Balance or Brawn?

If you have followed my blog for awhile you know that my passions are cars and photography among other things.

Last week I took a cruise to discover more of the Lincoln Highway in my 2019 Mazda Miata RF. On Saturday, February 29, I took my 2016 Dodge Charger Hellcat out for its first cruise of the year. This prompted me to make a new post, a comparison of the two cars – Dodge Charger Hellcat versus Mazda Miata.

Now this is a comparison that you’ll never see in the major car magazines. Some will say this is a ridiculous comparison as the two cars have almost nothing in common. I will counter that argument with this proposition.

Are the two cars not both designed to do the same thing — to provide driving pleasure and entertainment? Let’s face it, neither is the most practical grocery getter. And hey, it’s my blog; I can do what I want.

My 2016 Dodge Charger Hellcat.

Let’s set some things straight right now. I am in no way saying these cars are similar. They are almost polar opposites. The Charger is big and heavy; it’s 200 inches long and weighs around 4500 pounds. That’s some serious mass. But, it has luxury leather seating for 5 and a huge trunk. The seats are both heated and cooled! The Miata on the other hand is about 154 inches and weighs about 2453 pounds. That weight is almost perfectly balanced front to back. With a driver, the Miata’s weight is 51% front to 49% rear. The Charger is 57% front to 43% rear.

The Charger has a 6.2 liter supercharged V8 producing over 707 horsepower and 650 pound feet of torque, according to Chrysler Corporation. A friend’s stock Hellcat dyno tested at 770 hp – net at the crank! So, yes it is an absolute beast. Let’s put this mechanical monster into perspective. It takes over 80 horsepower just to drive the supercharger; that’s about the same power as a Toyota Prius! The car has so much power that it is nearly impossible to floor the throttle for more than a few seconds on the street. 0 to 60 mph comes in 3.4 seconds. At full throttle the Hellcat’s 19 gallon fuel tank empties in 7 minutes. At full throttle that supercharger empties a 10 foot by 10 foot by 10 foot room (1000 cubic feet) of air every minute! The stock fuel lines are 1/2 inch in diameter.

The Charger is all about brutality – absurdly fast and obnoxiously loud when the engine is revved. Driving it is addictive. The power makes you feel alive; you can literally feel the power in your chest at a cold start. My Colorado friend put it best, “The Miata is fun; that Hellcat will kill you.” Well, that sheer unbridled power is fun too, really fun! Heck, I smile every time I start the thing. Accelerate onto the roadway with a little bit of a heavy foot, and even with the traction control fully engaged, you are getting a little sideways before the limited slip differential kicks in and she straightens out.

My 2019 Mazda Miata RF Grand Touring

Now, the Miata has a 2.0 liter twin-cam fuel injected straight 4 putting out 181 hp and 151 pound feet of torque. It’s still quick, hitting 60 mph after only 5.7 seconds. The front/rear weight distribution, lighter weight and shorter wheelbase make the Miata a dream to corner. It almost turns by just thinking about turning. The Miata RF Grand Touring is a really nicely equipped car, with navigation, heated leather seats, a leather dash, leather door inserts, and a Bose sound system. Mine has the GTS option pack which includes Bilstein gas shocks, a stiffer sport suspension and a front strut brace system to stiffen the chassis under hard turns. The “RF” refers to Mazda’s “retractable fastback” which is simply a hardtop convertible. Push a button on the dash and the roof retracts into a special compartment behind the seats.

On Utah State road 92 near Sundance Resort

Instrumentation and technology wise the Charger has the Miata beat hands down. The Charger Hellcat features 3 drive modes plus a customization mode. You can change the shifting, suspension and traction control settings all independently. In full track mode, the Hellcat is totally it’s namesake — an absolute thundering beast. It’s 8 speed, triple clutch ZF transmission shifts are violent, putting you back in the seat at each shift. Acceleration is actually frightening. The ride is harsh; best on a racetrack. You can monitor almost every engine parameter from oil temperature and pressure to air intake temp to intercooler temperature. At a glance you can see the current horsepower, torque and supercharger boost. But in street mode, the Charger is a nice luxury sedan – until you mash the pedal.

