Saturday, July 28, 2012

Best First Sports Car : Miata MX-5

You might be interested in this article if...
- You've just gotten your licence and you're motivated to hit the track/street with a slick car that will show you just how much fun driving is
- You're contemplating making auto racing your hobby and you want a car with balanced specs that will help you find your style
- You are buying a second car, and this time you want something more fun than the last civic you bought

The Mazda MX-5 is a modern classic. Dotingly called the "Miata" (Old German for "reward"), anyone who knows anything about autos won't argue that the Miata is an impressive machine with a well earned place in the world of sports car racing. The perfectly balanced 50/50 front/rear, RWD's layout and styling from any one of its generations are easily recognised at a glance. A modern incarnation of the old 1960s small British roadster formula, the Miata is in fact the single reason why the roadster style sports car is so popular today.

The Lotus Elan Roadster's body design heavily influenced the Miata's

Debuting at the Chicago Auto show in 1989, the Mazda MX-5 would take the world by storm, initially selling more models than production could match, and has become the best selling convertible sports car in history. Over 900,000 MX-5s have been sold worldwide since productions started. This is for good reason: the car is amazing. Anyone who has had the pleasure of owning a Miata would assure you that it was one of the best investments they've ever made, and many sports car enthusiasts are so satisfied with its performance that they stick with it indefinitely despite very appealing alternatives with higher specs.

There have been 3 generations of Miatas, the NA, NB, and NC. Each of them is a splendid example of engineering that brings performance, handling, a convertible roof, and an affordable price into a nimble 2 seater. The designers at Mazda had affordable purpose built sports performance at the forefront of their minds, and when they designed the Miata the result was a simple mechanical construction, short dimensions, light curb weight, and an engine layout that all offered as much performance as possible without breaching government safety regulations, or costing too much. Indeed, the Miata NA was only $18,590 and one of only three convertibles of the early 90s available for less than 20k. The other two were simply rag top versions of the chevrolet metro/pontiac firefly and weren't really competing with the Miata as they only pumped out 55hp a piece.

NA generation Miata with hard top roof equipped

The first generation of Miata is easily recognised by its unique pop-up head lights, which would be replaced by fixed head lights in the NB and NC models. The NA was actually quite sparse on comfort and was as performance focused as the Lotus Elan that inspired the body styling. There was no A/C, no power windows or power mirrors, no power steering, and not even a radio or stereo! Only higher level trims offered those luxuries, but all Miatas from base trim to top have always had the same purpose built racing heart and follow the Jinba Ittai ("Unity of Horse and Rider" or in this case Car and Driver) philosophy to create a unique and remarkable driving experience.

The original 1.6L in line 4 engine made a modest 116hp and 100 lb-ft of torque, but when coupled with the excellent suspension configuration and rigid but light monocoque body the roadster had all it needed to tear around corners at high speeds and pump out exhilaration in the twisties. One good turn deserves another and in the next few years Mazda would switch up to a 1.8L that produced a respectable 133hp and 109 lb-ft of torque. Both engines were sourced from the protege/323 of the time.

Monocopue - (Mono-coke) An auto body layout in which the entire body is joined into one solid unit to optimize vehicle rigidity. Also referred to as Unibody.

The next generation of Miata was prepared for '98 but was delayed and only appeared in the US and Canada by '99. This is the reason you will never finda '98 model year Miata. The NB had slight styling changes (sans pop-up lights) and was the worst selling of the three generations. This Miata was slightly heavier due to improved lateral rigidity to meet newer side impact crash test standards in the US and Canada, but compensated by upping the horse power to 140. In 1999 Mazda celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Miata with a special edition that included a slick 6 speed transmission that traded 0.1 seconds on the 0-60 time for and added 4km/h to top speed.  At the end of the NB generation Mazda introduced a MazdaSpeed version of the Miata in 2005 that came equipped with a 1.8L turbo that made and exciting 178hp. With an impressive 0-60 time of only 6.4 seconds and coupled with improved 17" alloys the MazdaSpeed model was a particularly capable track vehicle.

