Personal: Mazda MX-5/Miata–My Indulgence

Personal: Mazda MX-5/Miata–My Indulgence

A Long-term Relationship

Ed. Note: Clean Fleet Report, like Steve, focuses on green machines, but we don’t assume that any technology (like battery or fuel cell electrics, is the solution. We like to assume consumers make rational choices and those choices lead to them buying a variety of different vehicles, including two-passenger sports cars like the Miata/MX-5. We view the Miata as one of the more fuel efficient vehicles in this class. 

It’s great for your health to eat lean chicken and sautéed vegetables every day. But sometimes you want a big, juicy hamburger. The MX-5 Miata is an automotive treat that I’ve loved for 26 years.

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been focusing my automotive attention on cars that are easier on the environment—hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and particularly, all-electric vehicles. I even ordered my own Chevrolet Bolt EV, which has been my personal car for more than 14 months. I believe that electric transportation is the future, and I’m eager to be part of it and promote its adoption.

Sometimes, a car has a special place in your heart, and even if it’s powered by petroleum, you have to get some time behind the wheel. The Mazda MX-5 Miata is mine. I’ve driven fourteen of them since I started testing cars as a journalist back in 1992. They are shown in chronological order in this post.

My first Miata test car came, like the others, through the automotive press fleet. This was a revelation, because although the car had been out since 1990, I hadn’t had any contact with one. The moment I sat in it and then took it out on the road, I remembered the wonderful British sports cars of my childhood. I was riding in my father’s Austin-Healey again, on a warm summer evening with the sun still out, going to get some ice cream. Sigh.

When that first Miata arrived in my driveway, I had already started my habit of photographing myself with each of my test cars. My first test convertible, this is also the first car photo that showed me in the driver’s seat—the best spot to be in.

1992There’s nothing quite like driving an open car, and in the Miata, all you do is drop the top and go. Ever since day one, you can unlatch the top and just flip it behind you. Although later models have introduced power tops and a couple styles of folding hard tops, you’ve always had the open-air option.

It’s amazing how many things there are to smell as you drive—most of them interesting or pleasant. Yes, there are diesel buses, livestock and trash fires, but I also remember food from restaurants, freshly baked bread and newly-mown grass. You also get to sample every possible kind of music blaring out of fellow drivers’ windows—or they may be driving topless, too.

1997Mazda’s little million-selling sports car provides direct connection to the road, with steering, close-ratio manual shifting and responsive braking. I’ve tested models with the manual six-speed and the automatic and vastly prefer the former. With its short little lever and feeling of being connected to actual gears, you can’t beat it. In my most recent week-long test car, I was stuck in a two-hour-and-10-minute traffic jam on the way home from work, and even in those conditions I’d rather sample the silky manual six than an automatic.

1998It takes some dexterity to get yourself into the low driver’s bucket set, and some strength and care to extricate yourself. I can still maneuver OK, but at nearly 65, I take it easy. My wife has no love for these roadsters, but that’s my fault. When I had test Miata number one, I insisted she climb into and out of it late in her pregnancy with our son. She’s never forgotten it, and she was equally unimpressed with the 2018 model.

2001Miatas have their fans—lots of them. There are race series for them, and I have spoken with many owners over the years. In fact, while testing this new model, I ran across a colleague with a green-and-white ’91 that was still rolling along. Another colleague, who owns a nicely-preserved ’94 in the limited-edition Laguna Blue, asked for a ride, and I was only too glad to oblige. He was impressed by the new car’s acceleration from the little 155-horsepower 2.0-liter engine (with 148 lb.-ft. of torque). With the manual six, the soft-top Miata weighs in at just 2,332 pounds, so that’s enough to generate excitement, if not speed records.

2002Riding low takes a little getting used to. Once you’re inside, there feels like enough room, but when you look out either side window, it’s likely directly at someone’s wheel. When you look out the windshield, you’ll see rakishly canted fenders, in the latest Kodo Design theme. The hood cut lines are cleverly hidden beyond the curve, so you don’t notice them from the cabin. The hood gently rises at its center over the engine compartment.

