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Discussion Starter #1
I hadn't driven my Miata in a while because the starter broke and I was too busy with other things to fix it, but I just got around to getting it to run again last week and I've been driving it around while my Elise is in the shop, and I thought I'd do a little comparison between the two. I know this isn't a fair comparison, one car being a 24 year old economy sports car and the other being a purpose built exotic, but I thought it was a fun idea.

Fuel Economy
Even when driving in a spirited fashion, the Lotus has yet to return less than 30 MPG, and averages 31-33 MPG. The Miata returns a consistent 27.5 MPG in the winter, 28.5 MPG in the summer. The Lotus requires premium fuel, but even so, it gets ~15-20% better fuel economy, so it is definitely costs less to run based on gas alone.

Winner: Lotus

Repair and Parts Cost
I do almost all my own auto maintenance and repair and I always have, so I am going to go mainly off the cost of parts for this comparison. The Lotus definitely has a lot going for it with its economy car-rooted driveline, but from what I've seen, especially from the parts estimate from the body shop on things like headlamp covers, some stuff is astronomical for this car. Other stuff is surprisingly not, like the indicator light housing, which is reasonable. Aftermarket parts for the Lotus tend to be a lot more expensive for the same type of part than on something like a Miata, but this is a factor of economies of scale making the engineering costs for parts considerably higher per unit than something where a million of them was made, plus a lot of rich dummies drive these cars who will pay $200 for a cup holder.

The Miata is dirt cheap to run. I have had the car for 4 years and have put close to 50k miles on it (it started with 138k). Because they made a million of them, almost every replacement part manufacturer makes parts for the Miata, so you can get just about anything from Advance Auto, Pep Boys, and if you want it cheap, Partgeek or Rock Auto.

For repairs, the Miata is most certainly an easier car to work on, unless the rear clam is off of the Lotus, in which case you have unabated access. I haven't done any real work on the Lotus yet, so my opinion may change. Some stuff on the Miata is a son of a bitch to get to; mainly anything under the intake manifold, such as the starter, oil filter, and clutch hydraulics, are impossible to work on without severely mangling your arms reaching through this gap. This is a symptom of a front wheel drive motor being mounted longitudinally.

Winner: Miata

Acceleration
2300 lbs / 115 HP = zippy. 1950 lbs / 190 HP = fast.

Winner: Lotus

Braking
The Lotus, with its lively ABS tuning, much better brakes, much better tires, and significantly lower weight, stops better than anything I've ever driven or ridden in that wasn't a full blown race car. The Miata, well, it stops.

Winner: Lotus

Handling
The Miata, with its 50/50 weight balance, low weight, and excellent suspension geometry begs for a lot less compliance in the suspension, much much stiffer springs, and much tighter shock valving, along with much much better tires. If the set up was close to what the Lotus is stock, the Miata would be a lot more competitive here. It sure is a lot of fun though! And you can easily hang the back end out without worrying too much that you're going to swap ends.

The Lotus happens to be the best handling car I've ever driven or ridden in that wasn't a full blown race car, stock. It is also a bit nervous in front/rear weight transitions while cornering because of its rearward weight bias, and the bicycle tires on the front of the base suspension package do make it as steady state "understeery" as the Miata. It seems to reward driving skill much more than something like a Miata, which is much easier for a neophyte to get 90% of the way there. The Miata is confidence inspiring, albeit with lower limits, while the Lotus is a little intimidating.

Winner: Lotus

Driveline
Notwithstanding the generational leaps in engine technology, fuel management, valve/lift variation or specific output, I'm going to talk about how it actually feels when your foot goes down on the accelerator, power goes through the transmission to the wheels, the clutch goes in, a gear change happens, and the clutch comes out.

The Lotus - the immediacy of the power delivery, no doubt helped by having a transaxle bolted directly to the motor, in naturally aspirated form is second to none. The accelerator; well, mine sticks sometimes. I probably need a new cable. And the gear shifter feels like an afterthought, with way longer throws than I'd expect. My gearbox (and even the same gearbox on a brand new celica GTS I test drove years and years ago) is fairly vague and does not give great feedback on engagement. The clutch is linear in engagement, though surprisingly heavy for a car with no torque, and is easy to modulate.

The Miata - the immediacy in power delivery is almost as good as the Lotus, and far better than most other front engine/ rear drive cars. This is due to something called the PPF (power plant frame) that connects the rear differential to the transmission above the drive shaft with a solid metal structure, making the entire driveline have essentially no play. Then there's the shifter - this is one of the best shifters of any car, period. It is very precise (except when going full throttle from 2nd to 3rd, in which case it sometimes goes to 5th because of a shot motor mount making the whole driveline rock), mechanical, direct. The throws are perfect in length and weight. Then the clutch - it is too light and somewhat vague, causing me to feather the throttle while slowly letting it out if I haven't driven the car in a while. It also slips sometimes under full throttle in higher gears at lower RPMs, but it is probably worn out.

Winner: Miata

Styling
The Lotus is an exotic car. It looks like a 7/8ths scale Ferrari, and is often confused for a Ferrari, Lamborghini, and even once, a Maserati (I'm guessing a Bora?). It shares a wheel base with a Porsche 917, but because it is designed with passenger safety in mind and it is no longer cool to hang your feet over the front axle, the passenger compartment is pushed back, which gives it awkward, smushed proportions from the side when compared to a larger mid-engine car like a Ferrari. The view out of the front with the mini-pontoon fenders is what I imagine is similar to a group C / GTP era prototype. It breaks necks constantly, and is sometimes a curse having such a space-ship looking car and 4 people asking you questions at a gas station when you're late for something and all you wanted was gas.

