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Can the 2018 Mazda MX-5 Miata make a good family vehicle?

Kamil Kaluski October 12, 2018 Featured, Mazda Reviews, Reviews 49 Comments

I am in my early forties. I am married and I have two kids. I have a nice home and a decent family vehicle. I have something resembling a career and a sweet side gig writing about cars. You’d think I’m living the dream, but I’m not. I have a secret deep down inside me – I always wanted a Miata. But somehow, for various reasons, I never bought one. But I always wanted one. Badly.

But realistically it won’t work for me. How would I drop my two kids off at two different schools every morning in a Miata? And then there are the guitars, lacrosse sticks, hockey equipment, and volcano projects that need constant moving. My dream of a daily driver Miata simply isn’t possible.

Or is it?

Currently, my daily morning commute is this: At 7:15 I take my daughter to school, roughly four miles away in the western direction. I then come back home and pickup my son to take him to school, roughly three miles in the northeast direction from my home. His school is about halfway between my home and my office and in the same direction. I drop him off and I then continue to my office.

Things get trickier in the afternoon. Sometimes I pick my son up and we go to home or to one of his sporting events. Some days we just go home. Other days I drop him off at home and go to pick up my daughter. Some days I scoop him and go right to my daughter’s school to pick her up. Glamorous, isn’t?

Most of the time, when I only have one of my kids at a time with me, the Miata (I refuse to call in at MX-5) would do well. But the Miata won’t work with two kids unless I put one of them in the trunk. And while that isn’t always a bad idea, it is illegal. Days like these would require planning ahead and driving my 4Runner (frequently used by my wife) instead of the Miata, but it’s doable.

But what about all the stuff that needs moving? The Miata has a five cubic feet of trunk space. That’s small and it addition to being small, the opening is rather small, further limiting what can be placed inside. But it works! That trunk is wide enough to swallow up a lacrosse bag (kid’s size stick), a trumpet case, a kids’ guitar case, and/or backpacks, and my workbag. Worst case scenario, a kid will have to have their backpack by their feet. Waah! Cry me a river, when I was their age…

Having established sufficient cargo space, let’s move inside. My youngest kid is six years old. That means he still uses the Recaro booster seat seen in pictures. It does fit pretty well over the factory Recaro seats* that were in this car (yo dawg, I heard you like Recaros, so I…). The big problem occurred when I had to remove the booster seat so that my eleven year old daughter could sit there. By some miracle, the Recaro booster seats managed to just fit into Miata’s little trunk opening. Once in, there was even room for a school backpack and a pack of gum. Great success!

To no one’s surprise, things are tight inside. I need like to drink coffee in the mornings and I do it while driving. The MX-5 Miata has two or three cup-holders, depending on how you count. There are two cup-holder cradles the clip to the back of the center console. That does make their use inconvenient but one of them can be removed and clipped onto the passenger side of the front console. That works much better but it cuts into the passenger leg area. Good thing kids have small legs. If they don’t like, they can take the bus. 

There is a small glovebox and a small compartment between the two seats. There is also a secret compartment behind the passenger’s seat. And that is pretty much it for interior space in the not-a-Miata MX-5. That’s not unexpected in such a small car. If you need more space than that for your stuff, get rid of some stuff.

What is unexpected is the infotainment system. It is unintuitive to use and desperately lacking Apple CarPlay. I noticed one specific issue in the CX-9 and it was confirmed here – the single USB port was unable to properly charge my phone while driving. I decided to use my charger that plugs into the 12V socket. Except that socket wasn’t there. I looked and I looked. Nope. No 12v socket. The last car I remember that didn’t have a 12v socket was a ’79 Fiat 126p. What gives?

On my almost dead phone, I googled the subject topic and found this Jalopnik article. Holy poop, the 12V socket was buried deep, way deep, in the passenger foot well. It’s basically invisible unless you put your head on the floor. What the actual fuck, Mazda!? Whose idea was that!? And someone else approved it, too!? <Headdesk.gif>

Other than that, the Miata shockingly passed its test as a solid-ish family vehicle. Kids loved driving around with the top down. The current Miata is as much of a blast to drive as it ever was. Its biggest issue is having just two seats. Other than that, I really don’t have a good reason not to get one. And neither should any other forty-something who is living the so-called dream.

