RE: MX-5 30th Anniversary vs. Porsche Boxster (981)

RE: MX-5 30th Anniversary vs. Porsche Boxster (981)

Sunday 3rd November

MX-5 30th Anniversary vs. Porsche Boxster (981)

The classic PistonHeads argument, played out for real between a brand-new Mazda and a second-hand Porsche...



PistonHeads law states that within the first 10 forum comments after a new car review someone will pipe up "How much? You could have a used whatever for that!" These discussions have fuelled many a PH thread but, even if you could have a C63 or BMW M3 for the list price of that new hot hatch, the realities of buying and running one rarely stand up to scrutiny. And the same applies at every price point

I'll argue this one properly tests the theory though. Because once I'd got over the phwoar factor of the bright orange paint, Rays wheels, Recaro seats and Brembo brakes included in the 30th Anniversary Edition's spec I couldn't help reflecting that Β£28,095 is pretty punchy for a 184hp MX-5. And, for how you might use it, raises some pretty tempting used alternatives.

PH reflexes demanded I head to the classifieds, specifically to see how much approved used 981 Boxster you could get at for similar money and a sense of the new car Official Porsche Centre buying experience. Turns out quite a lot, a Β£30K ceiling getting a decent choice of low-mileage examples with the reassurance of factory parts servicing, fresh tyres, full 111-point mechanical inspections, extended warranties and all the rest.

Sadly 'all the rest' includes indifference to returning calls or emails regarding a seemingly perfect 13,000-mile, Β£29K manual Boxster with the two-year Porsche Approved Warranty, rather confirming the stereotype OPCs are more interested in folks optioning up Macans and Cayennes to score a place on the next GT3 shortlist than 'my first Porsche' used buyers. No matter, obliging Boxster owner Malcolm Quick was more than happy to play out, his manual, low-miles and warrantied 2.7 the perfect 'look at what you could have won' alternative to a brand-new MX-5.



There are, of course, two main considerations here. The fun one is comparing car against car, marvelling in the extra status, cylinders or horsepower the classifieds open up at the designated price. Hold that thought though, the real world is at the door.

Obvious attractions in buying new range from financial flexibility for how it ends up on your driveway, a fresh registration, the famed new-car smell and the reassurance that any issues are the dealership's problem and not yours. Pitfalls of going used are similarly clear, Malcolm's experience with the 987 this car replaced a textbook example of how reality can bite, a niggle with the hill-hold assist escalating into a persistent electrical glitch that repeated trips to specialists never quite resolved.

You're a sensible PHer who knows how to play the classifieds though, equipped with the support of fellow owners and some solid expert advice. So, to the fun bit. Which of these two cars offers the more enjoyable return on your Β£30K?

Sufficient purple prose has been lavished on the current MX-5 to make its appeal obvious. The exclusivity of the 30th Anniversary Edition - 370 Convertibles and 180 RF versions will make it to the UK - and desirability of its extra features are tempting enough for the fanboys, the gorgeous wheels and Recaros enough on their own to justify the extra two grand. Or, as we found out recently, you could lavish that same cash on a standard 2.0 and end up with an MX-5 that actually goes and sounds better, thanks to the dealer fit Cup Pack springs and exhaust package.



Without wishing to go full Queef the shafts of sunlight piercing the Snowdonian cloud, colour-matched autumnal shades complementing the orange paint and fiercely toasty heated seats make this a perfect day to be out in an MX-5. From the precision of its steering to the revviness of the engine and lovely short-shift manual its reputation for delivering a particularly innocent brand of fun is well deserved; this is exactly the kind of car you'd take out purely for the hell of it. That it is enjoyable under the radar of averaged sections of twisty A-road just underlines its relevance.

And then we meet Malcolm and his Porsche. Like the Mazda, 'baby' Boxsters like the 981 2.7 are unfairly dismissed by those hung up on statistical measurements of performance and prowess. Sure, 265hp and 206lb ft are not big numbers. And Malcolm's car is showing an unfashionable amount of sidewall on its standard 18s, at least by modern standards. But, as ever with Porsches, the opportunity to drive one in relatively basic trim simply underlines the quality of the base product.

