By on July 27, 2018

2004 Mazda MX-5 Miata – Image: © Timothy Cain

There comes a point in the lives of most MX-5 owners when an inevitable question is asked. How do you solve a problem like Miata?

In my case – which is similar to many Miata owners, at least according to Miata lore – the Mazda itself is certainly not the problem. Acquired in May 2017 and driven 5,000 miles over the course of 8 months, the Miata’s only costs involved around 200 gallons of premium fuel, a few hundred bucks for insurance, two oil changes, two MVIs, some Autoglym convertible top maintenance spray, and a headlight defogging kit.

Oh, and zero dollars in depreciation.

In 40 years, I may well look back on this 2004 Miata as the best car I ever owned. How does one replace such a car? Why does one replace such a car? 

The problem, not surprisingly, boiled down to the lack of a rear seat. It’s not as though the Miata mysteriously lost its rear perch between May 2017 and July 2018. But last spring’s purchase took place when there was always a manufacturer-supplied press tester in my driveway. If a rear seat was required, I took the Acura TLX A-Spec, Mercedes-Benz E400 Coupe, Audi A4, Kia Rio, Lexus IS350, Volkswagen Tiguan, Ford Fusion Energi.

Access to vehicles remains easy for me, but it now requires foresight and planning, which isn’t so straightforward when the life of a young family takes unexpected turns. The simple task of picking up the kids at their grandmother’s on the way home from work was rendered impossible by the Miata, for example. More importantly, last summer’s beach forays with our three-year-old often occurred when the infant was being nursed to sleep. That infant is now a toddler, looking out the living room window as his big brother gets to go out for a drive.

It therefore became obvious in the early spring, while the car was still covered up in the back of the garage, that it was time for the Miata to go. But early interest in the car caused me to waver, and I ended up daily-driving the Mazda into July before a coworker found me the right buyer.

Making the selling process a predictable pain were too many low-ballers hoping for a 25-percent discount, too many people expecting an ’04 to be absolutely perfect, too many buyers unaware that the Miata is small, and too many spouses who couldn’t agree. In the end, a female Subaru Forester owner added the Miata as a summer car.

Aghast at the number of convertible drivers who leave roofs up when it’s not raining, I drove the Miata with the top-down no matter the temperature – heaters exist for a reason. I was pleased to discover that the Miata’s new owner takes a similar approach to roadster ownership. Two weeks into Miata ownership, she’s only briefly explored what it’s like to drive the car with the roof up. (Which, to be frank, is rather miserable.)

Replacing the Miata was easier than I expected, though the enthusiast tendency to automatically reject normal, mainstream, obvious vehicles severely limits options. We knew a back seat was mandatory, and it became clear over the weeks of searching, before and then immediately after losing the Miata, that an automatic transmission was going to sap a lot of life’s joys.

Should we buy a decade-old Jeep Wrangler, perfect for combining topless summertime fun with an ability to handle deep snow? What about a 2008 BMW 328xi Coupe, with exemplary driving manners and PEI-friendly all-wheel drive? An early Toyota FJ Cruiser would break the budget, but FJ depreciation seems to have reached its terminus. Back at the other end of the spectrum, a clean BMW 128i would be fun. An unmolested Volkswagen Golf GTI could be ideal, if such a car existed.

Instead, I stuck more closely to the spirit of the Miata by acquiring an Ultramarine 2013 Scion FR-S for USD $11,250. Serviced at the dealer, free of squeaks and rattles, with 32,000 miles under its belt, new tires, and a handful of touched-up stone chips on the hood, the FR-S comes across as downright refined and powerful after 14 months in an old Miata.

Yes, everything is relative.

2013 Scion FRS - Image: © Timothy Cain

Observed fuel economy bizarrely matches the Miata’s 32.2 U.S. mpg. (My commute includes two sets of lights, no traffic, and an eco-minded cruising speed of 55 mph.) The 200-horsepower 2.0-liter Subaru boxer four is happier to rev than I recalled from earlier drives. The delightful six-speed’s ratios are more appropriate for daily driving than the Miata’s. The balance, the involving rear end, the way the weighty steering lightens up, and the ride quality all deserve high praise.

Meanwhile, the boys, at least for another year or two, can be squeezed into the back thanks to narrow Diono Radian child seats.

Now comes the arduous challenge of proving my closest acquaintances wrong by keeping the FR-S for more than 14 months.