*Optional on the Club model with manual transmission, the Brembo®/BBS RECARO Package consists of: Brembo front brakes with red calipers, BBS forged 17″ aluminum-alloy wheels with gunmetal finish, an aero kit (side sill extensions, rear bumper skirt in black), and heated black RECARO sport seats. Get it, just do it. You know you want to. 

[Disclaimer: Mazda North America provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2018]

Review: 2018 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring

  • Maymar

    So, why not a ToyoBaru? I mean, that power band is not great, but it’s otherwise about as close to a 4-seat Miata as you can get in a daily driver. Otherwise, RX-8’s are ridiculously cheap, and although they’re torqueless, they at least balance it out with the sky-high redline.

    • Some days you just wanna go topless…

      • Maymar

        Fair – and I assume in spite of the Alpha platform having decent dynamics, a Camaro convertible might be too far off?

      • Zentropy

        Fortunately (for me), I dislike convertibles, so I’d be shopping the RF regardless.

      • Gnomical

        And when the top is up you can get another backpack sized item or a bunch of loose stuff into the area the top resides in when down. Been there and done that. Yeah, there is a technical weight limit but I can easily exceed that by driving with some of my friends…

      • Vairship
    • Zentropy

      This was my first thought, too, as I’m in a similar situation as Kamil but with a third kid. I don’t particularly like the styling of the Toyobarus twins, but the driving experience is similar and there is room for more butts.
      I like the RX-8 better than a MX-5, actually, with the exception of the engine. The RX-8 is cheap because the engines don’t last. If I had the time and room to work, I’d transplant a Miata mill into the rotary’s place.

      • LS swap all the things!!!

        • Zentropy

          Lol. The thing I like about the RX-8 is the balance. Overpowering the rear and weighting the front would ruin it.

          • Sjalabais

            In a sea of turbopowered I4’s, there should be something that fits? Maybe a Boxer, to keep the centre of gravity lowish and the sound interesting?

        • Gnomical

          there – see above – you fixed it!

      • Gnomical

        I have been told the RX-8 is not a good car for in-town duties; the engine does not come up to full temperature on shorter runs and you will be stuck rebuilding the rotary sooner than usual. Is this true or just some drivel I heard at one not-so-local Mazda dealer?

        • Maymar

          My rudimentary understanding is that the Renesis is really easy to flood if not careful (so finicky in cold weather, and I saw something suggesting blipping the throttle when shutting the car off to burn off fuel). Also, it’ll carbon up if not wrung out properly. So it wouldn’t shock me if not bringing it up to temperature is also an issue.

          I’d like to tell myself that the rebuild cost isn’t that much, it’s not that big of a liability for a careful, devoted owner, and it’d make a perfectly fine second car, but that’s probably just trying to justify that it’s a brilliant, cheap car.

  • HuntRhymesWith

    That’s a great color combo. I think this decision falls squarely in the “think of the children” category: Think of how cool your kids will feel when their classmates see them get picked up in a sports car, while everyone else packs into minivans.

    • Sjalabais

      Are you, cough, implying that minivans are not cool?

    • Gnomical

      My oldest daughter was picked up from the hospital at birth in a malaise era Mustang GT. She still prefers manual transmissions and sporty machines – an Audi S-line wagon and a BMW M-series sedan. Kids do pay attention; if you enjoy it that is infectious in a positive way.

      • I was brought home from the hospital in a 1965 Barracuda with a 273 V8 & a Hurst shifted 4 speed stick.

        My first word was car.

        I think you may have a point.

  • 0A5599

    You could buy a third car that seats the whole family, and save your two seater for days when it’s just you plus one.

    https://i.imgur.com/1bEKvMk.jpg

    • I could. I have an unusual, for U.S., problem. I live in the city and parking is pricey AF.

      • 0A5599

        You can keep it somewhere else.

        My uncle has a country place that noone knows about…

        • outback_ute

          Not a great solution for a daily driver!

    • Rover 1

      Still only two doors.

      • 0A5599

        The four door Lincoln Continental convertibles added 350 lbs. of ballast to the ends to help prevent the car from buckling in half. That’s a car with a big full frame. I don’t think I would want to ride in a four door hacked up light weight unibody with no roof when it hits a bump at speed.

  • John Goreham

    Great angle. Glad you included the infotainment parts. As a former and future Miata owner that is important to us. Hopefully Android Auto will be part of the 2020 model.

    • 2019. And all the NDs are suppose to be retofitable.
      Is that even a word?

