Sports car wars round two

A week or so ago I wrote a fairly glowing piece about the MGF to celebrate the car’s 20th anniversary this year. Despite not really being a MG fanatic, I am impressed by how good the one we have on hire is. When you spend your life around old cars, anything vaguely new can feel a bit anaemic, yet the MGF displays proper character. 

And so, riffing on the character versus efficiency vibe I may have over-reached myself a little. I called the MX5 a washing machine, a good one admittedly, but to everyone outside the Washing Machine Appreciation Society (and yes, that exists), just a washing machine. It wasn’t a popular statement and one of the first people to contact me was Lee, our man in the north, who runs our cars in the Peak District. And owns a Mazda MX5 Mk2. 

He quite rightly and in no uncertain terms, put me right. That he also owns a MGF probably makes him a bit more informed than me. Although I have owned a MX5 it was a while ago. 

So, where does that leave me and the MX5? I’ve had a think. 

Mazda developed the MX5 in California in the 1980s as part of a blue-sky project to develop new cars. It was good, of course, but not exactly a new idea: it rejuvenating the original Lotus Élan concept and design. But it was still a revelation to modern car buyers. The original car’s success was down to delivering on some very simple goals: lightness, sufficient performance, brilliant handling and simplicity. While its creed was pure Lotus, it actually fulfilled latent market demand for a MGB type car: low cost, durable and fun. Ironically it did that 6 years before the MGF and arguably much more effectively.  

Since the MX5’s 1989 launch it has evolved through several versions but remained remarkably true to the original concept: the curent car is bigger and more sophisticated but still conforms to the ‘add lightness’ pure, basic fun mantra. 

My MX5 was a Mk1 ‘Dakar’ with silly 16in factory wheels. As soon as I switched to 14 inch rims the car was transformed: the MX5 handles brilliantly, it’s light, pointable, poised and grippy. It isn’t quick but it feels fast thanks to the low ride height and compact dimensions. The gearbox is slick, the steering pin-sharp and the engine revvy. Apart from practical stuff like its minuscule boot and propensity to rust, there is almost nothing the Mk1 and Mk2 MX5 doesn’t do very well. 

At this point I need to declare an interest. I wear glasses. Hobbled by the inability to see clearly beyond the end of my nose I’m rubbish at sport and other things that involve hand-eye coordination. Or exercise. I like Alfas and Saabs, the automotive equivalent of the kid who persistently turns left when he’s told to go right. 

The MX5 is the school’s effortless all-round sports champion, also good at academic study, endlessly excelling and succeeding. That isn’t the MGF at all. But I do like the MG better. 

It is wrong to knock a car for being brilliant at everything it does. Without doubt the MX5 is better than a MGF, it will put a bigger smile on your face and make you wonder how something so small and light can stick to the road so well. I made a mistake: it isn’t a washing machine, it certainly engages as a proper driver’s car should. 

The MGF and MX5 demonstrate two different ways to create a weekend fun car. One is significantly better than the other. But I prefer the underdog. I’m not alone: the MGF out sold the Mazda when new. So there is obviously more going on here than good vs better. 

Our internal battle at Great Escape Cars is one you can settle for yourself by testing both over a weekend. It’s certainly an unusual conundrum. Just £190 will put you behind the wheel of both cars for a weekend. Or try them mid-week with our February offer for just £95. Offer ends 28th February: call 01527 893733 or visit for more details. 


01527 893733

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