Brian is 28 and works as an engineer in New York City. He lives the Jalopnik dream with his Mazda Miata, but he wants to get rid of it for something else. Now that may be a strange concept to understand given our readership, but let’s try to be open minded. What car should he buy?
I’m going to deflect some of the disdain towards Brian by confessing to all of you—and possibly putting my employment in jeopardy—by saying I’m not a fan of the Miata. Don’t misunderstand me, though, I get the Miata and understand why it is so loved. It’s just not for me, which has nothing to do with the car itself and everything to do with the fact that it is a convertible. I don’t dig open top cars; I don’t like the noise and I don’t like the cold. Had Mazda made a coupe, I would be all over that, but even in hardtop form, it doesn’t do it for me.
But enough about my issues, let’s help Brian out. Here is the scenario:
I’m a long time Jalopnik reader. I even bought a 2010 Mazda Miata hard-top, 6-Speed partially because of this community’s love for it. I’ve enjoyed the heck out of this car the past 5 years, but as my only car it’s become quite a hassle. Just from the rawness of the car, and the impracticality. It was fine for a few years but now it’s starting to wear me down a bit. So, I am considering a more practical car with a little bit of sportiness.
I do a lot of highway driving and would like something reliable, with a bit more room than the Miata, but not too big (no Camrys) It should have a decent amount of power as well (0-60 time in under 7.5 seconds). I also want leather interior and HID/LED headlights if possible.
Budget: $15,000 - $20,000
Daily Driver: Yes
Average Miles Per-Week: 100-200 miles
Transmission: Manual or Automatic is fine
Wants: Practicality, reliability, something quick,
Doesn’t want: Something too big and/or boring
Brian, now that you have been indoctrinated into the cult of Miata, you can’t just up and leave. There is a process here. A system to adhere too. You don’t want to choose the wrong car and be stalked by random Japanese roadsters. Being a Miata owner is like being a Scientologist, except instead of spending your life savings on self-help books and maritime slavery, the only real rule with Miataology is you must drive with the top down when it is way too cold to do so.
This is why you need to handle this transition carefully. The best way to do this to stay within the Mazda family. This is a family that knows you (really like good handling), is there for you (on back roads). My friend, you need a Mazda3, specifically one will with the larger 2.5-liter motor. It will scoot to 60 in roughly 7.5 seconds or so which means it’s not super quick, but the steering and chassis tuning is top notch. The suspension setup is also an excellent balance between great handling, but not too harsh when you encounter rough roads. You will want to get yourself a Grand Touring model that has leather, HID headlights, and other goodies like navigation and a Bose stereo. The Mazda3 is also practical and reliable, but you already knew that.
Here is a Certified Pre-Owned 2014 Grand Touring hatchback nearby for $19,000. In this price range, there will be faster cars, there will be more luxurious cars, but you will have a hard time finding one that gives you everything you want while still giving you a friendly reminder of your Miata.
Brian, it’s time you give up that underpowered “balance” nonsense and get something with some power. And don’t believe the hype that only imports are reliable. I used to own a Mustang a few years ago and have owned American cars for a long time now. I can honestly say that they’re not only cheap to fix but also reliable. They might break literally just one more time than a comparable Accord or Corolla and folks will chalk it up to untrustworthy American manufacturing. Not only will these cars not let you down, they will also be easy to maintain because you can find spare parts in the dumpster behind Home Depot.
The perfect car for you is a 2014 Ford Focus ST with a four-cylinder 2.0-liter turbo generating 252 HP, which will allow you go from 0 to 60 mph in the low six-second range. It has four doors and all the practicality you could ever want.
Here’s an excellent example of a Ford Focus ST for $17,000. It’s got all the ST3 package with all the good stuff and comes with a six speed manual. Also if you wanted to, you could hit the track with this car if you need to blow off some steam after a long week. This is a car you’ll love showing off to your family and friends.
Can I give you a hug? Jalopnik may have a reputation as a haven for Miata fanboys, but we’re by no means the Borg of car opinions. After driving numerous examples owned by friends, I came to the same conclusion you did: the Miata is not for me. And alas, I’m not alone! Viva la résistance! Roofs forever!
There’s a lot that I did like about the Miata, if the stupid thing didn’t leave me with a sunburn and whip hair in my mouth. It handles well. Rear-wheel-drive is a blast. It’s reasonably priced. There’s a highly active enthusiast community with all manner of advice and aftermarket support. And most of all, manuals are great.
Fortunately, there are so many good cars out there with fixed roofs and more space that give me everything I liked about the Miata, but in a package people like you and I could actually live with.
How about a used BMW 3 Series? As with the Miata, BMW fans are legion. If you need advice, want to take it to the track, or want to do some work on the car, you’ll have tons of help. Here’s a 2012 328i Coupe on AutoTrader for $17,304.
There’s so many 3 Series-es in your price range that you basically have your pick of options. If you’re looking for even more practicality, you could opt for an all-wheel-drive BMW that might be easier to deal with in foul weather. Here’s a 2011 335i X-Drive Sedan on AutoTrader for $16,400.
Now can we finally stop beating this dead horse of a joke? There are so many good cars out there that you don’t have to get a small convertible if you don’t want one, and we’re down to Horse Smoothie at this point.
I have something that checks all your boxes and delivers an experience very close to the Miata you love, and it is the Subaru BRZ (or whatever Toyota/the dead brand for teens is calling theirs these days.)
You wanted “a bit more room than the Miata, but not too big.” Friend, the BRZ is not too big! And in addition to the closed top, it has a back seat. Granted it’s a small back seat, but the mere presence of one at all will do wonders for your ability to stash passengers and other things. The BRZ has 6.9 cu.ft of cargo space to your Miata’s 5.3. It’s basically a minivan.
Also, the BRZ may not be brutally, insanely fast the way we expect modern sports cars to be, but in my experience it’s not slow either. Most 0-60 mph times are quoted around 6.5 seconds or so, which is plenty of everyday hustle. Add in the BRZ’s razor-sharp cornering and true sports car nature and you have yourself a winner. There’s a ton in your price range as well: here’s a CPO 2013 BRZ with just 25,000 miles for $16,994. What a deal!
If that doesn’t work, take Tom’s advice and get the Mazda 3, but supplement it with a used Suzuki SV650, the Miata of bikes. That combo should meet all your practicality and speed needs, even if they unfortunately are separate vehicles.