I've been a staunch defender of the four-cylinder 718 engine. But the flat-six bark at start-up, turbine-smooth response to the throttle and howl beyond the VarioCam switchover are exactly the kind of emotional touchpoints that make this car a league of exotic beyond the Mazda. Manual 981s are hard to find but worth holding out for, the relationship between inputs to shifter and pedals and outputs in speed and sound more than making up for supposedly modest performance. The electric steering may lack the detail of the 986 and 987 but the 981 is only one generation from current and, compared with its contemporaries, a lesson in control weights and response.

Colour me predictable but the gearing is the only frustration, strangling the engine to a degree and leaving contrived shifts as your alternative to cruising everywhere in third. Fun in its way, though it feels like there's huge untapped potential and I'd happily trade top speed bragging rights for closer-stacked ratios like the Mazda.



In your every interaction with the Porsche it feels every penny the premium, sophisticated product, rewarding at any speed, as mature and composed on a cruise as it is on sweeping A-roads and just a lovely place to be. Although it's putting down a lot more rubber than the Mazda it's a refreshing change to be in a Porsche with a relatively modest wheel and tyre combo too, a little bit of squirm in the sidewalls no concern at road speeds and more appropriate to the 2.7's power output than the optional 20s worn by many.

I switch back to the Mazda and it immediately feels cramped, cheaply assembled and more in keeping with outdated stereotypes of Japanese cars. It's stylish and modern inside and out, and the Alcantara flourishes of the 30th Anniversary Edition lift it a little but it can't compete with the Porsche on perceived quality. It can in terms of driving appeal though.

Both engines relish revs, peak power in the Porsche coming at 6,700rpm (with over a 1,000 still to go before the redline) and the Mazda eagerly revving out to the 7,000rpm required to deliver its 184hp. Thanks to the gearing the MX-5 feels so much more zingy and alert though, the fact it weighs some 285kg less than the Boxster also a massive factor in its sense of playfulness and agility.

Where the Porsche feels planted and composed the MX-5 is always on its toes, the relatively soft springs and lofty standard ride height meaning it can get a little lively as the weight moves around. To the extent you need to be ready with a correction if you hit a crest with even a degree of lock on, the rear axle snapping as the tyres unweight. Fun in its way but I think I'd be spending that two grand on the lowering springs rather than the orange paint and anniversary plaques.



It's a shot of adrenaline after the more mature vibe of the Porsche, a cheeky little scamp of a car always egging you on to use more revs, push a little harder and try for more out of the experience. The Boxster has nothing to prove and risks feeling aloof at sensible road speeds. The Mazda is always up for it though. Fine when you are. Possibly a little tiring when you're not.

All of which is me conspicuously ducking the issue of which is actually the better proposition - new Mazda or used Porsche? Flexibility of buying, hassle-free ownership and the fact you can still buy a brand-new sports car with rear-wheel drive, a manual gearbox and fizzy naturally-aspirated engine remains a huge win for Mazda.

That the same exists recently enough in Porsche's back catalogue to be available with the reassurance of official support is, however, a powerful argument for the used option in this case and removes much of the apparent risk.

For the drive I'm calling it for the Mazda, while as an ownership proposition and something to cherish it has to be the Porsche. No, wait, the other way around. Oh hell. See you in the comments thread...


SPECIFICATION - MAZDA MX-5 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION
Engine:
1,998cc 4-cyl
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 184@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 151@4,000rpm
0-62mph: 6.5sec
Top speed: 136mph
Weight: 1,120kg (including 75kg driver)
MPG: 40.9mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 156g/km
Price: Β£28,095

Search for a ND Mazda MX-5

SPECIFICATION - PORSCHE BOXSTER (981, EU6)
Engine:
2,706cc flat-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, RWD (7-speed dual-clutch PDK also available)
Power (hp): 265@6,700rpm
Torque (lb ft): 206@6,500rpm
0-62mph: 5.8sec (5.7sec with PDK, 5.5sec with PDK and Sport Chrono)
Top speed: 164mph (163mph with PDK)
Weight: 1,405kg (DIN +75kg driver)
MPG: 33.6mpg (35.7mpg with PDK, both NEDC combined)
CO2: 195g/km (183g/km with PDK)
Price: Β£25,000-Β£30,000 (approximate used value, subject to condition)

Search for a 981 Porsche Boxster


















Photography | Sim Mainey

Author
Discussion

Honeywell

Original Poster:

303 posts

45 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
MX5 for me every time.