The current model year Miata was built for the 2006 model year and has a standard high performance 167hp, high revving (7000rpm redline) engine across all its trim levels so the base trim offers the same kick as the top of the line special edition - a true tribute to its demographic of enthusiasts. However, if one really wants to make full use of the Miata's racing potential, opting for a more expensive trim will get you some equipment that will  really make you smile, such as a 6 speed manual transmission, LSD and other suspension refinements. Whichever trim level you choose you'll still be driving a Miata, the world's most iconic roadster, and there isn't a thing on this car that isn't "zoom-zoom".

Some of the important changes that were made to the NC include an upgraded suspension system that substitutes the front/rear double wish bone configuration for a front double wish bone/rear multilink suspension that when coupled with the improved sport suspension, bilstein shocks, strut tower bars, front and rear stabilizer bars, LSD, and Dynamic Stability control (All of which are standard on the GS trim) the NC sees improved handling, and pulls 0.90g on the skid pad. Other improvements include greater customizability from options, exterior and interior colors, soft top, and a newly added power retractable hard top ($2,295 option on GS, standard on GT) that can automatically equip or stow the hard top in 12 seconds. When the hard top roof is equipped, the Miata takes a strikingly similar look to a coupĂ©.

Despite all these new options the Miata retains its slim weight at around 1,150kg. Furthermore, its dimensions are barely any different from the original NA and the Miata NC manages an impressive compact design:

Wheelbase = 2,330mm
Track(Fr/Rr) = 1,490/1,495mm
Length = 4,032mm
Width = 1,720mm
Height = 1,245
Ground Clearance = 118 mm

For the environmentally concerned sportsman, the Miata is one of the better choices for environmentally friendly racing. The 2012 model year Miata gets 21/28mpg city/highway and is only bested by 2 Audis, the Mini, and the new Hyundai Veloster. However, fuel costs will be rather high because high octane is the manufacturer recommended fuel.

Make no mistake, the Miata is a sportsman's car, and isn't for grocery runs or anyone with kids. It is also not a red light racing Mustang and prefers the dynamic conditions of a track over a simple straight stretch of road. The Miata is such a well designed racing machine that it stands in a class of its own. Literally, there are One Make/Model races specifically for the Miata called Miata spec races because few cars of similar specs can actually compete against a Miata.

Miata's racing in a one model event

For anyone who is serious about buying the Miata as a first car, or anyone who wants to plunge into the world of auto racing with a refined machine, but don't have the $28,995 to buy a new model, there is good news. Because the Miata has been the best selling roadster for the past 20 years there are plenty on the used market that are only a hair's width away from the performance of a brand new model.

J.D power and associates, and consumer reports both agree with me when I say that the Miata is an excellent used car. The quality control standards are as high as we have come to expect from Japanese auto manufacturers, and the British inspired 60s roadster look is still fresh and attractive today. Although other roadsters like the Saturn Sky, BMW Z4, and Pontiac Solstice will retain their value better over time, any one of the many special editions (some of which were turn key professional race ready machines) Mazda has produced of the Miata will only appreciate in value because many collectors see them as pieces of automotive history. But for everyone who can't find a LE this at least means the Miata you do buy will have a very agreeable sticker price.

Used 2004 MX-5 Speed being sold during a liquidation sale for $10,000 CAD or about 30% the cost of a new - equally well equipped - model

For more information on the Mazda Miata MX-5:
Miata online community website:


Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Second Coming of the EV : Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi iMiev

Mitsubishi iMiev left, and Nissan Leaf right

You may be interested in this article if...
- You are ready to change your driving experience for the sake of the environment
- You want to drive something different and very avant guard
- You F*%king HATE how oil companies rob you
- You want everyone to see what a nice guy you are

The second coming of the electric car has long been awaited in the production market after the lamented loss of the famous EV1 in 2002, and it seems that time is finally upon us. Concepts of EVs and notions of  the EV as the vehicle of the future are both common within all car companies and each of them claims to care about the environment thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis much |-----------------------------|. But at the end of the day it was Nissan and Mitsubishi that took the financial risk which brought us two very unique vehicles that prove there are some companies that are prepared to take action toward a sustainable future. There are companies that are on the brink of releasing EVs for purchase in the North American market, like Honda and its RAV4 EV, and Ford with its Focus EV which deserve some attention too, but Nissan and Mitsu were the first to actually do it and that deserves special praise.