The original Miata featured a simple, plain interior, with the right proportions but no attempt at luxury touches. Its black plastic was well crafted, but not fancy. There were silver rings around the gauges, though, a tip of the hat to the cars of yore. There was a tachometer in the middle of the instrument panel, where it resides to this day. Cloth seats were standard.

2010The car has grown more and more elegantly designed over the years, with sculpted door panels and the neatly trimmed interior fittings. Beautiful metallic accents on the steering wheel, transmission surround, air vents, and door handles lend an upscale air. The Kodo Design theme blends a flow of soft curves and edges across the doors and dash. The center console not only gives your arm a resting place, but sits above the driveshaft that conveys the engine’s power to the rear wheels—just like in those old-fashioned MGs, Triumphs, and Austin-Healeys.

2011My 2018 test car, a mid-level Club model, had some significant extras. The Machine Gray paint, a serious shade, added $300 to the tab. I personally would prefer red or blue. The car has come in a variety of colors over the years. One especially nice setup one combined British Racing green paint with a tan leather interior.

My tester flaunted a dark red cloth top—a no-cost option. The big upgrade was the Brembo BBS Recaro package at $4,470. It transformed the car inside and out, with gripping Brembo disc brakes, black BBS custom wheels, and gorgeous and supportive Recaro racing seats in a soft alcantara suede. These buckets are heated and feature speakers in the headrest, which aids hearing while on the road with the roof lowered. I took a phone call using Bluetooth and was a little surprised to hear my caller’s voice behind me, but it was certainly easy to understand him.

2016The little roadster is economical, with EPA numbers of 26 mpg city/33 highway/29 combined. I averaged 31.4 mpg in a week that had much too much commuting and too little back road running. The EPA Green numbers are a disappointing 3 for Smog but a solid 6 for Greenhouse Gas.

You’d think a little car with a cloth top would be a drag in the rain, but I felt cozy and safe, and the raindrops on the insulated top created a great atmosphere. Unlike its European forebears, the MX-5, assembled in Hiroshima, Japan since its birth, doesn’t leak. 

2018 softIn an era of basic cars starting close to $20,000 and mid-level Toyota Camrys approaching $30,000, the Miata’s price doesn’t seem out of line. My Club-level test car started at $29,155, but with extras and delivery, hit $35,240. A 2018 MX-5 Sport with no extras will set you back just $26,185. The original car debuted at $15,000, but had a lot fewer features–and that was 28 years ago! Interestingly, demand was so high at first that early adopters were paying $5,000 or more above sticker to get the cars.

2018 RFConsumer Reports has given the Miata high praise over the years and ranked the 2017 model at 79–a fine score. Owners have reported better than average reliability. With the amount of affection the little car generates, they care for their babies. You’ll see plenty of all four generations on the road. The car magazines love it.

At the Western Automotive Journalists Media Days (photo above), I had the chance to drive my 14th MX-5 Miata. It was an 2018 RF, with the folding hardtop. In my brief drive, I never dropped that top, but I enjoyed the same feeling of intimate control as I looped down from the starting point–Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca–and took the car up the Laureles Grade. Hard or soft top, top up or down, it’s a joy to row through the manual six-speed’s ratios. And this car flaunted the new Soul Red Crystal paint, which shows up on the inner door panels, too. Lovely.

So, while I happily focus my testing on cars with batteries and plugs and motor along in my smooth, silent, clean Chevrolet Bolt the rest of the time, the MX-5 Miata holds a special place in my heart. It has remained great—and even improved over the years, becoming (by far) the most popular sports car ever.

Related Mazda Stories:

Road Test: 2018 Mazda MX-5 RF

Road Test: 2016 Mazda  MX-5 Miata 

 

 

Road Test: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

Road Test: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

The Most Topless Fun for the Money

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Find me a fun road!

There come times in a life when doing something you always wanted to do, but have not done for one reason or another, actually becomes a reality. For many auto enthusiasts it is owning a convertible, preferably a sports car—maybe even in red. It’s: Ah, the wind in your hair and the feeling of being one with the road, something you have not recently experienced after buying an endless string of SUVs or midsize sedans. If you are ready to take the plunge into the next dimension of the driving experience, then the all-new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata offers the most topless fun for the money.