[Images: Timothy Cain/TTAC]

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48 Comments on “Selling My 2004 Mazda MX-5 Miata Was Remarkably Difficult, and Also Remarkably Easy...”


  • avatar
    gtem

    Wow sounds like you got a heck of a deal on the FR-S, I didn’t realize they had gotten so affordable on the used market!

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Enjoy your new ride, but it sounds like it won’t be long until your growing family forces you out of this car as well. Next time go with the Wrangler, just as much irresponsible fun, but if you get the 4-door it will be practical enough to accommodate your growing crew and the kids will love it

    • 0 avatar

      “If you thought the FR-S was a step up in refinement over a Miata, just wait until you give the Wrangler a try!”

    • 0 avatar
      SSJeep

      I was thinking the same thing – a Miata to a FR-S? That is an odd choice for someone looking for a family hauler. Id think with young kids that at least 4 doors and a real usable back seat would be mandatory. The FR-S is only marginally more useful than the Miata…

      • 0 avatar
        Timothy Cain

        We have a 2018 Honda Odyssey. Family hauler the FR-S most definitely does not need to be. But capable of taking the kids if necessary? It does the trick. A four-seater, it turns out, has 100% more seats than a two-seater. A 100% increase in the number of seats is hardly marginal.

  • avatar
    TDIandThen....

    Not surprised about the low FRS cost, no one I know wants them used.

    Interesting that a lady Forester owner on PEI bought your MX-5. I feel like that profile is telling me something…and I’m glad to hear it.

    You forgot to ask the inevitable question of car ownership.

    I’d say the next step up when the childrens start kicking your seat all drive every drive, is a Saab 93 Aero convertible. If you can find one. A) because you already miss the convertible, B) because safety, it’s a pretty practical and usually a super value used and C) because it will need fixing asap for _something_ annoying but not deadly and that’ll give you things to write about. Also the GM interior will satisfy the USA USA USA crowd on here while the Saab Aero handling will allow you to feel a modicum of driving excitement.

    Thanks for another great column.

    • 0 avatar
      gtem

      My buddy just got rid of an ’06 9-3 Aero (V6 turbo, stick) that he had scooped up for daily driver duty about a year ago, paid something like $4500 for a clean car with 110k miles. In that year of driving what started off with a few minor foibles (replacing coil packs and adjusting shifter) then turned into a total electrical nightmare with the CANbus system where he replaced the amp and some other audio related stuff, all his door lock actuators were on the fritz… he finally decided to cut his losses and unloaded it for cheap to a Saab masochist friend who had just gotten rid of an ’03 9-3 that had driven him up the wall with (even more serious) issues.

      Mechanically they seem stout, they’re comfy and quick for not much money on the used market. But I think the market has spoken loud and clear in terms of their lack of desirability and low prices.

      • 0 avatar
        SSJeep

        Agreed GTEM – Saabs are for the true gluttons for punishment. There really wasn’t anything special about them during the GM years (Im sure I will hear about this statement, but I’ve driven a couple and they weren’t much different than any other sport sedan) and the Saab mechanical demons show up often and at the most inopportune times.

        I know two guys who are really into Saab cars. They are regularly seen with hoods open unable to start their cars, usually on the side of the road…

        • 0 avatar
          toplessFC3Sman

          For what its worth, my ’06 9-3 (2.0T, manual, sedan) has more than earned it’s keep. Its at almost 220k miles, a good chunk of that time with an aftermarket tune, and it has been very reliable. I’ve done a few HPDEs with it that have started to take their toll (brakes, wheel bearings, and front ball joints aren’t quite up to track duty), but other than that it has been a deceptively quick, cheap DD that is still fun to toss around. So far, neither my sister-in-law’s ’07 or my father-in-law’s ’10 have had serious problems either, and the ’07 has similar mileage to mine.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      “Also the GM interior will satisfy the USA USA USA crowd on here ”

      And the bizarre unreliability will satisfy the “DOWN WITH AMERICAN CARS because this is 1978” crowd, no doubt.

  • avatar
    ajla

    GT350 next time.

  • avatar
    JMII

    Hard to complain about zero dollars in depreciation. I’m going to look at 2014 C7 Stingray this weekend, if it checks out my 2003 350Z will be gone. I’ve got no kids so I’m just upgrading because I can. I’ve had the Z for 7 years and it owes me nothing.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      I like Corvettes, but buying a first year GM product is bold living.

