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 



First Drive: 2015 BMW i8

First Drive: 2015 BMW i8

A Tantalizing Taste of the Future

Check one off the bucket list. It’s not every day you get to drive a $136,500 car. For Clean Fleet Report it’s a red-letter (or maybe that should be green-letter) day when that high-end car is a plug-in hybrid from those performance boys in Munich. As we noted when we tested the 2014 BMW i3, Bayerische Motoren Werke is keeping its eye on its history while still pushing into the future with electric cars. For BMW, on-road performance is always a ticket of entry and the 2015 BMW i8 does not disappoint.

That performance comes from surprising places—a twin turbo 1.5-liter three-cylinder gas engine drives the rear wheels while two electric motors put power to the front wheels. The diminutive

2015,BMW i8,mpg,performance,sports car

Designed to move

engine pumps out 231 horsepower and with the electric motors tops out at 357 horsepower combined, more than enough to propel the 3,274-pound car down the road from 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds. The all-wheel drive car is designed to top out at about 150 miles per hour and the exhaust note hints that it’s possible.

BMW touts the cars 50:50 weight distribution which says classic sports car, while the electric motors in front, gas engine in the rear and battery between say contemporary green car. The balance between the two worlds is palpable although for this enthusiast the sports car side takes preeminence.




Getting In Before You Go

But before you experience all that powerful efficiency, you have to get in the car. The first barrier is the scissor doors—huge aluminum, carbon fiber and thermoplastic appendages that are 50 percent lighter than conventional doors. They’re an engineering feat, but once they’re open, you’ve got to step or slide—or step and slide—over the wide sill into the form-fitting seat. Once in, you’re coddled by leather and surrounded by all manner of gadgetry. The dash is at once daunting with all of the information and technology available, but also focused on giving you the key


All the gadgets and information on display

information for driving.

The first choice for a driver is: Comfort, Eco Pro or Sport, the three modes. In addition there’s an eDrive button for all electric driving up to 75 miles per hour. Of course, at 75 mph you’re not going to get the full 23 miles of electric range. The transition where the engine kicks in is seamless.

Out front the 2015 BMW i8 continues its space-age theme with a head-up display that shows your speed, the speed limit on the road, navigation info, infotainment details and even your telephone directory. It’s all programmable by the driver.

Using maximum electric power and a light foot the i8 has a potential of 112 mpg, drawing on an 11.1-gallon gas tank and 7.1 kWh lithium-ion battery. To keep the battery topped off, BMW offers two versions of home charging—the Wallbox Pure and Wallbox Pro, the latter of which can take the battery to an 80 percent charge in two hours through its unique cable connection. That’s a half-hour quicker than a normal Level 2 (220-volt) charger. Of course, there’s also a smartphone app that will keep you posted on everything your i8 is doing. Total range of the car using electricity and gas is 273 miles.

The Beginnings of the i8

Before it was the 2015 BMW i8, this car was teased as the Vision EfficientDynamics concept that no one thought could be built in the avant-garde shape it was presented. The 2008 Project

2015,BMW i8,design,performance,styling

Who would have thought this would make it into production

featured a combination of carbon fiber and aerodynamics that looked positively futuristic, not unusual for a concept car. But BMW built it and maintained almost all of the exotic details of the concept car.

The i8’s long wheelbase, short overhangs and long, low and wide stance give it a look that is a classic sports car. The dimensions are impressive: 110-inch wheelbase and 188 inches overall, 51

BMW,Vision Concept,EfficientDynamics,concept car,i8

Where it all began

inches high and 76 inches wide. The 20-inch tires sport a different look front and rear (195/50 and 2015/45) accentuating the sporty look.

It’s smooth on acceleration like a sports car, quick on the brakes (all the while sending energy back to the battery like a good green car) and handles like you’d expect a BMW to, precisely. Then you notice the fuel economy and have to agree with BMW’s goal; they’ve created a sports car with a compact’s fuel economy.