Unless it’s your ONLY car why not just pursue the rise of an actually fizzy fun car that you can spank on the typical road that we all typical drive in this country.

981s are great but they have half an eye on autobahn high speed sustained runs that hold no practical or emotional value for me.

And once you BBR the MX5...

chelme

679 posts

117 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Honeywell said:
MX5 for me every time.

Unless it’s your ONLY car why not just pursue the rise of an actually fizzy fun car that you can spank on the typical road that we all typical drive in this country.

981s are great but they have half an eye on autobahn high speed sustained runs that hold no practical or emotional value for me.

And once you BBR the MX5...
I second this. Little sports cars are to have fun in for me, and the Mazda does appear to do a better job of this than the Pork.

highway

1,198 posts

207 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Until reading this I thought the base 981 had a 2.9 carries over from gen 2 987. Didn’t realise it had been changed back to a 2.7

nickfrog

10,523 posts

164 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Yes the 2.9 stopped with the 987. It was a brilliant engine too. And has a great reputation for reliability I think.

Hairymonster

500 posts

52 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Tough call, but the lure of the flat 6 is too much to resist - Porker for me please, though:

Used Jag F type is a consideration, or an Alpine A110 once they're a few years old and cheaper.

Kev_Mk3

1,284 posts

42 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
MX5 for me also

dunnoreally

314 posts

55 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Talking of common arguments here, is anyone actually dropping £29k outright for an ND? I know you can lease one for £199PM...

Jamescrs

455 posts

12 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
For me it would have to be the Porsche, better build quality and the power it has over the MX-5 are.two main points.

I write this as an MX 5 owner myself and whilst they are brilliant cars I know first hand how the depreciation will hit and inevitably sooner rather than later the MX-5 rust is going to show it's face. Even limited edition 5s don't seem to overly hold value.

TomTVR500

243 posts

108 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
As someone that has owned (and driven many miles in) an MX-5 but also a Boxster S and two Cayman S there is absolutely no comparison between the two. The MX-5 is a fun little run about and it's relative lack of refinement, stability and outright grip is entertaining, to a point but it is something of a one trick pony. That being relatively short distance blasts on minor roads, where admittedly it is good fun.

However, if you're serious about your driving, particularly your fast driving, the Porsche's are another league entirely. The poise, balance, smoothness of weight transfer and transition from understeer to oversteer, noise, performance, how composed and tied down the car feels (particularly at higher speeds), the way the chassis inspires confidence, the damping, the brakes, the interior, the ability to switch off eat miles on a motorway and become a comfortable special place to sit.... the list goes on.

That's not to say the MX-5 isn't a good, fun small sports car, it just isn't Porsche good (in my opinion). I'm also glad that you can still buy a manual, NA, light weight sports car in 2019 but £28,095 seems very steep to me.
To my mind, if the character of the MX-5 and the way it drives appeals to you, you would be a lot better off spending circa £19,000 on a new MX-5 1.5 because its everything that's good about the MX-5 with none of the unnecessary trimmings.


Porsche911R

17,829 posts

212 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
As you can buy these for £24k new not £30k it’s not that straight forward.

And a set of lowering springs is only £200, not £2000! , so you have plenty for the bbr 220 bhp kit and still be well under £29k all in.

Then the mx5 has to win for a drivers car by quite a margin.

WonkeyDonkey

624 posts

50 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
What's the point comparing new vs second hand?

Apart from porsches marketing team to prove a boxster is better value.

Dan Trent

1,862 posts

115 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Porsche911R said:
As you can buy these for £24k new not £30k it’s not that straight forward.

And a set of lowering springs is only £200, not £2000! , so you have plenty for the bbr 220 bhp kit and still be well under £29k all in.

Then the mx5 has to win for a drivers car by quite a margin.
Fair point and you can make an MX-5 'better' for a lot less in any number of ways but in this instance I was comparing the official options you could get at point of sale from a dealership, the Cup Pack including the springs and exhaust too. The fact it costs the same as the premium you pay for the 30th Edition made it an obvious point to pick up, as per the linked review of the Cup Pack car from the story.

