Three Car Comparison: Finding a great sports car for under $35,000

If you’ve been out car shopping lately you might find it difficult to find anything you love for under $35,000. But just recently I was handed an ultimatum: stick with my current car and pay half its value for the next major fix, or get out now and find something new and reliable. I chose the latter. So the day after Christmas, 2013, I set out on a quest to find the best sports car for the money.

My three choices are very different from each other but are all highly regarded in their respective communities. The 2014 Mustang V6 Premium Coupe with the Performance pack (six-speed manual) was the most expensive of the three but was also filled to the gills with technology and horsepower. The second was the 2014 Subaru BRZ with the Limited package (six-speed manual) that was the most common and the least expensive option of the three. Last but not least was the 2014 Mazda Miata Club (six-speed manual) offering the second lowest price tag and smallest package.


2014 Ford Mustang V6 Premium Coupe with Performance Package

Our first stop was the Ford dealer to test-drive the Mustang. I had called around to several dealers in and around the Los Angeles, CA area trying to find a V6 Premium Coupe with the Performance Package and a six-speed manual. Believe it or not, most Mustang’s with the Performance pack, sitting on the lot, are equipped with an automatic transmission. I finally found one and took it for a spin.

The first thing I noticed was the awesome exhaust note. It was rumbling and loud, just how it should be. The interior was nice and spacious although the car I was driving did not feature a navigation system or Recaro seats that I wanted. While the horsepower was rewarding, there was a fairly large disconnect between myself and the car. I was separated from the road by a 3,500 lb mass that was just too much like the car I was selling. The gear-box was also a let-down with rough shifts that weren’t as rewarding as I had hoped. While I felt safe and liked the idea of all the technology and horsepower I would be getting with the Mustang, I wasn’t a fan of the weight or the transmission.

Another issue I was dealing with was the fact that I would have to order the car, taking another 4-6 weeks. I wanted the right color, the right packages and the right transmission for my car and finding one on the lot seemed nearly impossible. I did sit in a car that had the Recaro seats, and looking back, they happen to be my favorite part of the car. The salesgirl I rode with was a real car nut and understood my desire in shifting my own gears and having a car with more custom touches so as not to blend in with the rest of Los Angeles.

While the exhaust note, Recaro seats and horsepower was nice, I had to remind myself that I had two other cars to test in making my decision.

The total MSRP for the Mustang I wanted totaled $33,904. This included: base price of $26,610, Performance Package ($1,995), Electronics Package ($2,340), Rear Video Camera ($240), Recaro Leather Sport Seats ($1,595), Vehicle Security System ($208), car cover ($321), right and left Quarter Window Louvers ($113 x2), and Destination charges ($825).


2014 Subaru BRZ Limited

I had spoken with the dealer earlier that morning and had confirmed they had a Satin White Pearl six-speed manual on the lot to drive. By the time I had made my way over there there had been a dealer trade of the car I wanted so I settled to drive whatever six-speed they had on the lot.

Outward appearances on the BRZ were the most appealing of the three, with a low, aggressive stance that looked track ready. First impressions of the interior was “cheap.” The controls and navigation seemed very bland and to a price point. Quite different from the Mustang. The salesman crammed himself into the back seat and did not look the least bit pleased or comfortable.

The gear-box was a step up from the Mustang and the engine sound was satisfying. This car sits much lower to the ground and gives you a European sports car feel. The car gripped the road and felt more agile than the Mustang. Going on the freeway on ramp I hadn’t revved the car up enough to fully feel the power going from first to second gear (200hp @ 7,000rpm). This resulted in a delay while the car reached the appropriate RPM for its 200hp to take effect. This could have been a result of many factors; me not winding it up enough or the car just being new. Either way I was frustrated not getting an immediate acceleration response.

Besides this, the car looked nice on the exterior but was a little rough in how it drove, like Subaru still has some fine-tuning to do. The interior looked cheap while the exterior was the best looking of the three cars. The transmission was an improvement over the Mustang but the drive was rough. I don’t mind being beaten up a little in my Elise, but not in what would be my everyday car. I did feel, over the Mustang, that the BRZ was much more responsive and gave me more confidence in my driving abilities. I did feel more connected to the road in the BRZ compared to the Mustang, but still felt there was some finesse missing. Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not one of those girls that likes plush leather seats and 7-way adjustable seat heaters, but I do want to be impressed, not beat up.

Why did I choose the BRZ over the FR-S? Well, I preferred the color options, packages and accessories of the FR-S over the BRZ, but I liked the option of a navigation system and a slightly lower price point better. They are essentially the same car sharing the same motor and similar looks, but the less Subaru offers in terms of extras will bring the price down.