The two pioneering cars we are talking about are the 2011 Nissan Leaf, and the 2012 Mitsubishi iMiev (pronounced eye-meev).  These aren't dream cars that only movie stars can own, they are on sale, you can buy them right now! Both are 100% electric and are designed for real people, and are affordable to most families because of a very handsome government subsidy. In addition both are real car sized and are actually spacious inside with tons of standard features. They drive like normal cars and look like normal cars. But despite all their similarities and their similar market demographics they are different cars and therefore neither one is best for EVERYBODY. It's time to sort through the these green machines and find out which car was designed for which driver in today's Side-by-Side review.

Efficiency is the reason people are so interested in EV technology. It's great driving a car that can go all over the place without using a drop of gasoline. Still, many point out (to most everyone's disappointment) that these cars aren't really zero emission vehicles because the electricity must be generated for their use by means which often aren't so green. And yet what few individuals know is that even if the electricity for these vehicles was netted from burning coal they would still have lower emissions than normal cars because electric motors are far more efficient than gasoline or diesel engines. And even if they weren't as efficient as they are, they would still kick gas vehicle butt because gasoline must be refined from oil and then transported (and it weighs much more than electricity in power lines) from those refineries to gas stations.

Both the Leaf and the iMiev have an expected range of approximately 160km on a full charge according to the Environmental Protection Agency. But the iMiev is actually the more efficient of the two because it has a smaller 16 kWh battery pack compared to the Leaf's 24 kWh pack, and despite the 8 kWh difference the iMiev travels the same distance. As a result, the iMiev is 50% more efficient than the Leaf and also the most efficient passenger vehicle in the US and Canada. To put efficiency into perspective lets compare both EVs to the energy efficiency of a 2012 Hyundai Accent...

Hyundai Accent - 60.5kWh/100km
Nissan Leaf - 15kWh/100km
Mitsubishi iMiev - 10kWh/100km

At the end of the year, this translates to an average fuel cost of just under $200 CAD for the iMiev and $288 CAD for the Leaf at an electricity cost of 6 cents per kWh. Relative to the Accent's $1535 CAD annual fuel cost, you would be saving $6500 CAD over a 5 year period if you drove the iMiev. 

If you are sincerely driven to do the most for the environment and stick it to the oil companies by saving as much money as possible on fuel costs, the iMiev is the car for you.


In order to actually make a difference in the way we drive, both EVs have been priced to sell, and can be subsidized by the government to make them compete with other non-electrics with equal appeal. The Nissan Leaf can be bought for $38395 CAD and qualifies for the full government subsidy of $8500 CAD in Ontario bringing the price down to $29895 CAD, which isn't so bad. In addition to this, the Leaf is the more likely of the two to retain its value over the years ahead, and even at the end of its life is 99% recyclable which means it will always have value as reusable material. On the other hand, the iMiev costs only $32998 CAD in base trim and qualifies for a subsidy of $8230 CAD making it the more affordable car off the lot at only $24768 CAD.

Warranty wise both cars provide exquisite 8 year 160 000 km coverage for their batter packs. Only Nissan goes further to offer buyers the option of leasing the pack with the intent of selling buyers a new one as technology improves.

If you're financially inclined to choose the cheapest EV you can find, you can't go wrong with the iMiev, which costs $5127 CAD less than the Leaf!