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Road Test: 2013/2014 Honda CR-Z EX

Road Test: 2013/2014 Honda CR-Z EX

Honda Puts FUN in a Hybrid.

honda,cr-z,hybrid,sports car,mpg,performance

A hybrid unlike any other

Ever heard people chatting at a party that they would consider a hybrid except they look boring. Or, maybe the one about hybrids having an image of just not being a cool car. Well, everyone, step away from the chips and dip because the 2014 Honda CR-Z is a car whose mission is to change those perceptions.

The two-door hatchback 2014 Honda CR-Z is a whole lot of fun to drive, certainly not boring and doesn’t look like any other hybrid (or anything else) on the road. Our test vehicle came in Honda’s striking Milano Red, which kept me looking in the rear view mirror for a CHP officer who assumes that red cars are being driven fast. I wonder where they ever got that idea?


The front wheel drive 2014 Honda CR-Z is certainly capable of attracting the police for more than its exterior color. It’s powered by Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist system, or IMA. The integration is achieved by combining a 1.5L, 16-valve single overhead cam (SOHC) gasoline-powered, in-line 4-cylinder engine and a 15 kW motor running off a lithium-ion (Li-Ion) battery. The two power sources produce a combined peak output of 130 hp and 140 lb-ft of torque for the six-speed manual and the same horsepower but 127 lb-ft of torque on the CVT-equipped model, which is what Clean Fleet Report was driving.

Honda,CR-Z,hybrid,mpg,fuel economy,sports car, peformance

Looking for a ticket even standing still

Fuel economy for the CR-Z is rated at 39 highway/36 city with a combined of 37 mpg. Running on regular unleaded, I drained the 10.6 gallon tank which delivered 380 miles in my mostly freeway driving. I am guessing I could have achieved more except the frequent use of the paddle shifters most likely cost me a few miles per gallon.

Also helping to improve fuel economy is Honda’s idle-stop feature that temporarily turns off the engine to save fuel when you come to a halt. You know when you are in idle-stop as a flashing green light appears on the instrument panel. Taking your foot off the brake pedal automatically and seamlessly restarts the engine.

The CR-Z Li-Ion battery is charged by the engine and through the regenerative braking system, which converts kinetic energy into electric energy and stores it in the battery when applying the brakes or coasting.

Driving Experience: On The Road

The CR-Z EX with the CVT weighs in at 2,716 lbs, with the weight well distributed due to the under-seat battery placement, resulting in a low center of gravity. For comparison, the 2014 Honda CR-Z EX with the six-speed manual weighs 2,694 lbs.

The CR-Z with the CVT has a 3-mode drive system: Normal, Econ and my favorite, Sport. Normal is where you start out and pressing the ECON button optimizes the CR-Z’s power for best fuel economy, especially when cruising at freeway speeds.

Sport mode allows you to enjoy the performance capabilities of the CR-Z. In Sport mode, the CR-Z will use the electric motor more aggressively, providing quicker acceleration and throttle response. Sport mode also

Honda,CR-Z,hybrid,mpg,fuel economy,performance

Fun to drive and fuel efficient – a pair for two persons

provides a sharper steering feel – perfect for the twisties. The paddle shifters can be used in all three modes but are the most effective, and fun, in the Sport mode.

The electrically power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering with front MacPherson struts and stabilizer bar, and rear Torsion beam suspension delivers a confident and decently quiet, highway ride on the 16-inch alloy wheels (17-inch optional) and all-season tires. Where the CR-Z shines is on cornering where with no body roll you pretty much can point it where you want to go and that is where you end-up. When downshifting using the paddle shifters on the CVT, the engine braking combined with the power-assisted 10.3-inch ventilated front and solid rear disc brakes is what separates the CR-Z from other hybrid cars. The four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, stability assist with traction control and electronic brake distribution all play a part in how fun the 2014 Honda CR-Z is to drive.

