styling exercise and not to improve downforce which the original designer was not happy about at all.
"The aerodynamicists did a spot of re-styling in the wind tunnel, mainly to reduce rear lift"
https://youtu.be/a-TiFKr2yb0?t=2457
(good documentary for anyone who's not seen it)

RichSPK

1 posts

Monday 15th April
quotequote all
The VX220 is remarkably light! Does that share a platform with the US Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice?

tolksee

62 posts

165 months

Monday 15th April
quotequote all
Article said:
Given what this VX220 offers, you can live with a few hood poppers, can't you?
You don't even need to live with hood poppers. Having an Elise S2 style roof, there are no hood poppers on a VX220.

Having lived with VX220s as a daily driver for many years, the one thing that I always missed on longer journeys was a centre arm rest. Having your left arm just dangling down on motorway trips get a little annoying.

And the 2-chanel ABS is fairly terrible; you learn to drive around it by loading up the fronts before really standing on it.

Cabin is very loud with road/engine noise.

Still loved them though. Properly lovely driving experience every journey.