When it comes to performance, an electric car can't really compete with a modern gasoline engine or even a diesel engine. But there is one thing that an electric car excels at and will always excel at over gasoline cars, and that is the massive available torque that comes standard on every model. Although it's hard to compete with the power of an explosion, an electric car is by no means slow, and has almost 50% more torque that an average 4 cylinder in line. Don't imagine the cheap electric ride-in child's backyard adventure jeeps you buy at Toys-R-Us, instead picture a blender at top speed liquefying its contents. All that power is available from 0 rpm, so an EV accelerates with intense thrust that surprises most drivers. You won't be reaching for impressive top speeds, but no one buys an EV for the top speed (Unless you buy a Tesla). However, it will feel like a fast car in the city. You will enjoy how quickly the car accelerates to 60 km/h which is all that matters performance wise on roads limited to that speed. 

The iMiev comes with a 66hp motor and 144 lb ft of torque that is channelled through a continuously variable automatic transmission that makes 0-80km/h in 10.6 seconds and has a top speed of 130 km/h. There are 3 drive modes available which offer unique benefits. Drive Mode uses all 66hp and standard regenerative braking, Eco Mode reduces the power to 24hp and uses stronger regenerative braking, and Brake Mode offers an odd combination of full power and the strongest regenerative braking settings. Drive mode is great for city driving, Eco mode makes the iMiev sluggish in acceleration but is fantastic for highway cruising, and lastly brake mode helps drivers capitalize on regenerative braking and coasting opportunities like driving down a long or steep hill. In addition to all this, the iMiev has a feature that would surprise most people: rear wheel drive. The motor in the iMiev is located at the rear of the car behind the batter pack and turns the rear wheels making the iMiev an RR. However, that RWD isn't really coming in hardy because of the thin 175/50R 15" wheels that tend to feel slippery in tight corners. 

Even more impressive is the 107hp motor 206 lb ft of torque available in the Leaf, which boasts a 0-100km/h time under 10 seconds and a top speed of 140km/h! The Leaf also uses a transmission and drive mode configuration similar to the iMiev, but the exact opposite drive layout. The motor is in the front of the car and drives the front wheels making the Leaf and FF. In addition to this, the leaf's longer, wider and shorter design coupled with its P205/55R 16" wheels gives the leaf superior handling compared to the iMiev. 

If performance is a priority in your EV than the Nissan Leaf is the right choice for you.


One of the primary concerns surrounding EV technology is the practicality of driving one. The limited driving range and lack of charging infrastructure make road trips and trips between cities impossible. So for those that absolutely NEED to travel long distances regularly an EV isn't an option. But for 70% of North Americans whose commutes and errands are within the 160km daily range, EVs are great and will only get better. 

In addition to the issue of range, many see EVs as small and impractical bare bones cars that are unaccommodating. Although these EVs are light to improve efficiency they have proven to be surprisingly usable with plenty of interior space for both people and cargo. 

The leaf is marketed as the first full electric family vehicle for good reason, it's spacious and comfortable with front and rear heated seats, standard seating for 5, and 14.5/24 cu. ft. of cargo space with rear seats up/folded. XM Traffic reports can also be viewed on the large touch screen display in the centre console, which when coupled with the cruise control make commuting easier, faster and more efficient. Both the iMiev and Leaf also come equipped with a metre that displays remaining charge in distance and can pin point existing charging stations en route for longer trips. 

The iMiev pales in comparison to the Leaf by only seating four, having only a driver's heated seat and lacking anything resembling a traffic report feature in its telematics system. However, with the seats folded the iMiev offers an impressive 50.4 cu. ft. of cargo that capitalizes on the vehicles tall design. So it doesn't lose all around to the Leaf. Still, its hatch opening is smaller than the Leaf's so getting larger cargo inside may be a pain in the butt.

Both EVs charge their lithium battery packs in the same 3 ways:
Level 1 charging - Using the standard 120V charging cable that comes with the vehicle to bring the battery to a full charge in 22 hours.
Level 2 charging - Using an optional and suggested 240V charging station that fully charges the battery in just 7 hours.
DC quick charging - Using a commercial charging station to give the battery an 80% charge from dead in about 30 minutes.

Depending on where your priorities lie, you may feel that either the iMiev with its superior cargo capacity, or the Leaf with more human storage space and advanced telematic traffic report is more practical. But overall, the Leaf is the big winner when it comes to practicality. 

