The Mercury Capri XR2 or a Mazda Miata MX-5
Some might say it is like comparing apples to oranges when doing so with a Mercury Capri or Miata. But from a design POV, one can clearly see how each is better than the other. Take the Capri, made from 1991-94, some 66,000 were made in Australia under Ford, which did own a large stake of Mazda then. During these years, Mazda Miata was introduced as was the Mercury Capri, both having the same engine, a 1.6 liter engine. The XR2 model did have a turbo. I guess, one question is why would Ford even create a sport car to compete with Miata if Ford partially owned Mazda then?
Well, clearly both cars were targeting different markets. The Capri is not a true sport car. It does have the look and the XR2 does have some decent performance for a front wheel drive car. You sit higher in it than the Miata, it is narrower, also. The Miata is a rear wheel drive car and you sit much lower. It is a true sport car meaning its utility is almost nil. The trunk is large but shallow, one large suitcase is about it. The only other place to carry anything is the passenger seat, if no one is there. The Miata has a long hood and there is a more solid feeling than in a Capri. The engine is louder in the Miata, as well. In later models, the Miata sports a 1,8 liter, which roars. The specs for performance are like apples and oranges between the cars, with the Miata always much faster and better handling. When comparing the specs of each car, dimensions are usually with two inches of one another. So, the Miata is only two inches wider. Performance wise, the Capri generates 132 hp @ 6000 rpm, while the Miata, 116 hp. So why is the Miata still made and preferred? It has to do with the Capri turbo lags in 1st and 2nd gear, then zooms in 3rd. The non-turbo Miata is much faster in the low gears and its steering is not impacted by front wheel drive that the Capri has. The Capri is also heavier. The Capri creates 135 ft. pounds of torque @ 3000 rpm, while the Miata 100 ft. pounds.
As far as true utility, the Capri is far superior. One can carry three people because of the rear seat, yes, it might be cramped, but it can be done. While the Capri trunk is smaller, it is deeper and when the rear seat is down, there actually is more space to carry many things than a Miata could ever hoped to. The XR2 model can give the Miata a challenge for when the turbo kicks in, one does feel the boost in acceleration. Several enthusiasts magazines have clocked the Capri XR2 at just over 8 seconds in 0 to 60 mph tests. This is faster than the Mazda Miata.
So, Ford designed a sport car with some utility in it. While it is not the fastest, one can only go so fast around town and on highways. The Capri styling is one that you like or not. The Miata seems to much more liked than not even from 1991 to present. The Miata hugs the corners and road because it is lower and wider, the Capri is simply lesser in that regard. Gas mileage is about the same, both have a 5-speed tranny. The interior styling is better in the Miata for sure, but the 94 XR2 was similar to a Miata.
The Capri is blessed with a large amount of oversteer. That is, with most of the weight up front, the front tires have more traction than the rear tires. This causes steering problems at high speeds on turns. As to why Miata survived and Capri did not, it all comes down to utility in a car, a sporty car, or simply wanting a faster, better handling one where there is little utility in it. If only had the Miata followed the Capri utility design, a rear seat or if not a rear seat, at least a cargo area behind the sears in exchange for a smaller trunk. Then, the Mazda Miata would have the great handling and performance coupled with some utility besides just being able to carry two people.
Most call the Capri a sporty car, not a true sports car. Reviews are basically good except for the poor low gear speeds from a standstill. On the other hand, the Miata has been called a real sports car and is quicker off the mark. Yet, the conundrum is-the Capri is actually faster and has much more utility than just a two seater. I suspect the failure of Capri was due to body style, some have called it a "boat" and the fact it has utility also.
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