Friday, February 18, 2011

Joy of MX-5

Drive to the corner with full throttle. Shift down. Hear the engine revs when the needle moves to the redline, while reducing speed using engine brake. Feel how you steer the car into the corner and halfway press the pedal again, exiting with full force. Enjoy how the car seems to be part of your body. And to go with that: feel the wind in your hair. Welcome in the world of Mazda MX-5. Or Miata, as the Americans know it.

The current MX-5 on a rural black Forest road

Years ago, when I visited relatives nearby, I parked my first Mazda MX-5 in front of their garden. While sitting outside, enjoying a drink, a neigbour said, “nice, but when I see a car like that I always think what you should do with it”. She missed the point. And she will never understand. It is a fact that most women do not like sports cars. They only like MPVs, even when they don’t need one. And if an MPV is too ridiculous even for them, they will only drive very small cars. And can anyone tell why women, when they do drive a cabriolet, always do so with the top closed, even on the brightest of days?

A roadster is pointless when you look at it in a rational way. It is highly unpractical. And we can think of cars that are more comfortable. But that is not the issue here. A roadster has a mission. And that is not just the topless driving experience with the wind in your hair and the sun in your face. It is the joy of driving with all your senses. It is the way how the car handles. How it seems to swivel from under your butt in corners. It is the experience of a responsive car that makes you sense all the reactions that come from your commands, the inputs you feel from the road or whatever you pick up from the world outside. It is driving, not because of transportation, but of being involved in a machine and being rewarded by a car that does what you want it to do. If you ever had one, you’re hooked. There is no escaping. A coupe may have its advantages over a convertible, but in the end it is car like any other, just more cramped and its limitation will be apparent soon, because there is just not enough to compensate for that. But drop the top, press the pedal, and you know why a closed car can’t compete with a roadster.

For sure, you can’t live with roadster like this, if it is your only car. But since I have that obstacle covered, I can safely say that love does not make blind – because it doesn’t matter in this case. My love affair with the MX-5 goes back from the day I first saw one. At the time I did road tests for the newspaper I worked for, and of course I immediately inquired at the Dutch distributor if I could have one for a week. No problem, said the friendly PR lady at Mazda, but you have to be patient. I was, and waited, and waited. Every time I called, she could not tell when it would be my turn. Obviously, car magazines and national newspapers came first. Months went by, and then just a week before I would leave my job, the friendly Mazda lady called. I could have one for seven days just a month later. Too late. And that was my only regret when I left the newspaper.

Left: the first MX-5. Black Forest, of course.

Years passed by, and the spark was ignited once again when I saw that little roadster at a convertible car show, and for the first time, I could sit behind the wheel. Quite stationary, mind you, but it was more than I had ever experienced Mazda-wise. But I was not in the market for a new car then. So, again a couple of years went by – and then it was time for a new car. However, by that time the MX-5 had sunken deep in my subconscious, and for some unexplainable reason I had convinced myself that a Subaru Forester semi-SUV was the vehicle I needed. Buying proved to be not so easy, because the only salesman was occupied with another customer, and there was still someone waiting before me as well. I decided to go away, and come back next Saturday. Now, something odd happened just two days later. You might say I was guided, you might call it coincidence. But I walked to my supermarket, and on the parking lot there it was, waiting for me in a beautiful bronze colour, topless, and winking at me. The new second generation Mazda MX-5, most likely parked there by a nearby living Autoweek journalist doing a road test. Lightening struck. And a silver MX-5 was ordered that same week in May 1998. With thanks to the Subaru salesman, who was too busy.

Meanwhile I am on my second MX-5, the current generation. The car has grown more mature, lost some of its boyish light footedness and simplicity. But it gained in strength, speed, economy, comfort and quality. With 160 horses on tap in a small light car, traction control and a limited slip differential it is an absolute thrill to drive over curvious mountain roads and a joy on the Autobahn. I do not have to explain to you that Germany is one of my favourite vacation destinations, do I? But has the MX-5 reached its zenith with the current generation, and in my experience? I sure do not hope so, but the images of the next generation do not pump the adrenaline. And a 1.5 liter engine as the only choice? I’m all for progress, and the same horsepower and performance as the current 2.0 liter look fine in print. But what about that low end grunt? That ever effortless accelerating, no matter how fast you go? Because, why be rational here?


  1. I can agree with you on the attraction of having droptop-in-a-snap I have had two performance convertibles of different yet similar varieties as well. Virtually every modern car that I have had other than those convertibles has had at least a sunroof for an al fresco experience. A closed roof overhead is so cave-like when you are used to sun shining down from above. The rush of flying down the Interstate with the top down is great, but with the ability to "punch it" and pivot through the turns, a low-center-of-gravity sports car is always a blast. The snick-snick of stirring through the gears and the heal-and-toe action really do give a feeling of being connected to the road. I had two Mazda-based Ford Probes with 164hp V6s on tap, and they were just as much of a blast as my rear-drive V8s in the corners. If only they were available as convertibles…hence, the Mustang convertible. I would love to experience the Autobahn in any performance car some day, let alone in a convertible. There is no experience quite like driving a thoroughbred convertible.

  2. Allen, the feeling you describe is spot on. And I'm sure there will be another droptop in your future again. On the subject of Autobahns I do have to add that traffic is so dense these days that there is a speed limit of 130 km/h or less on about 60% of them, let alone the numerous road constructions.