Still, it's important to note that neither of these cars comes with a spare tire and only has a tire repair kit to compensate. This is something to consider seriously, especially if you are a new driver.


Creature comforts are pretty important to consumers on modern vehicles, and some may avoid EVs because they believe that manufacturers won't bother with any of them because they could use a chunk of electricity and reduce the range. While this thinking is justified, both the iMiev and the Leaf come equipped with many creature comforts and niceties that are as efficient as the cars they were built for. Still, they aren't perfect and will reduce the vehicle's range, so it's up to the driver to decide when to use what.

When it comes to interior room, both cars are spacious enough for their max seating capacity. However the interior material quality of the iMiev leaves much to be desired and even with the premium interior package isn't impressive. On the other hand the Leaf has an interior that feels worthy of its higher cost. Indeed, even though the iMiev boasts a 5db noise level and little to no vibration, the Leaf out does this by reducing more exterior noise experienced at higher speeds.

Both cars have impressive climate control systems and promise to be handy for buyers in colder areas. The iMiev has a heated driver's seat, heated mirrors, and remote climate controls that allow the driver to pre heat or cool his car before getting in. But the Leaf still trumps the iMiev here by offering heated seating for all passengers, a heated steering wheel and similar remote climate controls.

In terms of telematics, infotainment and other electronic stuff, both cars are well equiped again. Both support hands free blue tooth 2.0, and aux ports for mp3 players. And of course both come with push button start, keyless entry, and power locks and windows. But the Leaf pulls out ahead again by offering CARWINGS - which is like onStar - free for 3 years and a free trial subscription to XM traffic report which is really handy to display on its standard 7" touch screen. Also, the Leaf has a 6 speaker sound system that shames the iMiev's 100 watt 4 speaker system. However, if you're willing to upgrade to the premium package the iMiev will sport a 360 watt 8 speaker system, and touch screen nav display, which isn't half bad at all.

Overall, even if you were to consider the iMiev's premium package, the Leaf is more comfortable and convenient to drive. If you like your EV comfy then the Leaf is for you. Just be sure to buy a mat for the dash if you notice the white interior is reflected back from the wind shield on sunny days.


Our government safety standards keep new production vehicles pretty safe as they are, but if you're buying these cars to move your family around in, looking a little further can't hurt at all. Both cars come standard with front, side, and curtain air bags, ABS, Brake assist, Traction/Stability control, and tire pressure monitors, though  the Leaf is the only one to receive a 5 star crash test rating and all around good safety ratings from the IIHS. This is because of the Leaf's excellent body design which has a protective front crumple zone unlike the smaller crumple zones in the iMiev's RISE body design. Despite not having crash test data yet in North America, the iMiev didn't score very highly while on sale in the UK and received only an average safety rating. In addition to all this the iMiev is tall and light for its size and has very thin tires making it more unstable and accident prone than the Leaf.

Here are some crash test videos of both EVs:
iMiev -
Leaf -

If you simply can't compromise safety for efficiency then the Leaf is your only option in the current EV market, and you might actually be better off waiting for an electric SUV or cross over like the Honda RAV4 EV.


Even though both cars perform adequately in all areas, are super green, and do their best to please everyone, both are best suited to specific drivers.

The Mitsubishi iMiev is an ultra affordable EV with extreme efficiency and loads of cargo space with rear wheel drive and fog lights standard for those that can't live without them. This car is most suited to the hardcore environmentalist sans children, that is willing to go all in on his EV purchase and get the greenest car in North America.

The Leaf is a slightly more expensive EV with great performance, practicality, comforts, a five star safety rating, and the option to swap out the battery when a better one inevitably comes along. This car is for the established family man that is looking for a long term vehicle with good resale value and also wants to take a positive step towards a brighter sustainable future for his children without compromising their safety along the way.

Whichever EV you decide on, you won't be sorry you invested in new technologies and a sustainable future. Even if you can't hear us, everyone living on earth will thank you for it. 

Below are some links to more sites with info on EVs
Green Car Reports:
LEAF news, blog, and forum:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Suzuki Swift : Used Car Super Star

 You may be interested in this article if...