      • 0 avatar
        87 Morgan

        ajla…my budget is/was obviously far less then JMIIs but I am very much enjoying my bold living with my 05′ C6 (first year of the C6). It is way too much fun for the price that I paid. Yes, it is a bit wonky, but I went into the experience with my eyes wide open and almost 8k miles since October have reasonably problem free. Combine with the fact my boys love riding in the vette’, so multiple people get grins!

        JMII, their is a ton of on line forum support for the Vette. These old duffers, whilst sporting Jorts and white New Balance sneakers are on the inter webs a surprising amount…You can find an answer to just about any issue that can and will arise.

        • 0 avatar
          JMII

          Same with my Z – tons of information online, almost too much.

          The ‘Vette market is very unique, with the two camps: wax it or track it. I fall right in the middle I think. While I instruct at HPDE events I’m not into making big modifications that screw up drive ability, just logical ones (brakes, tires). After all I still want to daily the thing but do have a spare vehicle (Dodge truck) in case the sports car has to be on stands for a week or two waiting for parts. ‘Vettes are a great deal on the used market because they change hands often but with very few miles. Never thought I’d be a ‘Vette guy but… I’m now at the age where it makes sense.

          • 0 avatar
            87 Morgan

            Not sure what camp I fall into. I DD mine as much as I can, I don’t track it.

            I do a fair amount of miles with a decent amount on the highway. The Vette’ gets great mileage, 25 mpg..in my garage it is the most fuel efficient car we own YMMV, and is a really comfortable place to spend some time. I don’t mind the interior one bit, but I think I may be a bit of a simpleton when it comes to my needs in a car. I like some dials and buttons and that is about it. I don’t get lost, and if I do I have my phone to sort it out.

            And, yes they do change hands quite a lot. I am the fourth owner of mine, the previous owner put a whopping 300 miles on it in 1.5 years vs my 8k in 9 months. He was nice enough to buy the new tires, brakes, rotors, and Corsa exhaust for me though…

          • 0 avatar
            JohnTaurus

            And Austin Powers says “I TOO like to live dangerously”.

          • 0 avatar
            Tele Vision

            I went ‘Middle Ground’ and bought a 2007 CTS-V a few years ago. It has all the oily bits from the Corvette wrapped in a Cadillac body. I had a child and a newborn at the time and was searching for a Miata/MX-5 when I rediscovered the V. My wife called the Miata my ‘escape pod’, as it couldn’t accommodate both kids. The V solved that problem – and arrived with 2 more doors; three more seats; and 400% more horsepower. For fewer dollar monies, too. Job done.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Good luck with the new (to you) Vette. You had a good run with your Z, but it sounds like you’re ready to move on.

      I can’t help but think that if Nissan had given the car a meaningful update at some point, you might be looking at it instead. I would bet there are a lot of Z owners who will (or have) looked elsewhere, since Nissan has left it to rot in the vine.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Not that anyone follows my car buying ‘n’ selling, but I finally – and I mean FINALLY – got rid of my 2009 MINI Clubman and it’s rarely driven partner, the 2012 Countryman. Long story why I had those two cars but I was never truly happy with either of them. The Clubman was poorly treated by it’s previous owner and had a few issues. The Countryman was flawless – but surprise, the additional weight and height took a lot of driving fun out of the vehicle.

    I ended up with a burgundy 26k mile 2014 Mustang V6 with a 6-speed. Owned by a 70-something man – and it drives like a new car compared to the bucket of bolts feeling I got with the Clubman. The Mustang has enough performance for me while being my favorite retro-version of the that car.

    • 0 avatar
      87 Morgan

      We test drove a Countryman a couple years ago, for awhile my wife really wanted one. We drove an ‘S’ model with the MT. Needless to say, we were completely underwhelmed at how it drove. It felt very heavy and you had to WOT to keep the turbo spooled for anything resembling fun. We are at altitude here, so that may play a bigger factor, but we took a hard pass.

      • 0 avatar
        dividebytube

        The Countryman – at least our 6MT one – was also geared more for highway driving. We did manage to knock out 35MPG on one family trip, but yeah, if you wanted any performance out of the 1.6L turbo engine, you really had to keep it boiling.

    • 0 avatar
      whynotaztec

      I’ve been looking at a 15 v6 stick – please tell us about yours; last stick I drove regularly was an NA Miata.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    “Aghast at the number of convertible drivers who leave roofs up when it’s not raining, I drove the Miata with the top-down no matter the temperature”

    THANK YOU SIR! You are my hero (of convertible drivers).

  • avatar
    mikey

    Tim ..Ya made the right decision.