Driving Experience: On the Road

The rear-wheel drive 2016 Mazda MX-5 is powered by a smooth and responsive 2.0-liter, four-cylinder DOHC, 16-valve engine producing 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. Clean Fleet Report’s MX-5 had the stock six-speed manual transmission; there is an optional automatic with paddle shifters. The EPA rates the MX-5 mpg at 27 city/34 highway/30 combined. In 1,082 miles driving throughout California, including the spectacular Highway 1 from San Luis Obispo to Santa Cruz, we averaged 32.7 mpg. Considering the spirited driving and being on the lookout for crisp corners wherever possible, exceeding the EPA numbers was not expected, but was a pleasant surprise.

Engine design and fuel economy were the first two elements of Mazda’s Skyactiv technology, introduced at the 2008 Tokyo Auto Show. Added to these now include transmission and vehicle design as well as weight reduction. Don’t try to get your head around the marketing name Skyactiv, because you will go nuts doing so. Just look at it as Mazda’s philosophy of designing all the individual elements of its vehicles to maximize power, fuel economy and owner safety or, as they say, “providing the driver with a more connected, enjoyable experience.”

The important differences of our all-new 2016 MX-5, compared to the 2015 model, is a weight reduction of 150 lbs., a reduction of 12 hp and an increase of 8 lb-ft of torque. The horsepower

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Less power, more fun?

reduction gave hundreds-of-thousands-of MX-5 enthusiasts whiplash as they were all hoping for a 200+ hp turbocharged screamer. Mazda’s obvious intention of less horsepower, more torque and less weight was meant to hit all the notes and balance the scale of power, torque and fuel economy.

Out on the road the MX-5 will make driving enthusiasts smile. Ours, with the manual transmission, weighed in at a lean 2,332 lbs. With a 53/47 percent front-to-rear weight distribution, the MX-5 was sporty, confident and nimble. The six-speed manual transmission and rear-wheel drive is my favorite of all the manuals I have tested. The throws are short, the clutch is absolutely seamless in its operation. The feel, pushing the engine high in the rev band, even to redline and including quick up and down shifts, was a joy and made the MX-5 driving experience one that I recommend everyone try at least once. The old saying that it is more fun to go fast in a slow car than slow in a fast car sums up the MX-5 perfectly. The purists wanted something more powerful, but adding more horsepower and torque would not have improved the fun and thrill factor of this well thought-out drivetrain combination.

The center of gravity was lowered for 2016 by the engine being dropped and sitting further back, resulting in quicker handling response. The suspension pieces include a double wishbone front, multi-link rear, electric power-assisted rack & pinion steering and stabilizer bars at both ends. Clean Fleet Report’s Grand Touring model had Bilstein monotube shock absorbers and Bridgestone P205/45 R17 high performance summer tires on 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels. The tires, even after repeated fast cornering on a warm day, did not reduce their grip. Add in the torque-sensing limited-slip differential, dynamic stability and traction controls, and the 2016 MX-5 Grand Touring dares you to find an open stretch of long drawn-out sweepers or tight corners to fling it from side-to-side.

Stopping, which is as important as horsepower and torque when pounding the twisties, was by front vented and rear solid discs and a four-wheel anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake distribution. It was a blast finding the balance point between dropping down a gear to raise the revs combined with setting the brakes made for exhilarating cornering. It was fun experimenting with trailing braking to see how weight transfer affects the MX-5’s handling. Trailing braking is a technique that takes confidence in the car’s abilities—and in the case of the MX-5—I was able with trial and not-so-much error to find the sweet spot where controlled weight transfer was noticeable and easily achievable.

Driving Experience: Exterior

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Motion with a soul

Following their “Kodo—Soul of Motion” design language, Mazda has redesigned the MX-5 with what they say “captures the very instant energy becomes motion.” Mazda says Kodo is defined by a long hood, short overhangs, a cropped cabin pushed far back on the body and large wheels pushed as far as feasible towards all four corners. Looking at the 2016 MX-5, it’s clear not only that Mazda was true to their design concept, but they exceeded it nicely.