At the Stagecoach Inn Pony Express station in Fairfield, Utah

So, what is so cool about this little Miata? It is simply a blast to drive. It is super nimble, and it loves to corner. The Miata fits on just about every little road, and canyons just become this happy turn-carving adventure. It is pure balance and motoring simplicity. No modes to tweak; just get in, start it and go! You are seated maybe 12 inches off the road, and with the car’s smaller, lighter engine, you are literally the center of mass in a Miata. So, it just turns at the slightest touch. The steering response is immediate, and it gives you a great “feel” of the road. The Charger’s heavy weight and front to rear weight distribution means its power steering assist is much more “in the way”. Oh, it’s still super precise and tight, you just don’t get as much real “road feel”.

The Miata body is not as low to the ground as the Charger’s, so it makes bumps and potholes a little less worrisome. It can go in and out of just about any driveway or parking structure without scraping the front end. The Charger is always an exercise in caution. A railroad crossing means hard braking to slow to a crawl if its rough. The Miata gets great gas mileage, even under spirited driving conditions. Last week’s Lincoln Highway cruise produced an average miles per gallon of 38.6! She just doesn’t cost much to operate. The Charger Hellcat got 22 miles per gallon on Saturday with spirited driving. Not bad at all for 700+ horsepower, but not nearly as nice as 38.6.

Complaints

The Charger has too much power for its tires; you simply just cannot use all of that horsepower and torque on the street. On the dragstrip with drag radials, it still doesn’t hook up immediately. The last edition Dodge Viper put out about 640 horsepower and came with 345mm width rear tires. The Hellcat needs at least that much to really put all that power to the road. So, I am left with a feeling of “why have the 700+ horses if you can’t use them all?” The large size and weight make it more of an effort to corner; the Charger just isn’t nimble. Oh, it corners pretty flat, but you just have to work at it, while the Miata just turns easy, always. Physics is physics. More mass means more effort to change direction.

Now the Miata can use every last horse. Yes, you can spin the tires, and yes, it will come out of line for you. But, it’s not frightening. The Miata could use better seats though. I have a bad back (had disk surgery in late 2007), so I use a homemade lumbar pad to help with the proper lower back support. The little Miata has a tiny trunk with only room for a couple of medium sized duffles. It could use more power. While the Charger will accelerate from 60 mph to 100 mph in a couple of seconds, the Miata needs more coaxing from those 181 horses. Downshift to 4th, and it pulls pretty good, but she is just no match for that supercharged Hemi in the Charger.

The Verdict

The Miata has really given me an appreciation of a true sports car and why they are different from the muscle car. The car just handles beautifully, almost like an extension of your thoughts. But I miss the explosiveness of the Hellcat, and the nicer seats and ride.

If I have to give one the win, well it’s going to be … the Miata. What, why? I am a muscle car guy.

The Miata at Fisher Pass on UT Highway 199

Well, I was. The Miata simply grew on me. The grace and balance are just wonderful on just about any road. It is also a plus that the car doesn’t overpower itself so easily. With the Miata, you can power out of a corner without finding yourself sideways or upside-down.

The Charger Hellcat is more pure adrenaline. This isn’t bad. No, not at all. But if I must pick the “winner”, it is the Miata by a car length. Balance does beat Brawn.

The Final Answer

Is there a solution here to my comparison, a “perfect performance car”?

Perhaps. Take the Miata’s balance, grace, and finesse, and add a couple of hundred horses. Add in some better seats with good lumbar support (a must for me), but keep the thing light, relatively small, and most of all balanced with a low, centered, center of nass. Make sure the tires can handle the power and torque. What would that give us?

Hmm… I think that’s called a Porsche, or maybe a Ferrari. Stay tuned…

Thanks for stopping by my blog, and feel to drop me a note letting me know what you think.

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