What does the Mazda Miata have in common with Jimmy Buffet? They both have a cult following and believers of both say the same thing, “you have to experience it to get it”. Mazda just revealed the latest MX-5, the 2016 “ND” generation so I thought I would quickly delve into why it is always “the answer”.
It occurred to me the other day when “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” came up on my iPod that Parrotheads and Miata fans are quite similar. They both believe their artist/car is the best and when pushed to answer “why” always lean on some sort of “experience” that you must seek out in order to understand. Many years ago, after college, I had roommates who absolutely loved Jimmy B. and planned out an elaborate weekend each summer to go see him in concert. One year I finally agreed to go. It was certainly a spectacle. Tons of people, it is tailgating taken to a professional level. They towed in “boats” which were really bars full of booze and food. There were portable pools, you name it.
The parking lot was a good time. We went into the venue, this was a location with a “lawn” which is where you’re supposed to go, I still didn’t get it. He’s a great performer, but I eventually lost the group I was with and decided at some point to wander back to the car. Everything was locked up so I pulled up a lawn chair and sat there with my feet in a baby pool. I still don’t quite get it to this day.
The Miata was similar in many ways. I heard that you just need to drive one to “get it”. I used to autocross every weekend and there were various NA and NB generations that did very well. I was intrigued, I could spend under $10K for a great “fun car” and that’s exactly what I did. I found a great 1999 NB on miata.net for sale up on Rochester, NY. I reached out to the owner and told him I would be up that weekend from DC. So my buddy and I road-tripped up and I bought the car.
It was a neat little white car, Enkei wheels, Harddog roll bar, and a hardtop came with it (but it was red for some reason). I drove it back to DC and proceeded to spend quite a bit of time in it. I took it to its first autocross and it started having issues going into gear during the event. I took it to a transmission shop and it turns out the 5spd was shot and needed to be replaced. Now I don’t hold that against the little Mazda, all cars can have issues. I actually enjoyed it as a 3rd car.
Things I liked about my first Miata:
- It handles well
- It has a quick folding convertible roof
So that brings me to the important question, why is the Miata always “the answer”? Other cars handle well. Other cars come as a convertible. What the MX-5 does is bring together both of these things in one affordable package. I get that, but I also like a powerful car, which this obviously isn’t. A used BMW Z4, Honda S2000, or even a Boxster also deliver open air motoring in a great handling package. Of course they were pricier when new, but on the used market, I feel like either can be the answer. They have more power, better interiors, and offer a lightweight convertible format that is a blast to drive. Yes, you can get into maintenance and reliability discussions, but in my experience that was true of my Miata as well.
Fast forward to 2012 and I needed an second car to commute in. It had to be cheap and I wanted something new. So we picked up a 2012 MX-5. I know many readers will disagree but it’s an awful daily driver. If you are by yourself, you can put your stuff (lunch, jacket, etc) on the passenger seat. If someone is with you, you need to put it in the trunk. It’s a 2-seat car and saying it isn’t practical is sort of “no duh” but to me the answer to your car needs has to be more practical if it is going to be a daily driver.
So much like Jimmy Buffet, I experienced the Miata (twice) and I still don’t really get it. It worked fairly well as a fun car but was much worse as a daily driver. It does fill a great niche in the automotive world, and I am happy that it exists, but I can’t help question the cult following it enjoys. In the new car market, there isn’t much competition. Toyota-Subaru may or may not make a convertible ’86. Short of that, or some new option, it is pretty much the only car in its class.
So I very much appreciate the Miata, but my experiences did not make me a believer. Perhaps the 2016 will change my mind!
Header image credit: Mazda USA