With the redesign there’s no mistaking it for its predecessor, which was rounder and softer. The all-new 2016 Mazda MX-5 is bolder with a modern design that looks like it is gripping the road even when sitting still. Standing only 4.9-inches off the ground, you instantly get a go-kart feel of seeing the road and world from a far different perspective. The clean front end starts with LED headlights, which allowed the designers to take up as little real estate as possible. The grille does not suffer from being overly large and small mouth bass-like. A low and sloping hood comes off the nose and leads to a laid-back A-pillar. The sides are smooth, ending at the short trunk deck with a shark antenna, dual exhaust with bright tips and round taillights slightly reminiscent of a Ferrari F12 Berlinetta Spyder. Badging is kept to the absolute minimum on what is a great looking sports car that drew attention wherever we went.

Driving Experience: Interior

Mazda says the 2016 MX-5 interior was designed around the driver with driver-centric ergonomics that will allow for “an even greater number of drivers to be able to experience the MX-5.”

It is no easy task designing a small interior. The space that allows for elbow, head and legroom, storage space, infotainment systems and multiple cup holders becomes a challenge in a droptop two-seater. I am 5’9” and fit easily in the MX-5, but so did friends that were six-foot tall. One of the issues with past generation MX-5s was that, if a driver had a long torso, his/her head would extend above the windshield. With my taller associates this was not an issue in the new model, which might come from the seat being lowered a bit from the past generation.

The leather-trimmed driver’s seat is a long way down, so sliding into it isn’t as simple as launching into a SUV or truck. There is some travel in the seat adjustment and it reclines a bit, but once

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Everything in its place–just not always where you can use it

you find the closest position to being comfortable you can stop messing with the manual adjustments. I would have liked more bottom cushion padding (and there was no lumbar adjustment). These are not so important if you are driving your MX-5 short distances, but in my week in the car I drove not only on country roads, but 70+ mph for a seven-hour stretch, from NorCal to SoCal on Interstate 5. If you will be driving long distances on open freeways, then investing in aftermarket seat cushions is recommended.

The dash layout is simple and clean. Three round gauges were deep set under a hood to help reduce glare because, as you soon find out with the top down, everything is pretty bright. Mazda’s subtle reminder that performance is key in a MX-5 was the tachometer being center and largest of the three gauges. The HVAC round knobs were center-placed just above the gearshift lever, making for easy use.

So far so good until we get to the infotainment center, which is a freestanding seven-inch color touch-screen display erupting from the dashboard. Without volume and channel knobs on the dash, we found it cumbersome to make band and channel changes. It required multiple steps to control a single function. The need to use the center console-mounted selector knob diverts the driver’s eyes from the road. There are controls mounted on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, but they were limited in their functionality. Maybe in time it could become an easy operation that can be all done by touch, but after a week and more than a thousand miles, we did not get the hang of the system.

But, this is not to take away from the excellent nine-speaker (including one in each of the seat headrests) Bose sound system. The Bose delivers deep bass and crisp treble for the AM/FM/CD/MP3/AUX HD radio, two USB inputs, SiriusXM (four-month subscription), Aha, Pandora and Stitcher Internet radio integration. The Mazda Connect system includes navigation. About the CD player: in the very near future auto manufacturers will no longer include a CD player or even offer one as an option. In effect Mazda has gotten to this point by locating the CD slot behind the driver and passenger seats. The access is so awkward that I would be surprised if anyone ever uses it.

To finish up with odd placements of curious design—obviously borne by limited space—were the cup holders that were found in a cubby and needed to be inserted into slots –  one on the right side of the transmission tunnel for the passenger, and two back where the CD slot is located. The passenger cup holder worked okay even though it took away some leg room, but I didn’t even attempt to use the cup holder placed behind the driver seat. My solution was to set a drink cup on the floor and lay it against the seat and door panel. Easy access and it never got in the way.

