Letter From Europe Via California - Mazda Miata, Lexus RC-F and Toyota Camry TRD
By Andrew Frankl
European Bureau Chief
The Auto Channel
BELVEDERE (CA Not Italy): The fourth generation Miata-everybody’s fav two seater- is as good as ever. Light weight, rear wheel drive 181 horsepower delight.
Motoring journalists are a funny lot but on the Mazda MX-5 Miata they are in total agreement.
It is a delight.
I took my brave pill and drove it into San Francisco’s Union Square. Brave pill because SF is now America’s Number 1 for car breaking. You park outside the Legion of Honor and the by the time you walk past the magnificent statue of Rodin, the boys will have smashed a window and everything in it is history. So into the Union Square car park I entered with a great deal of trepidation and hid the little Miata between two huge SUVs. I was in luck, it was still there on my return.
What can I say that hasn’t already been said? Two things. It is small, it is sweet and everybody loves it. So far so good. But assuming that just because it looks like as toy it is a toy. NO SIR!
The Miata will cruise at 100 miles per hour, conditions permitting, and while it is's full of airbags the truth of the matters is that it's still quite small. You would rather have a crash in a big Volvo, let me leave it at that.
The other problem is your location. If you live in San Francisco and have to commute up and down the hills, my advice is don’t buy the manual 6 speed gearbox. Your clutch would not like it.
Something else. I’ve tried to teach a young man how to use a stick-shift. Truth be told, he didn’t do too well partly because he has size 13 trainers. Not good. Or if you are 6ft 4.
I always take my shoes off, just I did in my beloved 328GTS. Last time I did that the carabinieri stopped me, but once I’ve explained the reasons they just shrugged and said have a good trip and they were gone. The Miata might be just fine while you are searching for a partner online, but once you have met, got married and all that, something bigger is called for before the little ones start arriving.
The Miata - If you can afford two cars - will always remains a perfect Sunday morning blast car on the twisty road in the back countries hopefully devoid of the officers in their rather quick souped up Jeeps. While luggage space might be tight if you look at the pics of the three very large Whole Foods' bags you’ll see that a soft duffel bag would fit in just nicely. Or two for that matter. The roof is a delight, opening it is easy peasy.
Fuel consumption is an admirable 35 miles per gallon. Would I buy one? If I had a garage-absolutely. The automotive industry is full of perfectly adequate automobiles. The Miata is a gem. There are tens of thousands of them on the road and drivers wave to each other just like the drivers of European sports cars did back in the 50's and 60's...I know, they did it to me as well!
I can’t say the same about the Lexus RC-F. Very good looking, very quick but a little bit rough round the edges. The 5 liter V8 is of course sensational as is the 472 horsepower it pushes out through what I can only describe as a mechanical symphony. Sounds glorious. Inside you have two great bucket seats and two tiny ones which would be completely out of the question for grown-ups, but are huge fun for 7 year olds. We took the Lexus to Acorn vineyards purveyors of Cabernet Franc, Syrah and other fine wines. Truth be told by the end of the drive we were happy to be back in Belvedere. The ride is a bit harsh and after a while even the bucket seats were less comfortable than after a few miles. The RC -F from about $65 thou has tremendous competition from BMW and Mercedes both of which are equally quick and more comfortable.
If you can stretch to the LC Convertible at around 100 grand you should, it is a vastly superior experience.
If the Lexus RC-F was a bit of a puzzle the Toyota Camry TRD is a total enigma.
The basic Toyota Camry is a byword for quality, comfort and reliability, every Grandma”s choice. Seeing that they sell the best part of 300 thousand a year clearly it is a very fine product. Now in England there are cars known as Q cars. These are saloon cars which are highly powered, but look sensible, unassuming, and everyday-looking their horses are kept under cover. You don’t know what hits you until the blue lamp is attached to the roof.
This is the entire opposite of Camry’s TRD which has “come and get me all over it.” Red calipers, lowered suspension , a black roof and to make things even more silly a long black spoiler. I honestly don’t think that the TRD's 301 horsepower needs a spoiler but it might appeal to folks who do burn-outs on a Saturday evening.
In all honesty while I fully understand people buying a Camry, I cannot recommend the TRD as it adds little and will be like a red flag to the bull as far as the police are concerned. Take the spoiler off, ask for a base color and stick to surprising your friends as you blast past them.
Fuel consumption was a very respectable 24.5 miles per gallon and everything relating to the “real” Camry was just fine. I was so concerned about getting dropped on 101 North of San Francisco that I got a Lyft to Novato and back. Quiet, comfortable, elegant. What was it? A Camry of course!