  • Alff

    In every Miata-owning family I know, the Miata is at least a third vehicle.

    • I have one parking sport and I own four cars. :big eyes:

      • Alff

        I feel you. Eight cars, spread over various places.

  • Zentropy

    In my state, I couldn’t haul 2/3 of my kids in a Miata anyway. Kids aren’t legal to ride up front until age 13.

    • 0A5599

      Not even if that’s the only row of seating? Usually those vehicles have a way to disable passenger airbags (if they have airbags at all).

      • Zentropy

        Not to my knowledge, no. I had looked into the law iat at one time when considering a pickup.

    • Where I live, Massachusetts, it’s also 13. But what’s one to do if there is no back seats.
      After posting this article I looked it up – the Miata airbags have a sensor that disconnects the airbag if some value isn’t met. I wasn’t really worrying about it, he was seatbelted on a booster seat and the seat all the way back.

      • Gnomical

        For the NC version there is key controlled switch that disables the airbags. If the weight is below a set amount the airbag will not discharge – that is mostly helpful when I put baggage in the passenger seat whilst in transit; a car seat with occupant is above the set point.

        • outback_ute

          I have found that the seat belt alarm can go off with 4kg of weight if it is fairly concentrated – not sure if the airbag uses the same sensor!

    • Gnomical

      Wow… even Canukistan is not that heavy-handed. As long as I mount the child seat correctly the grand-kids can enjoy a nice run with the top down. Of course, I turn off the airbag; but Mazda thought of that and it is only a key-turn from being child friendly.

    • You’re in Ohio, right? According to this, there is no requirement of riding in the rear seat, only that they be in a child seat, depending on their height, weight and age.

      https://www.odh.ohio.gov/en/health/vipp/cps/Child-Passenger-Safety-Law

      Below is the actual statute and the words “front”, “back” or “rear” don’t appear. In fact, the wording even gives old cars like my Thunderbird a pass on seat belt use at all (emphasis mine):

      When any child who is in either or both of the
      following categories is being transported in a motor vehicle … that
      is required by the United States department of transportation to be equipped
      with seat belts at the time of manufacture or assembly, the operator of the
      motor vehicle shall have the child properly secured … in a child restraint system that meets federal motor vehicle safety standards.

      http://codes.ohio.gov/orc/4511.81

      My Thunderbird has lap belts and we always used their car seats when the kids were young.

      • Zentropy

        Hm. That was what I was advised when I asked, but that was several years ago. I even recall a link that I read. Oh well, this makes much more sense!

    • Wow, so sleeping in the rear window parcel shelf like we did as kids isn’t legal?

  • GTXcellent

    Of course it won’t make a good family vehicle – that being said, the only car that both the MiSSus and I have regretted selling was our ’03 BRG/tan leather, 6 speed, Miata LS….

    …and now I’m going to spend the rest of the afternoon on craigslist dreaming and wishing. Thanks for the memories jerk.

  • SlowJoeCrow

    If you’re willing to forgo weather protection and give your kids ultimate cool, try a sidecar rig, that way you have 3 seats, of course my wife freaked when I suggested a sidecar after our first kid was born

    https://static1.squarespace.com/static/58c1ef5abf629ab8bade3657/58f52a855016e1ad80a41e99/5ab9dd14352f5325787ef1c5/1524667428169/ural_wandawega-621-18.jpg?format=1500w

  • I had a buddy in Jr. High and his father had a Opel Station wagon for family stuff and an British sports car for fun. First was an MG-A which had no room at all for more than two but then he got a Jag XK150 which had a rear storage space behind the seats that I could sit in while motoring down the roadway. So yes, a Miata could easily be a fine family car.

  • Alan Cesar

    I keep telling myself I’ll own another Miata someday, but I wouldn’t be able to sell the minivan (incidentally, a different Mazda with the number 5 in the name). I can’t haul appliances or couches behind the Miata, and I have two kids who both need to go to the same day care.

    Someday. When the 2019 model, with the extra horsey ponies, is cheap enough on the used market. In another 5 to 7 years, when I’m approaching my mid-life moment and the kids are both walking to school instead of needing a ride to day care.

    Ah, freedom.

  • neight428

    I could embrace a Miata as an alternative to the project life. It’s plausibly economical enough to justify the initial purchase after selling the Trans Am, whereupon I could drive a fun car rather than imagine what I might someday do to a semi-operable car taking up space in the garage.