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Room enough for the getaway necessities

Mazda has obviously worked hard keeping wind and noise from inside the cabin. With the cloth top lowered—which is a very simple one-person, three-latch process—and the windows up, there is little to no wind hitting or swirling around the driver and passenger. While driving 70 mph on the freeway I received an incoming call, which I took using the Bluetooth hands-free feature accessed by the steering wheel mounted controls. Taking a call at this speed with an open top was an experiment, as I was positive the caller would hear nothing but a roar and not my voice. To my surprise not only was the call crystal clear with no wind noise, but the caller said it was as good quality of a call they could remember being on. Also of note is that the caller’s voice was sent through the speakers in the seat headrests, which kept me from thinking I had to shout. So, three cheers to Mazda’s sound engineers for a great job on reducing interior noise levels.

Convenience comes your way with cruise control, remote keyless door locks, power windows with one-touch down, power door locks, rain-sensing windshield wipers, power and heated side mirrors with the driver side auto-dimming, push button ignition, automatic A/C, heated front seats, Homelink rearview mirror, carpeted floor mats, and small but appreciated storage areas.

One last thing is the trunk, which intuitively would seem to be diminutive and a second thought. This is far from the case as my wife and I on our California coastal adventure were able to pack everything we needed comfortably. Obviously you will not be bringing golf clubs, visiting wineries and lugging home cases of California wine, nor will you be doing any antiquing. But, if we are getting real here, why would you be buying a MX-5 if you wanted to do any of those things in the first place? Managing expectations is the key when driving a two-place roadster.

Safety

The 2016 Mazda MX-5 comes with an extensive list of standard and optional safety features including four airbags, four-wheel power disc ABS braking system, dynamic stability control, traction control, tire pressure monitoring system, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert and an anti-theft alarm and engine immobilizer.

The 2016 MX-5 has not been rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

Pricing and Warranties

Clean Fleet Report’s 2016 MX-5 Miata Grand Touring, with optional equipment, had a MSRP of $31,270 excluding the $825 delivery, processing and handling fee. Base MSRP for the three 2016 MX-5 models, excluding the $825 fee, is:

Sport: Manual Transmission                           $24,915

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A variety of options–all good

Sport: Automatic Transmission                      $25,990

Club: Manual Transmission                            $28,600

Club Touring: Automatic Transmission        $29,675

Grand Touring: Manual Transmission          $30,065

Grand Touring: Automatic Transmission     $31,140

The 2016 MX-5 comes with these warranties:

  • Basic – Three-year/36,000-mile
  • Powertrain – Five-year/60,000-mile
  • Roadside Assistance – Three-year/36,000-mile
  • Perforation – Five-year/Unlimited miles

Observations: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

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Skyactiv may not ring a bell, but Miata hits the mark

Why buy a roadster? The simple answer is: Why not? But that doesn’t begin to address why you probably won’t. The case for the 2016 Mazda MX-5 is simple: make the commitment to owning a car with limited passenger and storage capacity and then Go Do It! Hmm, that was simple.

In all seriousness (which is rarely the condition when driving a MX-5), if you are ready to begin enjoying driving, a lightweight convertible sports car will transport you back to your youth and convince you that all those sensible car purchases through your life were not wrong decisions, but merely driven by necessity. The pure driving joy of the 2016 Mazda MX-5 is only enhanced by the knowledge that it is by far the lowest priced two-seat rear-wheel drive convertible on the market, therefore offering the most topless fun for the money.

Mazda celebrated a milestone for the MX-5 Miata by producing the one millionth car on April 22, 2016. Built in their Hiroshima, Japan factory, the MX-5 Miata has been the heart and soul for the company since it debuted 27 years ago. It was the inspiration for their Zoom-Zoom marketing slogan that so perfectly describes the car and the company’s philosophy.

There are MX-5 owner forums you can go to, clubs you can join, or race tracks or autocross courses in your area you can enjoy (The MX-5 is the most campaigned car in the world.). Or simply go into your local dealer and ask for the most experienced and knowledgeable MX-5 staff member. Most dealers will have a MX-5 enthusiast on staff, whether it be in parts, service or sales that will be eager to answer all your questions about owning one of these wonderful cars.

Whatever you buy, Happy Driving!

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle, which does not address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology, during which we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements. Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class or are among the top mpg vehicles on the market. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.