If I look back at the cars that have come through for review over the last fourteen plus years, just about every other year, a Miata/MX-5 makes its way onto the schedule. While that is never a bad thing, at this point, what new is there to say about the MX-5?
Miata Is Always The Answer? Well, no, it can not transport either of my Irish Wolfhounds to daycare. And if I’m headed to the range, my range bag and cooler can just fit into the trunk, but the cart has to go in the passenger seat. For everything else? Perhaps, but in the week with the car, it was an answer or at least a partial solution to an often unspoken question.
Quickly let’s get a few things out of the way. In Metro Detroit, we had measurable snow from November to April along with freezing temps. That is the norm, by the way. If you buy an MX-5 in this climate and want to drive it year-round, the RF version of the Miata may be the more practical version of the car, but the soft top feels correct.
Two weeks after I turned in the review unit, I had a chance to drive the RF at Road America on the track and on the kart track for an autocross event at the MAMA Spring Rally. The RF felt far more confined, and that level of freedom that a true soft top gives you was lacking.
An elegant weapon for a more civilized age
Like Nick Nolte’s character in 48 Hours, “I’m a convertible man.” That’s because I prefer two wheels to four, and a convertible is the least bad compromise to that. The MX-5 being small (more on that in a minute), nimble, exposed, and easy on gas is as close as you will get to that compromise. An Exocet or Ariel Atom falls somewhere between toys and science experiments, so they don’t really enter into the equation.
To really illustrate how small the MX-5 is in today’s world, just sit in traffic next to a three-row crossover or half-ton truck. The top of the windshield isn’t as high as their door handles. Head to Home Depot or Lowes and see how easily the MX-5 disappears in the parking lot, even next to “normal” sized vehicles like a RAV4 or BMW X5.
After spending so much time in larger vehicles, you forget how fun and easy it can be to zip around in traffic. Pull a quick U-turn. Get in and out of tight spaces without a thought. If you are not careful, the downside is that you can end up driving like the asshole you yell at when you are behind the wheel of almost every other car.
In the Miata, put your arm on the door sill, your hand on the A-pillar, and take in a full 360-degree view of the world. Every other vehicle, with its high hood lines, high belt lines, and narrow views out of the glass, gives you a cocoon effect. You feel safe, hunkered in. The MX-5 it’s exactly the opposite. You become more aware of your surroundings. The colors of the world seem more vivid. You don’t have a cabin air filter masking the smells. No double-glazed glass to silence the world around you. For something as simple as backing out of the driveway with the top down, you have no need for a backup camera. With a slight turn of your head, you can see what’s behind you with your Mark 1 eyeballs.
Miata is for mental health
Because of the Miata’s size, its playfulness, and the joy that comes from driving it with the top down, even a 30-minute drive can change the nature of your day. I can think of February or November days in the past when I’ve had other Miata’s in for review, and you get “that day.” The sun is shining, and the weather is sweet (™ Bob Marley). You put the top down and feel the sun on your face after weeks/months of cold, damp, and grey. There is something primal about it. It reminds you that we as humans are daylight and outdoor people, and the sun’s energy fuels us in ways we forget or don’t understand when we are locked inside for long periods.
The Miata came to me for a week in the heart of Spring, when every day was in the 60s and 70s, and the sun was always out. The ability to get out, find a back road with little traffic, no music, and just lose yourself in the drive were both fantastic and a revelation. It reminded me that I need a motorcycle. While you can lock out the world on a great drive and come back refreshed. With a motorcycle, that’s taken to another level because of the extra concentration required. A good to great ride on a motorcycle, you can lose all sense of time and space because of the focus required. In a car, even the Miata, you have that inherent sense of safety that being in a car gives you, taking it down a notch or three.
The world needs more cars like the Miata and fewer 5,000+ pound SUVs and crossovers. A fun and cheerful car that makes you a nicer person. You can drive it very hard, and it’s still going to get 35 mpg! You can rationalize all you want about how the Miata is not practical for you and your use case won’t allow it. Sure there are times when it would be nice, say on a long road trip, to have a quiet and soft riding car. But how often do you take those? For the daily grind and commute, rather than drift away in your cocoon, in the Miata, it’s an adventure, it’s engaging, and it gives you perspective. And what the world needs now is more perspective.