From a Miata to a Foxbody Mustang: Some Revelations

After crashing my 1992 Mazda Miata into a telephone pole, I decided I needed a change of pace. I said goodbye to the world of little Japanese roadsters and hello to American muscle with a good 'ol boy's Fox body Mustang packing a 331 c.i stroker engine. Hell yeah, brother!

As you hopefully read, my Mustang was preceded by a Miata.  The more time I spend with the new-to-me Mustang, the more I realize that it’s not just the obvious size that sets these two apart. These two cars are both front engine and rear wheel drive but the Fox body offers an entirely different driving experiences. The Mustang’s bored and stroked engine has more than triple the displacement of my old Miata. As you might imagine, there is a steep learning curve when switching from a car with 100 lb ft of torque to one with over 300 with equally instant throttle response.

My new baby!

Handling and Driving Dynamics

The Fox body Mustang demands oodles more respect than the Miata. The solid live rear axle incorporates a 4-link suspension design that doesn’t keep the toe zero’d well under lateral load. Attempting to navigate a corner at full throttle in the Mustang is a death wish and after you die you’ll go to Mustang hell for attempting to drive it like a Miata. Likewise, you cannot be careless of the loud pedal in lower gears and expect to maintain course or traction as you would in a Miata.

The Miata weighs about two mother-in-laws less and has an independent rear suspension, which allows each rear wheel to articulate independently of the other. These two facts alone crowned the Miata the handling department winner.

After comparing the Miata’s interior to that of the Fox’s, it’s clear why so many people love 90s Japanese cars. It just feels right. The seating position makes it feel like you are in the cockpit of a plane. Everything you would need while driving is less than an arm length away. The shifter feels natural in your hand and gear changes are smooth and satisfying. A/C and heating controls are positioned so that the shifter doesn’t impede access to them, handy for changing the radio station on the go. Interior noise is quite loud in the Miata but it’s forgivable since it’s a convertible with very little sound deadening. Overall, the Miata’s interior is simplistic yet satisfying, a great representation of 90s Japanese car design.

The Fox, on the other hand, is disappointing. The interior was definitely an afterthought when designing the car. Although, Ford knew their customers well, and I was able to completely forget about all my gripes as soon as I press the skinny pedal to the floor. At almost all other times, however, the interior leaves a lot to be desired. For example, the cargo pouch on the door is positioned so the bottom inch or so off the pouch hits the door sill when closing the door. I learned this when I had to pull my Nirvana CD out in 3 different pieces. Likewise, the radio and HVAC are poorly designed. The shifter prevents access to the controls, especially CD ejection, when in 1st, 3rd, and 5th gear. Following the theme of inadequacy, the Mustang also features very little sound deadening; that’s acceptable, however, because what you hear from inside the Mustang is unmistakably American muscle. The roar of the engine translates perfectly to the cabin, reminding you of the honking V8 under the hood. The Mustang’s interior does the job but it’s nothing to rave about. If it weren’t for the amazing engine that came in the Mustang, it might be harder to forgive Ford for their interior design transgressions.

After sitting in the Fox body for just a few seconds, it’s clear the car was meant to do one thing. Go straight. The seats, while comfortable, offer no bolstering or support. They don’t even have headrests! I guess if you live your life a quarter mile at a time, headrests are just unnecessary weight. But during normal driving, the headrests are dearly missed. The steering, likewise, is really only good while going straight and ripping through gears. There’s not much feedback when turning and the turning radius is awful, making U-turns decidedly un-fun. The steering wheel is typical early 90s, with a big air bag in the middle and not much else.

Contrary to the Mustang, the Miata’s seating position and seat material are wonderful. The cloth seat breathes easily and offers plenty of bolstering for spirited driving. You really sit in the seat of a Miata rather than on top of it, like in the Mustang.  The manual steering rack is quick and accurate, much more precise than the Fox’s over-powered, loose steering. Every flick of the wheel translates perfectly to the front wheels, making for a very enjoyable drive. The steering wheel itself, while it features the same ugly airbag as the Fox, is comfortable and feels good in your hands.

Reliability

Fox bodies are neither as reliable as a Miata nor as easy to work on. Changing the spark plugs on the V8 without disturbing the 300 some bald eagles nesting in the engine bay is a tall order. In the 3 months I’ve had the car, it’s only been running for about a week and a half. The list of failed components include the distributor, fuel pump, and alternator. All of which failed within a few days of each other and it was sooooo fun  to replace them. The Miata was inherently easier to work on due to the simplicity and size of the tiny inline 4 engine. The Miata also never caught fire, so it has that going for it.

The Fox in her natural habitat

Gas Mileage

The Miata’s 1.6 liter engine would easily net 300 miles to the 12 gallon tank before the low fuel gauge illuminated. With the Fox, I am visiting the gas station about every 70 miles or so in order to keep the tank above half full. In all fairness, the fuel gauge isn’t entirely accurate so I tend to keep the gauge reading over half to prevent another fun experience of running out. Given that the Mustang has a 15.4 gallon tank, this translates to right around 9 MPG. This particular engine also has high-compression bald eagles which refuse less than 93 octane fuel, making my trips to the station a little more expensive. But that bill is forgotten upon firing the 5.0 back up.

Power

The Miata’s 1.6L engine made something like 3 lb ft of torque. Okay, 100, but close enough. The Fox, on the other hand triples that. This torque gives the Fox plenty of passing power and while not accelerating blisteringly fast, it certainly feels like it. That’s torque for you, and it can bite you in the ass quick if you’re not on top of your game. I forgot my tires were wet after a car wash and adding slight throttle around a corner nearly sent me to a meeting with the great Dale Earnhardt up in NASCAR heaven. The Miata requires conscious effort to lose traction where as the Mustang could break loose with a surprise hiccup.

Good thing I work at a tire shop.

The relatively large push rod V8 also sounds miles better than the Miata. It brings a smile to my face when I fire it up at 5 AM. No doubt everyone else within a 2 mile radius shares that sentiment. The Flowmaster 40 mufflers on the Fox give it a classic rumble and it really screams when you put your right foot down. That’s not to say the Miata didn’t sound nice but come on, there is rarely a comparison to buzzy 4 cylinders.

Mashing the pedal in the Fox in 1st gear vaporizes the tires in all of America’s glory.

When you manage to catch traction in 2nd gear you’ll feel yourself rise in the seat as the chassis flexes, twisting from the torque. The engine pulls strong through the mid-range and doesn’t begin to slow until the needle passes the tachometer’s indicated 5,000 RPM. Volcanic levels of vibration are sent through the seat and through the steering wheel. The Flowmaster’s deep menacing howl resonates the cabin and if the windows are cracked you’re transported into an angry twister. This is an engine that you grab by the scruff of the neck and drive purely on feel. No need to look down at the tach. For the inexperienced, the rev limiter at 6,200 RPM comes all too soon.

I enjoyed driving my Miata however the Fox makes me smile every time I get in it. The instant throttle response and legendary V8 soundtrack makes it impossible not to love. One older lady at church even called it a “nice hot rod”, which might be the best compliment it’s ever received.

She sure cleans up nice!

Conclusion

Overall, the Fox is quite a bit more fun to drive than a Miata. The big V8, instant torque, and classic styling make up for the horrible gas mileage and cornering. I do miss my little Japanese roadster but there’s just something inherently awesome about being able to do 4th gear burnouts. You know you’ve found the right car when you find yourself thinking of excuses just to go for a drive. I’ve gone out to get gas with a full tank knowing it will burn about 1/8th on the drive over.