Mazda MX-5 RF: PH Trade-Off!

In those brief moments over the Christmas period when you took a break from stuffing your face to look at your favourite motoring website, you'll doubtless have spotted our comparo of MX-5s old and new. All good fun, and of course, an opportunity for Mr Bird's long-termer to show itself in its best light.

But the thing is, while the MX-5 is still a (relatively speaking) cheap sports car, Matt's is quite an expensive version, costing a not-inconsiderable Β£27,795. So once again, we've been roving through the classifieds to see if we can't find a used option that does everything Matt's MX-5 can for half the price. "And don't just find something fun," said the editor. "That's too easy. You've got to find something that's can match the RF's everyday usability, too." Eep.

That proviso rather scuppered what was going to be our first choice, tempting though this Vauxhall VX220 Turbo may have been. Gloriously yellow with reasonable miles and, by the sounds of things, with lots of attentive work done by people who know what they're doing under its belt, it's about as good as they come and should plaster a stupid grin across your face for hours on end. But let's face it, while the braver souls would doubtless give it a try, as an everyday proposition the VX220 is quite a way from what the MX-5 offers. We'll have to let it go, then - this time.

Perhaps instead we should be looking for something with a retractable hard-top roof, like the RF's? That cuts your choices down drastically, admittedly, but the BMW Z4 might be worth a look. The outright power of this sDrive 30i blows even the uprated ND into the weeds. What's more, there's a rather lovely interior, more room inside and a roof that folds away fully - rather than leaving a the rear window and buttresses behind.

Trouble is, while the Z4 might look the part, it's never been anywhere near as sharp or involving to drive as an MX-5. That's a problem the six-speed auto on this example certainly won't help with. So while this Z4 might have everyday viability sewn up, it falls down somewhat on matching the MX-5 where it matters most - fun.

What we need, therefore, is something that falls mid-way between the VX220 and the Z4. Something that'll give you the fizz, but also get you to work in reasonable comfort every day - and be quick and easy to make watertight. Enter this week's half-price hero: the Honda S2000. This one, to be precise.

Granted, there are some compromises to be had. Chief among those being that this S2000 is - prepare to be made to feel old - almost 15 years of age now, rendering almost any comparison with a brand-new MX-5 utterly spurious. But stick with us for a sec, because there are some very good reasons why it's here.

Firstly, its age is mitigated somewhat by its reliability. S2000s are famed for the way they keep going, needing little in the way of repairs other than regular perishable bits, regardless of how much abuse you give them. And with its low mileage, it's hard to imagine this one giving you any grief for the foreseeable future.

What's more, the S2000's layout matches the MX-5's exactly: front-mid-engined, rear-wheel drive, two seats, manual gearbox. A recipe for entertainment, in other words. And as this example's a post-facelift, it'll be a darn sight less twitchy and more accessible than an early car would be. And all of this goes without mentioning the S2000's centrepiece: that glorious 2.0-litre engine with its famously stratospheric redline, potent enough that it'll show even a 2019 MX-5 a clean pair of heels.

This example is perhaps a touch on the pricey side, but the advert makes all the right noises. There's a full history, a clear HPI certificate, both keys, two new rear tyres and a recent service. And it's a GT, so while you'll have to put up with a fabric roof, you do at least get a hardtop with which you can add security and warmth during the winter months, should you so choose.

Consider this, too: buy the MX-5 and its value will plummet. S2000 prices, by contrast, have been rising in recent years. So while it'd be overstating things to think of this as an investment purchase, you certainly won't lose anywhere near as much as you will on a brand-new RF. So not only is the S2000 half the price, more powerful, just as entertaining and every bit as usable - well, almost - it also makes even makes more financial sense. We're sold.


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: 6.8sec
Top speed: 137mph
Weight: 1,148kg (with 75kg driver)
MPG: 40.9
CO2: 156g/km
Price: Β£27,795


Engine: 1,997cc 4-cyl
Transmission: 5-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 240@8,300rpm
Torque (lb ft): 162@6,500rpm
0-62mph: 6.2 sec
Top speed: 150mph
Weight: 1,285kg
MPG: 28.2
CO2: 237
Price: Β£13,250

P.H. O'meter

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Comments (39) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Addymk2 06 Jan 2019

    Z4M. Close thread.

  • NorthernSky 06 Jan 2019

    Addymk2 said:
    Z4M. Close thread.

    Got to say though, as a fan of the first and second gen mx5's and having owned several of them, the PH summary of the s2000 as an alternative makes a strong case as well. Depreciation proof, far more involving, atmospheric, raw... 240 N/A horsepowers available. Why wouldn't you get one if you've a budget up to 20k for one of the latest '5s?

    Awesome cars.

  • Iamnotkloot 06 Jan 2019

    I agree the S2000 is awesome but aren’t they pretty twitchy compared to the MX5’s transparent handling? For that reason I’d say that the Honda is a more hardcore choice.
    What about a Boxster? Loads about for 13k ish; practical and sporty; very easy to drive in the wet despite being mid engined.

  • MalcolmSmith 06 Jan 2019

    The S2000 is a fine car, but its handling is a lot more of a handful than the Mazda, and as its engine burns oil, you never know how low it got under previous owners and how many miles you are this away from a full rebuild.

    In my opinion, the only real alternative to an MX5 is another MX5, its in a zone all of its own where its power is matched to its capabilities and its handling is very adjustable on the limit - assuming the suspension and all the bushes are good.

    The Z, S2000, Boxster, MR2 etc. Are all quite different, depends what you are looking for.

  • Deanymini 06 Jan 2019

    Much rather have a VX220 all day long. Or for the badge snobs (myself included to some degree!) you could get a mk1 or 2 Elise for that kind of money.

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