You know the saying “don’t knock something until you’ve tried it”? We’ve all heard, and read it, numerous times in our lives. Everyone has different ideas of what is great, or what elements make something great. For years I have heard praise for something I’ve largely ignored, the Mazda MX-5 Miata.
I was always into cars, but there was a time in my life when a good friend really helped bring out the enthusiast in me. It was only then that I started to really appreciate the little details. I was young and started collecting die-cast cars, got into racing, building models, and even started designing my own imaginary automotive brand. It pushed me to take automotive mechanical and body classes in high school. I’m now 34 and have been working at the same dealership, with some of the same people, for the past 15 years. Come and gone from my driveway are quite a few vehicles, leaving me memories, club memberships, and even memorabilia. The person who got me into all this mess I speak of recently passed away, but their favorite car was…the Miata.
What is it about this car that everyone finds so good? My impression of them when I was younger was not favorable. I would always look at the specs and numbers; the Miata just never really stood out as something that could be that interesting. A sports car was something with over 200hp (bear in mind, I’m working with 90’s numbers), a torquey engine, and some crazy styling feature that set it apart from everything else. The car had none of those and even lost what I considered it’s best feature, the pop-up headlights, during a refresh. It was just a “blah” car with a convertible top, ho-hum. Backing this up was the fact that my friend who really liked them was a carpet salesman. Outside of that, as many did, I envisioned it as a car for hair-dressers. I found it peculiar and occasionally annoying that people had such high regard for it.
Fast forward to Late December 2015.
I get a phone call from Josh that I was going to be given the chance to review the new Mazda MX-5 Miata. RFD was a the press launch of the new ND iteration, but I was very excited as this would be my first jaunt in a press car for review purposes. Also…I had never, ever driven a Miata before.
What Mazda provided was a 2016 Mazda MX-5 Touring. Ceramic Metallic over black leather with a black fabric top. 155hp mated to a 6-speed manual (shouldn’t have it any other way, really). The sticker price right above 33k with a full list of options.
Initial impressions were good. Now, seeing a new ND model up close in person in Winter’s daylight, I appreciated the more aggressive styling of the front, and sporty overall styling around the rest of the car. This car may have something that seemed to have been lacking from previous generations. It didn’t have the squished toad look of the previous generation. Instead, the facia reminded me of the face the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man had when the Ghostbusters used the blasters on him. The sides of the car are nice and clean. The backside of the car had a slight hint of BMW Z8 and Alfa Romeo. At night, it’s taillights resemble ears and eyes, the lit license plate, buck-teeth.
Sitting inside the car, all is well. The steering wheel a good size, pedals in a good position, and the shifter right at hand. The seats initially didn’t feel like they’d be up to the task of longer drives, but I was always comfortable. Models like our Touring that are equipped with seat heaters have 3 settings. Mild heat, hot buns, and burn to a crisp.
Being a roadster with limited room I found a few “eccentric” things. There was no glove box to be found in the usual spot. Instead, it was between the seats (with additional storage behind them, when folded forward). Cupholders are movable and could be positioned in two places. One where the passenger was supposed to place their leg, the other location, at the back of the console where you’d place your elbows. Not ideal, occasionally annoying, but not as big a deal as I might make it out to be. The bigger deal is the lump in the passenger floor that makes room underside for the catalytic converter. Passenger leg room is already somewhat limited and this makes a long drive a little more of a challenge for taller folks. Placing the cup-holder with a beverage there would be a dick-move, but might be handy if you don’t want to give someone a ride. “Sorry, I’d drive you to Wallingford, but I need this space for my McDonalds shake. Besides, I find Wallingford boring.”
Behind The Wheel
Driving the car…right, yes, here we go.
Seeing as I had never driven a Miata before, I didn’t know how to scale things. The best I could do was split hairs between my FR-S and a Lotus Elan (90’s) I had driven.
First off, to summarize. This car drives very, very, well.
I’ve worked on convertibles for 15 years and have seen the progression of chassis refinement for cars that lack a solid roof structure. The Miata is one of the best of the bunch when it comes to lack of body shimmy or flex. As a matter of fact, when I raised the car on my lift, the doors closed with the same effort that what I would expect of a true sedan or fixed roof coupe. This solid structure also played a part in the overall feel of quality, and added to cornering confidence.
The fact that this car is lighter than its predecessors played a big role; it took less power to motivate the new car to higher speeds.