    I wrote my story here a while ago. We had a sweet little 08 Mustang 6cyl auto, convertible..Yeah I know…”rental car fodder ” Before my wife got real sick, we had blast with it. I traded it just before it was time for winter storage in the fall of 2015.

    Felling sorry for myself I bought another one last winter..A beautiful un molested ultra low klm 05 Mustang GT 5 speed, convertible.

    I find myself barely driving it. Its a great car, but it just sits in my garage..Going out for a cruise by yourself is just not the same.

    I will put it away around Halloween. I’m considering putting it on Auto Trader in the spring…In my case, its not that I really need the cash. The 05 is just not doing it for me.

    Its the old “need and want ” thing..

    Oh, and John T..This is my 3rd convertible. I drive top down April to October .

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    Tim, how much did you pay for the Miata?

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      Should’ve included the link.

      USD $7500.

      http://paardensex.info/2017/05/introducing-tims-early-life-crisis-2004-mazda-mx-5-miata-long-term-test/

  • avatar
    tinbad

    The only downside of a BRZ is the image problem. Our neighbors douchy teenage son happens to have one, with the loud exhaust and everything, confirming all stereotypes. I do respect him getting a manual, but then I hear him grinding the clutch sometimes and it explains why they go for so cheap.

    Other than that, not a bad choice :)

  • avatar
    cimarron typeR

    I’m in a similar situation with our 3rd car, an 07 Eos bought new. I’d previously daily drove a rwd sports sedan with a manual until I injured my back and started driving SUVs. Now I feel better and miss driving a manual, but don’t want to risk it by driving one every day.
    Thus I planned to sell the Eos this summer , for something RWD+MT. But ultimately my kids love riding in the convertible and its been trouble free to date so I punted the intiative for the time being .

    Incidentally, the Diono is a great small car seat.It’s in the Eos.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Your situation sounds a lot like mine. I first went to an Aerostar, then my current Taurus after driving a manual became too difficult. This was after having a manual compact coupe and a manual SUV as my only vehicles.

      Now, I’m seriously thinking about giving 3 pedals a try once more. My back isn’t as bad (pain wise) as it was a few years ago, and I’m keeping the Taurus regardless (so, I’ll always have an automatic car with a decent ride and excellent lumbar support due to my swapping in LX seats). I really, REALLY miss having a manual at my disposal.

      Another benifit to less back pain is I’m able to work decent paying jobs again, including 12 hour shifts 7 days a week. I have enough of a break between jobs to “recover”. This is allowing me the option of buying more vehicles without compromising other things going on in my life.

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    Why a Miata in the 1st place? I know its a modern classic, but getting one’s doors blown off by just about anyone else in something with two doors who cared to try, all day every day, would get old.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I don’t think anybody buys a (stock) Miata with plans for winning red light drag races. At least, I hope not.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      Getting one’s doors blown off is something that generally happens when pulling away from traffic lights. I encounter two sets of traffic lights, two times each, per day, both of which are on two-lane roads. If I take the slightly longer but more fun route home, I only go through one set of lights.

      The Miata is an undeniably quick car across country, on undulating roads with some broken pavement and wildly varying corners. And these are the kinds of roads on which I spend almost all of my time, where the Miata shows that it’s a giant killer.

      But even if it wasn’t, the Miata would still be a winner because of feel. Shifter, steering, balance, turn-in – all that good stuff that drivers love. There’s very little acceleration on an average journey for me; it’s more about sustaining a 50-75-mph pace. This is prime Miata country. (But it’s a bit better with the FR-S’s extra power.)

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      It sounds like you may have never driven one. My Miata replaced a sport bike that did 0-60 in 3.4 seconds. I still find it lots of fun.

  • avatar
    Lsjumb

    Unfortunately one day you will be bending and twisting your spine while lifting your child and seat out of the back of your car and you will injure your back. Hopefully you will recover fully in a week. The second time it happens you will reconsider.

    A bad back is with you the rest of your life. Postpone the FR-S until your kids can load and unload themselves.

  • avatar
    burnbomber

    Save your back and just get a minivan. With a growing family, it’s inevitable. And with your Miata, that makes a good 1-2 combination for your garage.

  • avatar
    Manic

    BMW 328ix Cabrio seems not to exist, so A4 or A5 Cabrio quattro could be next?

  • avatar
    9Exponent

    Great to hear from you, Tim!

    I hope you can drop in soon to let us know how the FR-S is treating you. Miss having you as a regular contributor.


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