Wheels: Still Sporty (but Impractical) After All These Years
The Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster, a two-door, two-seat, rear-wheel-drive convertible available with a soft top or retractable hard top, remains a popular buy 25 years after its introduction in the U.S. automobile market. Illustrates WHEELS-MIATA (category l), by Warren Brown, special to The Washington Post. Moved Thursday, July 31, 2014. (MUST CREDIT: Mazda)
It is everything you want in a sports car — attractive, affordable, good acceleration, excellent handling, fun to drive every time you drive it.
It is nothing you don’t want — pretentious in appearance and demeanor, overpriced at point of sale and in ongoing maintenance costs, endowed with the kind of power that is exploitable only on a racetrack.
It is why the Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster — a two-door, two-seat, rear-wheel-drive convertible available with a soft top or retractable hard top — remains a popular buy 25 years after its introduction in the U.S. automobile market.
You can use it as an enjoyable, reasonably fuel-efficient daily commuter. It gets 22 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway, albeit with the more expensive premium gasoline “recommended for best performance.”
You can order the MX-5 Miata Club, add Mazda’s sport-tuned suspension package with Bilstein shocks and a limited-slip differential, take it to a racetrack, and have as much fun as anyone who paid four times as much for another high-performance automobile.
Because the little MX-5 Miata is nobody’s trailer queen, you can drive it home — leaving the racetrack and entering the highway with no loss of pleasure behind the wheel.
This is not conjecture. I have joined friends and colleagues on many Miata track days, usually at the Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia.
We’ve also had Miata driving events on legally accessed school parking lots and other public facilities, often to refresh driving and vehicle safety skills. I have left each event impressed with the little car’s high-speed competence and its motorized equanimity and good manners on congested public roads.
That, however, does not mean I would enjoy being behind the wheel of a MX-5 Miata for a drive totaling 500 miles or more. I have done that sort of thing several times before, much to my chagrin. The MX-5 Miata, including the 2015 Grand Touring version driven for this column, remains a little car, almost micro in dimensions, with all that means for long-distance driving comfort.
I am a small person — 5 feet 6 inches short, weighing 148 pounds fully clothed with a nearly empty wallet, cellphone, wristwatch and my favorite summer loafers. But I get worn out, beaten and engine-buzzed into useless torpor after 200 miles on the road in the MX-5 Miata.
I imagine how a larger person would feel after a long-distance run in the car — sore. Correct that. I really can’t imagine a larger person fitting at all comfortably in that small automobile.
That is both the charm and the curse of the MX-5 Miata.
It is not now, never has been and never was meant to be a practical conveyance. It is a tiny runner — 13 feet long, 5 feet 8 inches wide, with a factory weight of 2,480 pounds and a scant ground clearance of 4.6 inches. It is not a car for tall or heavy people or large or heavy loads. The rear notchback trunk, with 5.3 cubic feet of room, is good for a couple of small crushable overnight bags — nothing more.
As such, the MX-5 Miata is an “I and thou” car as long as “I and thou” have no plans for becoming a three-part “we” anytime soon.
Thus, it is an ode to romantic motoring and all that means — quick trips of spirited driving, perhaps with the top down on a day of kind weather; one-night stands, because the car lacks the cargo space needed to support anything else. There is the excitement of a hot affair — thoroughly enjoyable and exciting in its immediacy but tiresome and potentially painful in long-term progression.
You love it for the short haul. It is motorized poetry, sometimes iambic pentameter, sometimes blank verse, joyfully memorable in any case. Just keep in mind that most poetry is fantasy-based, not the stuff for dealing with the real world with any needed degree of effectiveness.