  1. You are an environmental do-gooder that doesn't have $38 000 to spend on a Nissan Leaf
  2. You want to prove to your neighbours that practicality doesn't have to be spelt "S-U-V" or cost over $3000.
  3. You are a first time buyer looking for the most value for money
  4. You appreciate well engineered cars
The Suzuki Swift is certainly a legend in North America. When asked, many people wouldn't hesitate to name it the smallest car they've ever known on the market. It was the small box that all good things came in, and the car sold well throughout North America. Although more recent models have grown in size and changed that reputation, this article will be focusing on the '96-'01 model years which produced an extremely fuel efficient, space efficient, and sufficiently versatile vehicle that just about everyone could afford.

Despite a humble introduction at the 25th tokyo motor show as a new super mini platform designed for the Japanese domestic market alone, the Swift would travel all over the world and settle in many markets with great success. Unknown to the public the Swift was actually one of the many names the car worked under once imported to North America. On a global level the car would be more accurately named the Suzuki Cultus (Cultus is latin for "adoration"). Throughout its life the car has gone on sale through other companies under different names in several countries. The more notorious names in North America would be: Geo Metro, Chevrolet Metro, Suzuki Swift and Pontiac Firefly. Surprisingly the car is still in production in Pakistan under the name Suzuki Margalla. Despite its numerous aliases, the Swift is still the same car underneath.

The Chevrolet Metro Convertible was and is still the cheapest convertible on the market

Contrary to the fact that Americans favour large vehicles over small vehicles the Swift sold exceedingly well in its early sales years. The reason wasn't that Americans had an abrupt change in taste, it was actually a result of an oil embargo between the Arab nations and the US and any of its affiliated nations. With the sharp drop in supply and unchanged demand for oil the cost was increased four fold from $3 per gallon to $12. There were stressful rationing measures while the embargo was in effect which threw the US in particular into a  nasty recession and energy crisis. Although the embargo ended just over a year after it began the damage had been done. The US would never look at cars the same way again as fuel economy became one of the primary sales points of all vehicles sold.

A 1973 sign indicating the meaning of a gas station's flag relative to its availability

However terrible the crisis was, the fruit of this terrible misfortune is quite sweet for automotive engineering. As a result of the high price of oil car manufacturers began producing smaller FF cars (those with Front engines and Front wheel drive). These FF cars were lighter and more arrow dynamic to help increase fuel economy as much as possible. Furthermore, these new cars were designed to be as cheap as possible so that those feeling the strain of the recession would be able to afford them. The Swift competed with the Hyundai Excel and later Hyundai Accent for the title of cheapest entry level car in North America. Although the Swift was more expensive than the Excel or Accent by about 2k, the Swift had always been (until recently) more fuel efficient and durable.

So the results were cars with great fuel efficiency that are cheap to buy, and have excellent interior space for small cars thanks to the FF design. Couple this with the versatility that a hatch back and folding rear seat give to cargo space and the Swift begins to look very practical, especially for first time buyers.

What this means for everyone in 2011 is that the ageing Swift is a gem of a car to consider buying used.
Whichever nameplate you buy this car under the Swift promises to satisfy.

Anyone who is worried about the environmental impact of owning and driving their own car can rest easy knowing the Swift was engineered in response to an oil shortage so there is no doubt it was designed for optimum fuel efficiency which can rival modern hybrids and with a 1.0L engine equipped gets 32/41 city/highway. In addition to this, by buying second hand the pollution associated with production doesn't occur.

Fuel Economy Ratings according to

Finally, anyone who is economically minded or obligated to be under pain of poverty will be satisfied that the Swift will cost around $2960 used and in good condition according to the blue book, which is less than 1/3 of the cost of a new economy car. On top of that, the annual cost of gas will total around $1500, and although the swift is sturdy and reliable, the low blue book value assures cheap insurance rates.

*Interesting Note*
Gas prices are governed by demand. If everyone drove cars like the Swift we would see lower prices at the pumps nation wide! Which is cooler than when I taught my dog to parallel park.