Today was the first day of Spring, and the weather, while still a bit chilly by most standards, was nice enough to take my MX5 Miata out for some roofless fun. I met up with my friend Dan, whose photos have been featured on this site many times, and we went for a nice long drive, two Miatas tearing hard through the woods. This was one of those days where you just forget everything else in your life, and enjoy cruising along. For me, such cruising is like a form of meditation, very in the moment, and focused on enjoying the little things in life. An MX5 allows you to enjoy the world even more, because with the top down you are truly outside, connected with your surroundings. Toward the end of the drive I had a huge grin on my face, and I got to thinking about exactly what it is that makes this car so great, for so many people.
People who don’t like MX5s usually don’t understand them (except for Chris Harris). They knock it for being girly, and slow, but that really isn’t the case at all. Part of what makes an MX5 so much fun is that it requires a decent driver to access its performance. It is very involving, and in that sense it is a real “driver’s car.” Any fool can get in a car with a lot of power and go fast on the highway, but it takes actual driving skill to maintain a highway pace, in a slow car, while on winding back roads. That is what the Miata is all about. It is the definitive “momentum car”, and that makes it a blast to drive.
I also happen to find its lack of insane acceleration a plus in many circumstances. It’s slow, but it isn’t Prius slow, so it can get on the highway, and cruise at speed competently. I’ve had my car up to 101mph on a few occasions, but the second I see the needle cross into triple digits, I just stop because there isn’t any point in trying to go faster. The MX5 is a car that is fun under 80mph, any faster than that and you’re just pushing your luck, especially on roads that aren’t highways. I know 80mph is just getting out of second gear in a Porsche or a Ferrari, but I see the Miata’s lower speed prowess as a good thing for real world driving. If I do a third gear pull in my dad’s Porsche, I will be going over 100mph at the end of it, whereas if I do a 3rd gear pull in my Miata, I will only reach around 70mph. If I were to pass a police officer at that point, I’d be in handcuffs in the Porsche, whereas I’d just have a normal traffic ticket in the Miata. There is something extremely fun about being able to wring a car’s neck, while still being within the realm of legal acceptance (on most roads), and that is the MX5’s game.
Then there is the roadster factor, the connection with the elements you get as you cruise along. Earlier this winter, we had one of those sporadic warm days, so I went out for a drive. I found myself cruising along the river behind a guy in a red Ferrari F430 Spider, clearly taken by the same inspiration as myself. We just rolled along steadily at 5mph over the speed limit, and I realized that, in that moment, my little Miata was providing equal enjoyment to that $200,000 Ferrari. All of that supercar performance wasn’t being used, his motor was actually running quieter than mine, and he had the exact same wind in his hair as I did. The truth is, when you are just cruising, a convertible is a convertible, and things only change when you start to really use a car’s performance. Even so, as I stated above, the guy in the Ferrari would be undertaking a much higher risk by using his performance on public roads than I would be in the Miata. So in truth, I find there are as many things a Miata can offer that a Ferrari can’t, as there are things a Ferrari can do that a Miata can’t.
I know Chris Harris knocked the MX5, saying “It isn’t a real sports car”. I certainly disagree with his bold claim, but I do agree with much of his reasoning. A Miata is very soft in stock form, too soft to really be thrown around with vigor. Because of this I believe an MX5 needs to be modified, at least a little, to really give an enthusiast driver what they desire.
The Miata offers a fantastic base for modification, being light weight, and rear wheel drive. Aftermarket parts are abundant, and you can go as crazy as you like with them. You can turn it into a V8 monster, or simply focus on making it a better momentum car as I have done. For me I just wanted tighter handling, and a more thrilling sound when I opened the taps. I’ve done shocks, springs, the front swaybar, wider wheels/tires, power steering delete, and a full header back exhaust, and I can honestly say that I am perfectly happy with where the car is at, performance wise. For example, today I took a tight corner fairly hard, and was able to balance the car beautifully with the throttle, letting the tail swing just a little on the exit. It is like the go-kart my parents never let me have as a kid.
The best part about the Miata, though, is how affordable it is. MX5s can be had at any price point, from just a couple grand, like mine, up to around $25k for a brand new one. The older ones are also dirt cheap to insure, so you can still get one even if you barely have a license left. Fuel economy is pretty darn good too, and the tank only holds 10 gallons of regular, so you won’t break your wallet at the pump. Parts are easy to find for cheap in junkyards, and not too expensive to buy new online. The MX5 is also extremely simple, meaning there isn’t too much that will go wrong, and when something does, it is very easy to work on. This simplicity is one of the defining features of the Miata in my mind, and it is one of the best things about owning one. My car has had one or two old car issues, but they were easy to deal with. Usually it just starts right up, and to my amazement, everything in the car still seems to work just fine. There’s not a lot of fit and finish, but the basic build quality of these things is clearly quite solid.
As a car enthusiast, I get a sense of solace from knowing that no matter what job situation I find myself in, I will always be able to afford a Miata. Sure, I aspire to own all of those fancy expensive cars someday, but it’s just nice knowing that I have such a great option to fall back on, like a reliable old friend who’s always got my back. The Miata isn’t a car that will get you a lot of recognition at car shows, but there is a reason that over 900,000 of them have been sold over the years. Quite simply it is a fantastic driving experience, one that is within reach of anyone who wants it. In this way the MX5 is a champion of the people. I know there are many other cars, like BMW E30s, that many folks will swear by, but the Miata offers an experience all its own. It is a fantastic roadster, and it puts the biggest smile on my face whenever I go for a drive in it. If you want a car that offers a lot of entertainment for a great value, you can never go wrong buying an MX5.