The total MSRP for the BRZ I wanted totaled $28,671. This included: base price of $27,995, Car Cover ($139), Rear Bumper Applique ($69.95), Wheel Locks ($29.95), Severe Weather Companion kit ($44.50) and Destination charges ($795).


Check out this comparison between the BRZ’s twin the FR-S and the Miata Club. Any guesses on who comes out on top?


2014 Mazda Miata Club

I had never before considered a Miata, but my dad has mentioned how well-loved the cars are and how, for the price point, it’s a very good buy. For our last stop I left the Subaru dealer and walked across to Mazda. Similar to my feelings at the Subaru dealer, this Mazda dealer gave me the feeling that I was bait on the end of a fishing pole. The salesman didn’t seem to be a real car nut or want anything more than for me to purchase the car.

I took the car out with the salesman as passenger and began my test-drive. A large truck was backing out ahead so I used some techniques I had learned at my countless racing schools and swerved to avoid it. The salesman gasped and grabbed onto the doorhandle with all his might. I found this to be more sad than amusing. But the test-drive continued.

As we headed towards the freeway I wanted to pull over to experience the top down, since I had never owned a car with a convertible hardtop. The Miata Club’s hardtop goes up or down in just 12 seconds at a stop and folds behind the seats on the car’s exterior, not in the trunk so no valuable space is taken. So down it went and off we went towards the freeway on-ramp. Entering onto the freeway, the power wasn’t overwhelming but a factor came into play that hadn’t before with the first two cars; and that was fun.

The exhaust note wasn’t to die for but the car just oozed fun. I loved having the top down, especially living in Southern California. The gear-box was flawless and the clutch, effortless. Out of the three, the easiest to drive. The suspension and ride quality wasn’t as stiff as the BRZ but with the Bilstein shocks I felt I was in good hands.

There wasn’t enough going on in the interior to look or feel cheap, while the seats were the least exciting or gripping out of the three. The Club did offer exclusivity that the others didn’t. Special suspension, mechanical limited-slip differential, shock tower brace and some sticky rubber plus a few ‘Club’ badges separate this MX-5 from the rest. The Club is also a limited edition model, so you won’t see one on every street corner, and with this being the last generation before the Alfa/Miata comes around, value will be sure to rise on these too.

The total MSRP for the Miata Club I wanted totaled $29,460. This included: base price of $28,665 and Destination charges ($795).


Now that all three test-drives were over, my head was spinning with what to do. We went over all the pluses and minuses of each car in an effort to make the decision easier.

Ford Mustang:

Pros- Lots of technology, Recaro seats available, lots of horsepower, and lots of room

Cons- Clunky gear-box, very heavy, very common, would have to order, and the most expensive

Subaru BRZ:

Pros- European sports car feel, low to the ground, nice engine sound, nice seats and exterior, and lighter weight

Cons- Rough around the edges, cheap looking interior, very common, not many factory options to customize

Mazda Miata Club:

Pros- Folding hardtop, wonderful gear-box, fun to drive, limited edition

Cons- no navigation or Bluetooth offered in the Club, OK engine sound, mediocre seats and not much room for storage.

I was trying with all my might to make a logical and practical decision, but my dad stopped me mid thought and asked a very important question, “What car, after you park it, would you turn back to look at?” I was worried about my first thought. I was going from a 3-door hatch back with a large trunk and back seats, so going to something smaller with the Elise as my other car seemed silly. So when I finally came out and said “the Miata” I explained my reservations to my dad. He asked me very plainly, “do you have kids, or a dog, or a husband? Do you haul furniture?” And when I answered “no” to all of the above he said “then you should get the car you want.” His explanation was “you are young, and you have nothing requiring you to have a big car. Why not enjoy something fun now and get the big family car later down the line?”

So that night we headed down to a different Mazda dealer who had offered me a better deal and signed the paper work. I ended up with a 2013 model instead of a 2014. There is virtually no difference in the car except the deep discounts the dealer was offering. I chose to go with a grey color because I felt the black roof and mirrors (exclusive to the Club retractable hard top) blended better with the grey paint.

Some other notable pluses on the cars performance are: RWD, 2.0-liter, I4 DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder engine and variable valve timing. Power is estimated at 167hp (@ 7,000RPM) with 140 lb-ft (@ 5,000RPM) of torque. Redline is 7,200RPM and has short gearing for better acceleration. It’s 2,482 lb curb weight and standard six-speed manual transmission adds a large dose of fun. Acceleration from 0-60mph is 6.1 seconds, and you’ll be sure to smile the whole way.

Soon I’ll post on what modifications I have done to my Miata, but lets just say the exhaust sounds great now.

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