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Mazda MX-5 Vs Lotus Elan M100

Flattering only to deceive? Published: 19th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Mazda MX-5 Vs Lotus Elan M100

What The Experts Say...

Simon Percival of Percival Motor Company recently sold an Elan SE, which by his own admission wasn’t the best around – which is why it went for a bargain £3000. That’s terrifi c value by anyone’s books and Simon rates the Lotus very highly for its performance and handling. In his mind, it’s a much better car than an MX-5 but there again, the Kentbased dealer isn’t terribly fond of Jap classics! The Elan sold easily and he’d like to trade more of them but with classics from the 1980s and 90s condition is everything he adds.

Mazda MX-5 Vs Lotus Elan M100
Mazda MX-5 Vs Lotus Elan M100
Mazda MX-5 Vs Lotus Elan M100
Mazda MX-5 Vs Lotus Elan M100
Mazda MX-5 Vs Lotus Elan M100
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Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of fl attery. So, when Mazda choose to clone the old Elan, to fulfi l its desire to build a sports car for the 1990s, Lotus must have been chuffed to bits! Having said that, when Mazda launched the MX-5, Lotus released its all new Elan at the same time, without a hint of retro about it. The late Colin Chapman would have greatly approved, as he hated living in the past, even though his original masterpiece remains much loved. Fast forward more than 20 years and both the MX-5 and the M100 Elan are now on the verge of true classic status, yet remain remarkable bargains. The question is, how do you like your Elans?

Which one to buy?

Traditional vs forward thinking

When Lotus decided to make a new Elan, it would have been easy to take follow Mazda, building a retro-looking car. But, going full circle isn’t the way it’s done at Hethel, so Lotus developed an entirely new car, an up-to-date sports car designed for that era. So, the M100 was naturally frontwheel drive, with a transverse-mounted engine and fi ve-speed gearbox, plus power steering, all wrapped in a slippery wedgeshaped body. The interior was just as contemporary, relying on the parts bin of General Motors for dials, switches, etc. There’s no doubt that the Elan was the right recipe for the 1990s and, whether you like the car’s rather over-wide bloated look or not, you have to admit that it still looks refreshingly different. You can’t blame Mazda for copying the original Elan! After all, it was the benchmark sportster of the 1960s. As compact as it is cute, it’s hard to believe that the Mk1 MX-5 is more than 20 years old. Front engined, rear wheel drive, it’s said that even the Mazda’s twin cam from the 323 saloon was designed to look like the evergreen Ford ‘twink’ that originally powered the Elan. The interior is similarly retro styled, with traditional wood and leather on some special editions – of which over 30 were marketed in the UK! Whereas the Elan M100 looks bloated and ill proportioned (a silly cock up on the designers’ board it‘s rumoured), the MX-5 looks good from all angles – the mark of a top design. Being made of steel, it’s better built than the glass-fi bre Lotus and much better assembled than the original Elan ever was. This means that the Mazda makes a terrifi c all year round sports car – even more so if you fi t the optional hard top. On the other hand, MX-5s are everywhere and, if you want individuality, then the ‘new’ Elan is the one to go for, simply because relatively few were made. This was because of the high £20,000 + prices asked at the time. Most buyers opted for the far more desirable SE model, which boasted a turbocharger for 165bhp. The plain Elan metered out 130bhp, but with a 0-60mph time of under eight seconds it’s no slouch. Bear in mind that, with the MX-5, you also have the choice of going ‘Grey’ with a Japanese imported Eunos – read our special feature on the differences in this issue!

What’s the best to drive?

A question of character

It really depends how you like your sports cars. If you love the rear-wheel drive, hangthe- tail-out variety, then it’s just got to be the MX-5. Mazda really caught the spirit of the classic roadster here. It’s not just the funfilled handling and eager nature that makes any driver smile, but Mazda’s sheer attentionto detail elsewhere, such as the rifl e-bolt gear change and the precise steering. You really feel that you’re in an old sportscar but without the associated hang ups. This is the reason why the car has appealed so much to even non car enthusiasts. Performance is good enough, without being fierce (although avoid the weedy 88bhp entry model) and overtax the chassis. A 1.8 model will show a TR6s a clean pair of exhausts and leave one for dead cross country. It’s not all fun in the sun, mind. Up to a point, the Mazda is a delight to corner with gusto and very predictable with it, but overstep the mark, especially in the wet, and it can bite the hands that feeds it unleaded.

When Lotus launched the M100 it was called the ‘90 per center’ by its engineers. An odd title, but it related to Lotus’ wish to make the new Elan utterly drivable at 90 per cent of its ultra high limits, for 90 per cent of drivers, at 90 per cent of the time. Certainly, the Elan still feels one of the safest and most confi dence-boosting sports cars ever made, while the gumball low-profi le tyres give it unbelievable grip. Better still for traditionalists, for most of the time you’d never know it’s front-wheel driven! The engine is a bit of an oddity, however, being sourced from Isuzu (another GM company). Yet, while this 1600 twin cam isn’t the most charismatic of lumps, in 165bhp SE Turbo guise it gives the M100 Elan Sprintbeating pace and 30mpg is no problem. If you like your sports cars to be ultra quick, then the Lotus beats an MX-5 hands down.


Owning and running

Mazda wins… of course!

It’s a clear win here for the Mazda when it comes to the practicalities, and this section could swing the vote for many. The MX-5 is dead reliable and it’s as inexpensive to run as a Fiesta LX, plus there are plenty of good specialists and parts suppliers around to help, too. The flipside is that their VW Golf-like durability does lead to neglect by non-enthusiast owners. Yet while it’s undeniable that the M100 Elan is dearer to keep – and let’s face it what Lotus isn’t – at least it doesn’t live up to the old LOTUS acronym. Indeed, apart from rotting rear suspension assemblies, tearing hoods and fraying seat belts, it’s one of the best built cars to come out of Hethel, while the Japanese mechanicals are unbelievably bullet-proof. Spare parts are expensive, but this is negated by the sparkling value for money an M100 offers. We’ve seen good cars under £3000, while double this buys a peach. Be honest, what sort of old Elan does that get you? MX-5s need some watching. Yes you can get one for just over a grand but you need to spend double that to get a decent, rust free, well cared for model.

And The Winner Is...

While the Mazda MX-5 is the most logical buy by a mile, there’s no overall winner because it depends how you like your sports cars. In truth, the M100 is more classical than classic and lacks the sor t of character you’d expect from a Lotus. But, on the other hand, we can’t think of another Hethel hero that’s so practical, usable and durable – or such great value. Whisper it but we’d have one over a dicky Elise any day! MX-5s are everywhere and with good reason. It’s a brilliant modern sports car with a classic touch, plus it’s a great daily driver.

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