Lowering springs - howsoever sourced - would be the first thing I'd buy for any generation of MX-5 though.

Cheers!

Dan

Gandahar

7,573 posts

75 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
WonkeyDonkey said:
What's the point comparing new vs second hand?

Apart from porsches marketing team to prove a boxster is better value.
Ha, you reverse the argument around in the comment section to annoy Dan !

I enjoyed this article and if I had to pick one out of a hat I would be happy with "winning" either. I am an NC BBR turbo owner and like the hydraulic steering and low gearing with the extra urge from the turbo. I've not driven a Boxster but I would imagine the mid engine would make it feel more pivoty ( made up word) so that would be nice to experience. I wonder if I would notice the gearing and steering?

Although the latest version has a 4 cyl turbo engine the turbo can be remapped to over 400bhp so the downsides are made up for the torque allowing that gearing to be fine. According to what I have read.

Bloody horrible day today in Kent, I'm not going out in that weather in the MX5 ! My wife is out walking the dog and I am of course on PH nice and warm. Driving in this weather is for fools laugh

Porsche911R

17,829 posts

212 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Dan Trent said:
Fair point and you can make an MX-5 'better' for a lot less in any number of ways but in this instance I was comparing the official options you could get at point of sale from a dealership, the Cup Pack including the springs and exhaust too. The fact it costs the same as the premium you pay for the 30th Edition made it an obvious point to pick up, as per the linked review of the Cup Pack car from the story.

Lowering springs - howsoever sourced - would be the first thing I'd buy for any generation of MX-5 though.

Cheers!

Dan
The 30th makes the most sense to mod due to the recaro's, brakes and wheels, dealers will fit the lowering springs alone.
Also due to the price war on these they start to look good, as I said one at £23,750 !

You cannot buy, seats, brakes and wheels on a standard car within that price. Especially the recaro's which feel great to sit in.
Was sitting in a 30th last week as I really feel I want to try one out.

Odd the rest of the world can spec recaro seats, in the uk you cannot :-(

I would say the weight would be the most refreshing thing about the mx5 on UK B roads, sounds great fun.

Arsecati

366 posts

64 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Is it just me, or did anyone else think this was a bit of a tough read? Just a bit too flowery in places for me - sorry!

fido

14,215 posts

202 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
I love the orange MX-5 - and with a BBR 220 upgrade it would be my ideal weekend car. Hmm .. decisions ..


Gandahar said:
Driving in this weather is for fools laugh
Don't say that .. going karting in Buckmore Park laters!


CABC

2,757 posts

48 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Dan Trent said:
Porsche911R said:
As you can buy these for £24k new not £30k it’s not that straight forward.

And a set of lowering springs is only £200, not £2000! , so you have plenty for the bbr 220 bhp kit and still be well under £29k all in.

Then the mx5 has to win for a drivers car by quite a margin.
Fair point and you can make an MX-5 'better' for a lot less in any number of ways but in this instance I was comparing the official options you could get at point of sale from a dealership, the Cup Pack including the springs and exhaust too. The fact it costs the same as the premium you pay for the 30th Edition made it an obvious point to pick up, as per the linked review of the Cup Pack car from the story.

Lowering springs - howsoever sourced - would be the first thing I'd buy for any generation of MX-5 though.

Cheers!

Dan
came here to say this.
you can improve the 5 easily, and if you're serious about b road driving it's the better car. in all other aspects the Porsche obviously wins. the engine is a keeper on its own.

I do love this 981 though. a different car really. better on tour and at the Ring.
if the engine ever came out how much would it be to change ratios?

BFleming

1,510 posts

90 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
My local Mazda dealer has a 30th edition car; it was on their 'pride of place' pedestal for a few weeks, but has now been transferred to the showroom. It's one for the discerning buyer I suppose - but it's not selling.

Honeywell

Original Poster:

303 posts

45 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Does anyone ever lower the ratios on a Porsche?

lee_erm

823 posts

140 months

Saturday 2nd November
quotequote all
Is the Porsche engine likely to grenade or are these ones ok?