The Miata is definitely a period piece, and its smooth, round lines are indicative of the 90s sports car aesthetic. The best use of this aesthetic is the Porsche 993 and the Miata's stable mate, the FD RX-7. The worst is the 3000GT twins. The Miata lands squarely in the middle. It is friendly looking, with anthropomorphic features; I swear, Miata with teeth in the front grill look like living cartoons. It is handsome, but not a head turner.

Winner: Lotus

Total cost of ownership / Value
It's probably safe to say that early Miata's have bottomed out; in fact, since I bought mine 4 years ago, I've seen the average cost of 1st gen Miata's go up maybe 33%, which isn't a lot since the going rate was about $2k for a working one that wasn't rusted to ****. Early Elise's have also most likely bottomed out, and seem to be on the rise since the great recession. Assuming you maintain the car throughout your ownership, you will probably get what you paid for it, so these aren't depreciating.

The cost to run a Miata for 4 years, with a fair amount of repairs done by me (drive shaft, rear end, all wheel bearings and hubs, lower ball joints, inner/outer tie rods, new brake pads / rotors / calipers, starter 3 times, clutch slave cylinder, replaced dented fender, water pump / timing belt / drive belts / intake manifold gasket) and a set of new tires, including the cost of the car and regular maintenance, I'm into it for less than $4500. I could easily sell the car on for $3000, so it would have cost me $1500 over 4 years / 50,000 miles, or about $375 / year or 3 cents a mile. Not bad.

I'm guessing the Lotus will be a little more than that to run per mile :), but of course you get a completely different class of automobile for new V6 Camry money.

Winner: Tie

Overall winner: Lotus
 

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Excellent write up. My college car was a 95 miata which I gave to my dad, and then didn't drive it for about 3 years. Today I took it out for a bit of nostalgia and your analysis is spot on. The shifter is so short and notchy, comparable only to a S2000 in terms of feel. I put an Ansa exhaust on it, and it gurgles every time you tap the gas pedal, which is something I wish the Stage II would do. They are fantastic little cars, and I'm excited to see what the next generation brings to the table.
 

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You both are spot on. I love my 94' miata. I daily drive it and wouldn't have it any other way. It really highlights the fact that you don't need power to have fun. Stock suspension is wayyyy too soft so the car wallows a bit but not bad for a daily driver. The shifter is 10X better than anything Lotus....only rivaled by the S2000.
 

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Excellent write-up. I had a '93 Miata and then the '04 Miata Mazdaspeed, so I can relate and agree with most of your statements.
 

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I think the easiest way to separate a real car guy from a not real car guy is to ask him what he thinks of a miata.
 

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I can almost guarantee that Mazda spent more R&D money on the miata's gearbox than Lotus did with the entire car.
 

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I would say most Elise owners aren't getting over 30 MPG regularly, but the fuel economy is still very good.
 

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Gamera The Atomic Turtle
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I miss my '92 Miata. I sold it with 300k on it for $500 just because I needed the garage space for the Lotus. I could not kill that sweet little 1600 cc motor. Nice post.
 

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I can almost guarantee that Mazda spent more R&D money on the miata's gearbox than Lotus did with the entire car.
I doubt it, it is just an rx7 gearbox with a different bellhousing.
 

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** The Enforcer **
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You said the Elise was an exotic twice. Not sure I'd use the term exotic. You also said an NA Elise is fast. I wouldn't use the term "fast".

San
 

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Great comparison! I was considering a Miata, but was wondering how a it stacked up against a Lotus. I'm pretty much sold now. I'll probably be putting stiffer suspension on it though.
 

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Agree

Great write-up, can't wait for you to get yours back from the shop. That was a fun little spirited drive we took in mine, made you miss yours?

The old Miata has great looks based off the Elan that they engineered it to be like. But it's no Elise, this car 9yrs old still looks like it could be a showroom floor in 2014.

Oldmansan stuff it, it is fast and exotic due to number's on the road. :coolnana:

:UK:
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Great comparison! I was considering a Miata, but was wondering how a it stacked up against a Lotus. I'm pretty much sold now. I'll probably be putting stiffer suspension on it though.
The miata has the most smiles / $ ratio of any car I've owned, except for maybe a $500 1st gen MR2. It is a totally livable car, even with the top on, and it is a great roadster. I've daily driven the miata on and off, and it usually is only parked if it breaks or its the middle of winter and my subie is more comfortable. It is a bit pokey, but you can still have a lot of fun with it. If they are properly set up, they will grip and handle as good or better than the lotus stock, just not accelerate like the lotus unless they are force fed. For a couple thousand dollars, its almost an impulse buy.

Great write-up, can't wait for you to get yours back from the shop. That was a fun little spirited drive we took in mine, made you miss yours?

The old Miata has great looks based off the Elan that they engineered it to be like. But it's no Elise, this car 9yrs old still looks like it could be a showroom floor in 2014.

Oldmansan stuff it, it is fast and exotic due to number's on the road. :coolnana:

:UK:
I can't wait...I have new wheels to put on the car, and I'm picking up a stage II exhaust this weekend. That fun spirited drive we took made me nearly **** my pants :UK:, and yes, it made me miss mine. I'm having less lotus withdraw now that I at least have a proper roadster to putt around in. The Chrysler 200 rental car hasn't moved in a week.
 
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