The CR-Z is no dragster by any means, but I was able to consistently pull about 9.7 seconds from 0 – 60. Honda has a version of the Kinetic Energy Recovery System (KERS) used on F1 cars that they call Plus Sport. Activated by the Sport+ button on the steering wheel, Plus Sport gives you 10 seconds of boost when the Li-Ion battery has at least 50 percent charge and you are going at least 19 mph.  It is a nice system for extra boost whether needed for passing on a hill or getting ahead of slow traffic on the freeway. The Plus Sport system is another example of racing technology being transferred to street cars to make them more efficient and safe.

Driving Experience: Interior

The 2014 Honda CR-Z EX interior has a sports car feel – low to the ground and seats that hold you nicely when cornering. The attractive bucket seats (the only seats in the car) had mesh cloth centers with high-quality vinyl-type


Sporty interior backs up the looks

material on the boosters and baseball-style contrasting stitching. The dash design is probably one of the more modern you will find with the major controls on the steering wheel and two pods found either side of the steering wheel. Only the audio and navigation are found in the center of the dash. Expected features are there, too – power windows with driver side one-touch up-and-down, door locks and mirrors, carpeted floor mats, map and visor lights and 12-volt power outlet. In other words, everything needed to take a long journey in comfort and convenience.


Not kidding around

As mentioned, the CR-Z is a two-seat car and to that point, Honda not only does not offer a rear seat but has a definitive and prominent sticker telling you that “injury or death” may be the result of sitting in the rear. Where the rear seat bottoms would be are two storage areas that when the seat back is folded flat, are hidden and there is a large area for storing luggage.

The CR-Z EX we were driving has Honda’s 360-watt premium audio system with subwoofer, 7-speaker AM/FM/CD with USB, Pandora and MP3 interface and playback capability. XM satellite radio is available as a dealer installed option. The navigation has voice recognition with a rear view camera, through a 5-inch touch-screen with hands-free phone and SMS text messaging and music streaming via Bluetooth.

The 2014 Honda CR-Z is well equipped with active and passive safety including remote keyless entry, power door locks, TPMS (Tire Pressure Monitoring System), high-intensity discharge headlights, fog lights, LED brake lights, rear wiper with washer, 6 airbags, adaptive cruise control and the previously mentioned four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, stability assist with traction control and electronic brake distribution.

Driving Experience: Exterior

I like the way the 2014 Honda CR-Z coupe looks with its wedge-like and raked windshield design and sculpted doors. The car has a sporty stance that draws attention with a honeycomb-type grill and fog lamps. The rear view is split horizontally, providing a see-through area that is nicely aligned with the rear view mirror. Even the shark fin antenna above the rear hatch adds to the coolness of the CR-Z.


The 2014 CR-Z comes in six models. Add the $790 Destination Charge to these MSRP for:

CR-Z                                      6-Speed Manual          $19,995

CR-Z                                      CVT                            $20,645

CR-Z EX                                 6-Speed Manual          $21,840

CR-Z EX                                 CVT                            $22,490

CR-Z EX w/ Navigation             6-Speed Manual          $23,340

CR-Z EX w/ Navigation             CVT                            $23,990

The CR-Z comes with these warranties:

  • 3-year/36,000-mile     Vehicle
  • 5-year/60,000-mile     Powertrain
  • 5-year/unlimited miles  Corrosion
  • 15 year/150,000-mile PZEV (Partial Zero Emission Vehicle) warranty on many of the IMA components, including the IMA battery: CA, CT, DE, ME, MD, MA, NJ, NY, RI and VT. All other states: 8-year/100,000-mile.

Observations: 2013/2014 Honda CR-Z EX

If you look at the fuel economy and performance numbers for the CR-Z you will see you can top them with other hybrids or even some gasoline-powered cars. But that isn’t the point with what Honda is doing with this car.

honda,cr-z,hybrid,peformance,fuel econmy,mpg

A presence on the road

Honda has built the only true sporty, two-seat hybrid for those who want high fuel economy in a very clean-burning vehicle that is fun to drive. It is not expected to compete with full-on sports coupes, but will appeal to commuters who want something different or singles/couples venturing out on the open road. If you do not need a larger hybrid, why buy it? You now have an option that brings many miles of driving smiles.

Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!

Story and Photos by John Faulkner

Posted April 28, 2014

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