Speaking of cornering, it sure can. The car actually seems to communicate where the limit is fairly well. There was a little more leaning that I anticipated, but not enough to make you think twice. Controlled rotation with traction control off isn’t difficult, but didn’t feel quite as easy as it is in my FR-S. Looking under the car, the rear strut is placed a fair amount behind the wheel centerline. The suspension itself didn’t look too complicated. This was the case of a well thought-out chassis. My only qualm with the suspension was the visual ride-height. More wheel-gap than desired, but not that big of a deal. Besides, getting into it can be awkward as it is, since the door stops hold the doors either too little, or too far, open. You will bang them in parking lots if not careful.
You might think that the power output is rather mid-90’s as well, but don’t let it fool you. While it’s not going to peel-back your face, acceleration was “quick” and power delivery even. No dead spots in the power band to really speak of. The fact that this car is lighter than its predecessors played the big role here, as it took less horsepower to motivate the new lightweight roadster to higher speeds. I dare say that as fun as a turbo would be on this car, it’s really not necessary. Forget the numbers. Honestly. It’s not a car for drag racing, but instead to eat the curves of some twisty roads or cruise a coastal highway.
One of my favorite things with the Touring trim was the Bose 9-speaker stereo. Like in earlier Miatas, this one too, had speakers in the seat’s headrests. The stereo provided great highs and lows with minimal distortion and crisp sound. The controls for the audio and navigation are mounted on the console just past the shifter. They were easy to use and I got used to using the volume knob that I initially found awkward at first. As a matter of fact, I found myself reaching for the same knob on other cars after the Miata was returned. There were two oddities with the entertainment system. The first was that there was a CD player, as well as its placement (between the seats, below the storage compartment). The other was that I could never get the dang screen to dim and brighten automatically. I always had to select day or night. I made sure the clock was right, and thought perhaps there was an issue with the solar sensor.
The convertible top on this is possibly the easiest thing in the world to operate. It’s manual, but doesn’t require you to piece together sticks and cloth like an Elise. As a matter of fact, the whole thing can be raised or lowered one-handed, so long as you’re not John McCain. In a matter of seconds, it can be up or stowed.
There is plenty of trunk space for everything a Miata owner might have. A suitcase, carpet samples, hair-dressing products (oops, there I go again). It really is quite a large trunk. Its deceptive though as the deal is you get no spare tire.. A-HA! So what you do get are 4 non-runflat tires, a plug kit, and electric inflator. This is ok for a nail in your tire in a Target parking lot, but not for a blow-out in the shadier parts of town (but what are you doing there anyways?). Mazda, perhaps you could add maybe just a couple extra pounds with the addition of a collapsible spare like the original NSX had?
Now, since I’m griping about the spare issue a little, I’d like to bring up something I have a bigger issue with. The numerous warnings for everything. I have never driven an enthusiast car that encouraged you to “have fun” only to nag you while doing so. The worst of the bunch, is the Lane Departure Warning. It makes the exact same sound as the blind spot warning chime. It also annoys you with a warning light on the cluster, even when you turn it off. When you forget to turn it off, it nags you every single time you so much as think about corning an apex of your lane on a twisty road. Blind spot warning isn’t really a bad thing, but like before, it makes the same noise as the lane departure. Both can be turned off, just like the traction control (heh). Telling all the nannies to “shut-up” though will light up your instruments with all sorts of “idiot” lights. How about a “Sport” button instead? No lane-nagging, limited traction control, while retaining blind spot warning.
Some of you might be telling me to stop whining right about now.
Truth is, I really, really, liked this car. There is just something about it. Something that makes you want to drive it in near-freezing temperatures with the top down. Something that says, “feed me twisty roads when the sun is out”. This car has the character you need in your life. It’s the good friend that encourages you to do silly things that might seem impractical to others, but just make sense to you at the time. Speaking of practicality, it can be a useful car. The trunk is big, the gas mileage excellent, and with some snow tires, it can be the car of 4 seasons. Why don’t I actually own a car like this? I don’t have kids, I’m not married, I have no reason not to, other than a car payment. If I lived in a state with palm trees, it would be considered sold. Dear Subaru and Toyota, this is why you should offer a drop top (ZN6) BRZ-FR-S. The open sky overhead while driving a fun car just makes life that much better on a nice day.
Those of you who’ve liked the Miata, especially since it’s beginning, I can finally say I GET IT. What the hell took me so long?!