I’m looking to buy my first car and want that comes in manual, rear-wheel drive, can be driven year-round, and is relatively easy to do basic maintenance on. During the summer I ride a motorcycle to and from work, weather permitting. I am looking for something fun and sensible. Options that I am currently considering: a Toybaru, a Hyundai Genesis, or a Mazda MX-5, once again with a hardtop. – John, Greater Toronto Area.
Vaughan: Johnny, are you crazy? Coming off the motorcycle, you suggest two little sports cars – I get it – then the new Genesis that was at the Toronto auto show.
This last thing’s competing with the big luxury boats like the Audi A6, BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Loaded up with tax it’ll be north of seventy thousand bucks. What were you thinking?
Cato: No, no, no, Vaughan. Don’t be silly. John isn’t looking at a Genesis sedan, the luxury boat for middle age execs who a) want to watch their pennies and b) who aren’t German brand snobs. He’s eyeballing a Genesis Coupe. It’s $26,499 to start, and for that you get a nifty little two-door with a 274-horsepower turbocharged four-banger.
Vaughan: Oh? Sorry.
Cato: I like the Genesis Coupe package, the pricing, the rear-wheel-drive feel of it, the six-speed manual shifter, and the look of it overall. It’s clear that John wants a real sports car with power going to the rear wheels. So that rules out, say, a Mini Cooper, a Volkswagen Eos or a Golf GTI.
Here’s the thing, though: the Genesis Coupe has been a quality laggard. Among sports cars, it’s ranked dead last in Consumer Reports’ reliability research – just below the Subaru version of the Toybaru, the Subaru BRZ.
Vaughan: I’ve driven the Subie and its Toyota clone, the Scion FR-S. Both are wonderful. But you can’t put the roof down unless you use a can opener.
If they had a convertible version, I’d be there with you. Now as for the Toyota – oops I mean Scion versus Subaru thing – take the one with the best price or from the dealer you like best. Just remember it’s a Subaru; the flat-four boxer engine gives it way.
Cato: I’m betting that after years of being beaten by wind and weather on his motorcycle, John is ready to come inside. He won’t mind a car with a roof, as long as it’s a real sports car. And the BRZ/FR-S is a fantastic one.
The Scion starts at $26,450, the Subie at $27,295, and in both cases the package is perfect: front engine, rear drive in a two-seater with a long nose and a short rear deck. It’s low to the ground, boasts 50-50 weight balance and the BRZ/FR-S is NOT over-powered.
We see too many cars with too much power and it’s not necessary – and in some cases it leaves the car muscle-bound and unruly. But not the Scion/Subaru.
The engine is a very nice little 2.0-litre four-banger rated at 200 hp, though it does want premium fuel. Just enough power there to encourage you to engage fully with the car. You can’t leave it in third gear and drive around like a zombie.
Vaughan: Are you done? I must say, I am completely convinced that the venerable Mazda Miata – the MX-5 – is the car for John, the retiring biker.
Cato: I have covered this. John’s days as the commuting outdoorsman are over. That’s not to say anything bad about the Miata, one of the world’s true roadsters. I say this because Mazda, even after 25 years, has stayed true to the fundamentals, and that includes not loading up with too much horsepower.
The Germans have kept roadsters alive with the BMW Z4 and, say, the Mini Roadster, but the cheapest Z4 is $54,300 and has a 241-hp four that wants premium gas. At the other end is the Mini Roadster – affordable at $28,900 and comparable to the base of the 167-hp Miata that asks for regular. But the Mini is powered by a wimpy 121 hp four-cylinder.
Let me say one more thing...
Vaughan: Of course, you always have one more thing to say.
Cato: You will appreciate this: Mazda has some solid discounting in play on the Miata – at least $3,000, perhaps more for the aggressive negotiator.
Vaughan: Get one while you still can. The next Miata is a joint venture with Fiat.
But I don’t quite follow what Johnny means when he says “Mazda MX5 once again with a hardtop.” There is a retractable steel hard top available on the MX5 – but only on the top of the line model and that costs about 40 thou.
J, you’ve been riding a motorcycle all this time; a canvas roof would be luxury enough.
Cato: I say Scion for John -- a real sports car that brings him in from the cold.
Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.
HOW THEY COMPARE
2014 Scion FR-S
2014 Hyundai Genesis Coupe 2.0T
2014 Mazda MX-5 GS
2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged
Curb weight (kg)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km)
9.5 city/6.5 highway using premium fuel
11.2 city/7.4 highway using premium fuel
9.2 city/7.1 highway using regular fuel
Source: car manufacturers
If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Follow us on Twitter @Globe_Drive.
Add us to your circles.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.