“It’s a chick car. Driving a Miata is like humping another guy – it only feels good until someone sees you doing it.”
“They don’t go fast enough to be entertaining.”
“My Civic / Mazda 3 / Tiburon / Mustang / Dodge Caravan can kick your ass.”
“Aren’t you afraid of other cars?”
In the eight years that I’ve owned Miatas (1993 “B” Package from 1998 to 2002, 2006 Galaxy Gray Sport from 2006 to present), I’ve heard it all. Yes, I know that my Miata isn’t going to get me laid. Your Corvette probably doesn’t get you laid, either. Yes, I know it’s not going to beat a Mustang GT in the 1/4 mile. Yes, I know it’s smaller than most other cars on the market today (OK, ALL other cars on the market today), but none of that matters once you get the jones. I blame mine on Dustin Hoffman – that scene in The Graduate where he’s driving his Alfa Romeo Spider 1600 Duetto up the California coast at sunrise is simply epic:
I sold my original Miata in 2002, during a frenzy of simplify-my-life-by-downsizing angst. I tried to combine the need for fun with the need to be practical, so I bought an Acura RSX Type S. It wasn’t a good match, and by 2005, I was once again in the market for a pure sports car. Mazda had just introduced the NC version of the Miata, but I’d already owned one. Buying another would violate my “life is too short to own the same car twice” rule. I convinced myself that I really wanted a Honda S2000 and went out for a test drive.
First, the good points: the seats were comfortable, the interior was well laid out, the transmission was hand built by God himself and the handling was better than any production street car I’d ever driven. The motor made plenty of power if you spooled it up and the top went up or down at the touch of a button.
Now, the bad points: the price was steep for a four-banger (even one with 237 horsepower) and the motor didn’t come alive until you were north of 6,000 RPM. That may work well on racetracks, but it doesn’t make for an enjoyable commute in bumper to bumper, rush hour traffic. Insurance was high because early S2000s were prone to sudden oversteer when driven by those without good judgement in bad weather. Theft rates were also high, since S2000 seats fit nicely in Honda Civics.
I wanted to like the S2000, I really did. She was gorgeous, and she put out. God, did she put out once you got her spooled up. Still, something was lacking; it was like dating the hot blond with the drop dead body and finding out she didn’t brush her teeth. Or shave her armpits. Whatever the ultimate reason, I just couldn’t talk myself into a long term relationship with the S2000.
About the same time I received an invite from Mazda to attend their “Zoom Zoom Live” event at a local racetrack. Spend the day driving the latest offerings from Mazda in closed course events? Use their gas, their tires, their brakes, their coffee? Sounded like fun to me.
On the day of the event, I arrived early to avoid the crowds. Stop one, of course, was the autocross track they’d laid out to showcase the new Miata’s handling prowess. I sat down in the car, belted up and set off. First impression? The car finally had enough horsepower. Not too much, but just enough from the naturally aspirated MZR motor. One hundred and seventy ponies to be exact – just what you need in a light two seat roadster.
Next impression was how good the handling felt in stock form. Sure, the car had more gap between the tire and the wheel well than some SUVs, but by the third corner, I was turning in and steering with the throttle. Brake, turn in, stand on the gas, light the tires and step the back end around. Gently lift and counter steer to straighten the car, stand on the gas out of the corner and repeat for the next turn. I could have driven the car like that all day long, with an ever-widening grin on my face. After three passes, the line for the autocross event looked like the security line at O’Hare on the day before Thanksgiving. Reluctantly, it was time to let someone else get a turn behind the wheel.
Four months later, with a Nor’easter blizzard pending, I cut a killer deal on my 2006 Sport version (car buying tip – dealers are HIGHLY motivated when faced with pending natural disasters). As soon as the bank account would allow, I dropped the ride height with Mazdaspeed springs front and rear, replaced the sway bars with Mazdaspeed components and changed out the muffler for one from Flyin’ Miata. I added black leather shift and handbrake boots from Redline and completed the build with the addition of the same Voodoo shift knob I’d had in my ’93 Miata.
The car has seen road trips all over the US and Canada and has driven the Tail of the Dragon at Deal’s Gap (318 corners in 11 miles). It remains the only car I’ve ever owned that can consistently put a smile on my face every time I drive it.
Why? Consider this – every time I get behind the wheel, I can drive it at 100%. I can run it up to redline in at least four gears. I can practice threshold braking (as long as no one is behind me). I can rev match while downshifting for corners, or even get sloppy and rev match while downshifting mid-corner. If I didn’t suck at heel-toe driving, I could do that as well since the pedal design gives you a flange on the accelerator for just that purpose. The car makes you feel like a much better driver than you probably are. It’s one of the few sports cars forgiving enough to allow even somewhat significant mistakes. Drive like a knucklehead and the car will slap your hand, not kick your ass. You simply can’t say the same things about a Porsche 911 or Chevy Corvette.
If I want to take it easy, I can enjoy top down driving with the wind in my hair at speeds that ensure my license isn’t revoked. There’s plenty of torque above 2,500 RPM, so I don’t need to wind it out to make power (although the Flyin’ Miata exhaust sounds so damn good when you do spool it up). It’s comfortable, so long days behind the wheel don’t require a chiropractor’s visit. Cops aren’t inclined to stop Miatas, since we all know they don’t make enough power to hoon around in. Best of all, insurance companies think you’re driving an economy car.
So here’s my advice – if you’re on a limited budget, go take a test drive in an NA Miata (sold from 1989 to 1997) or an NB Miata (sold from 1999 to 2005). Try to find one that’s as close to stock as possible. Driven to church on Sundays by a little old lady is ideal, and there are plenty of little old ladies selling Miatas out there if you look hard enough.
If you’ve got a little more in the bank, look for an NC Miata (2006 to present), preferably one with the limited slip differential. Ride height is a little extreme in stock form to meet pedestrian crash test requirements, but this is easily corrected with a set of aftermarket springs. A stiffer rear sway bar dissuades the car from understeering quite as badly, and the poor man’s solution is to find one from a salvaged Mazda RX-8.
If you’re really an enthusiast, someone who lives for a properly apexed corner or the joy of a well executed downshift, you’ll understand after your test drive. Chick car? Maybe, but you just won’t care anymore.