Why I Drove 1,365 Miles in 45 Hours in the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Bubble wrap. What is it about bubble wrap that’s so mesmerizing? Is it the tactility of the popping between your fingertips? The crescendo of pressure you apply, never knowing the exact moment when the plastic will cry “uncle”? The simplicity and ease of having fun with it? The fact that something so easy to manipulate could be so thrilling?
It’s all those things, and similar sentiments can be offered to describe the experience behind the wheel of the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. What’s mesmerizing about it? It’s the tactile connection between you and the road. The crescendo of steering angle and corning speed you’ll feed the car, not knowing exactly when the rear end will snap. The fact that all it takes is a simple zoom-zoom approach to your driving style for a fun time behind the wheel. With a facile touch, you can make the Miata’s flit within time and space, and for that it is thrilling.
And just like how I have trouble putting down bubble wrap, I had a difficult time removing my hands from the Miata’s steering wheel. So much so, that within the 45 hours I spent with it recently, I logged 1,365 miles onto its clocks. Mazda’s legendary roadster, now in its fourth generation, may be the most addictive car on sale today.
Picture it: it’s a Saturday morning. I am waking after an evening of logging more than 200 miles via a quick L.A.-to-Santa Barbara turnaround. My first thoughts upon waking are geared toward feeding the addiction: “To where do I want to drive today?” With a mischievous air, my brain begins to scan for exotic locations, and then I begin to see red. Red Rock State Park in Sedona, Arizona begins to color my gray matter. Excitement builds, at first for the majestic destination, and then the excitement overflows for the journey itself.
I venture off. It’s a warm, mid-80s July day in L.A. By the time I get into the Inland Empire, it’s in the upper 90s. Then comes the Coachella Valley. I record a peak of 115 degrees as I’m traveling eastbound on I-10 through Palm Desert, California. In the entire Sonoran Desert, I must be the only person driving a convertible with the top down. That’s partly because I’m crazy, but mostly because I’m in a Miata. This car begs to be topless. Plus, putting the top up means taking my hands off the wheel. The addiction wouldn’t allow it.
You could have fried an egg on my head during that 115-degree stretch, but I didn’t care. I was in one of the most exciting convertibles ever to cat-walk down a production line. My flesh may have felt hot, but my soul felt cool. I was defying the elements. I was going against the norm. With the Spotify tunes cranked to ridiculous levels through the MX-5’s nine-speaker Bose audio system, the rhythms thrusting my fist into the rushing wind above the car, I wondered how crazy I appeared to families in minivans. Or perhaps I was a symbol of freedom, cruising top down in a beautiful convertible, escaping the concrete jungle for the breathtaking natural beauty of the American Southwest. At any rate, I was creating a scene.
And the Miata is a wonderful accomplice for doing so. Driving down the highway in this thing, you get the sense you’re in something special. In the Miata I get the same fuzzy feelings I’ve gotten while driving cars with MSRPs nine times greater than this car’s $31,330 as-tested price. Again, it’s like bubble wrap: it doesn’t cost much, but it’s still a five-star thrill.
The thrill drives deeper into your heart when you hit the hairpin turns. I love tackling indicated 10- to 15-mph corners in this thing. On highway 89A, 13 miles north of Sedona, you arrive at two miles of switchbacks that appear as though they were cut and pasted from the Stelvio Pass. Taking this series of turns in the Miata is almost as exhilarating as a romantic evening with Margot Robbie. It was after that stretch on State Route 89A that I became convinced. I will own a Miata one day.
But as much as I love this car, I have one issue with it. While I love its low-speed handling, I dislike its high-speed handling. It’s not predictable and confidence-inspiring enough for me. When taking a fast, sweeping turn at 60 mph, the back end will want to snap out. That’s to be expected for a short-wheelbase car like the Miata, but I find that kind of cornering behavior as unbecoming as flatulence at the dinner table. When I buy mine, I will find a suspension mod to Febreze that flatulence away.
I mentioned earlier that bubblewrap’s snappiness is mesmerizing, and the same can be said about the Miata’s high-speed handling. I can appreciate how people could like that, but snappy handling isn’t my cup of Earl Grey. My new Miata would get suspension upgrades in short order.
Speaking of upgrades, I suppose I’d also drop in an E-ROD LS3 so that I could have myself a modern-day Shelby Cobra, but that’s to appease the red-suited apparition on my left shoulder. The factory’s 155-horsepower SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine is a wonderful power plant for zipping the MX-5’s 2,332 pounds along your favorite back roads. This car isn’t slow. Naught to 60 takes less than six seconds. One-hundred fifty-five ponies is just fine for this car, but every time I think of a 430-horsepower LS3 under the hood, my left ear starts to ring in pain from the devil’s maniacal laughter.
Regardless of the devil’s lust for power, I think he’s still thrilled about the Miata overall. No matter who you are, it’s hard to be less than satisfied by such a remarkable vehicle. Most cars in production today are good. We live in a time when you can’t by a bad new car, but few cars today are as intoxicating to drive as the Mazda MX-5 Miata. It forces you to think of destinations that are 500 miles away because with this car, not one of those miles will be dull.
When I arrived in Sedona in the middle of the night, I was able to pry my hands off the steering wheel for about an hour and a half in order to capture long-exposure photos of the car amid the moonlit Red Rock Country. The Soul Red Metallic paint could not have looked better anywhere on the planet. The Miata was like an offering at the altar of the red rocks. Had I lit a candle, the scene would have turned religious.
Once I finished shooting, I cruised into downtown Sedona, parked, stepped out of the car, and I took a deep breath to mark reaching my destination. In most other cars, I would have been daunted with having to drive 500 miles back home. Not with the bubblewrap Miata. You may arrive at destinations with it, but with this car, the true destination is always the journey — a journey I hope to continue as an MX-5 owner someday.
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