Monday, February 11, 2008

An Unsolicited Miata Update

After owning my Mazdaspeed MX-5 for about a week, I have formed some opinions on the car's merits and demerits. And I've taken a couple of photos.

Overall, the car is pleasant to live with. It's quite easy to drive, even in traffic. Because of the large wheels, stiff, lowered suspension, and upsized anti-roll bars on the Mazdaspeed model, it rides somewhat more firmly than the standard Miata and much more stiffly than a family sedan. In my opinion, the ride quality is a small price to pay for the sure-footed handling the car offers. (Of course, I ride a bike with a 160-gram saddle, so perhaps my keister isn't the most sensitive.)

The steering ratio is very quick, which is quite fun. Another fun feature is the way the car seems to exaggerate your speed. Because the vehicle is so small and so low, it always feels like I'm zipping along, even at modest velocities. This effect is magnified with the top down.

The 6-speed transmission has a very short throw, which means shifts can be made very quickly. The downside to this design is that the stick positions corresponding to the gears sit quite near one another in real space. In particular, 1st and 2nd are close to 3rd and 4th, which are close to 5th and 6th. It's taking me some time to become accustomed to this proximity, so I don't shift into 4th when I was looking for 6th, for example. The gear ratios are also close together in gear space. That means that you always have just the right ratio available. The downside to the close-ratio setup is that you have to shift many times on your way up to cruising speed. I've found it convenient to skip 5th gear, when I'm not driving hard, just as I often skip 4th in the CRX. Another ramification of the closely spaced gearing is that the engine still spins at about 3000 rpm at 60 mph. So, if I had thought that the 6th ratio would let the engine loaf along at highway speed and really improve my fuel economy, I would have been mistaken. The shifting could be a little smoother, I must admit; the transitions to 5th and 6th, in particular, are rough.

The boost from the turbo really comes on around 3500 rpm. You'll be casually accelerating and---wham---you're suddenly going 10 mph faster. This feature combines with the gear ratios to make the car want to run at around 75 on the highway; if you are trying to drive around 65, the boost will creep in, and you'll be doing 75 without realizing it. I guess it's a testament to the vehicle's handling that, even though it feels fast at neighborhood speeds, it seems perfectly stable at 75. Of course, when you are trying to go fast the turbo boost is invaluable.

The outside mirrors could stand to be about 8 inches further forward in my opinion. That placement would make it easier and faster to check them.

Some might find the cockpit to be too tight, but, given my small size and personal preferences, I find it more snug and secure than cramped. There isn't a lot of storage space in the cabin, but what exits is well thought-out. Similarly, there's not much room in the trunk for luggage or purchases, but I knew that would be the case when I bought the car. I hasten to point out that the boot is far from useless; you can put a week's worth of groceries for 2 people in it, as long as you don't buy an 8-pack of paper towels, too.

The Bose 6-CD, 5-speaker sound system is fantastic. It even has automatic level control, which changes the volume according to your speed, depending on whether the top is up or down. I would have been happy with a decent single-CD system with 2 nice speakers; this system is certainly beyond my needs.

All in all, I'm enjoying the car quite a bit, and I expect to continue to do so.


  1. The ride is even tighter than a standard Miata? Yow. I used to say that in my dad's (ordinary, stock-trim) Miata, you could not only tell a nickel from a quarter by running over it, you could tell whether it was heads or tails.

    Once you get used to it, the ultra-short-throw transmission is a thing of beauty. With some practice, it's possible to shift extraordinarily quickly.

    My dad maxed his Miata out at about 120 mph on a long straightaway once, and he said it was still rock-stable at that speed. Given that your car is both stiffer and more powerful, you should be able to do even better than that, given a suitable space.

  2. Nick,

    Yep, the suspension is pretty firm, indeed. You should come over and give me your opinion sometime. Be sure to bring a quarter and a nickel with you. (We can do something about your Xbox withdrawal, too.)

    Don't get me wrong; I'm enjoying the short-throw shifter. It's just taking a little concentration at first. There are even aftermarket short-shift kits for this car. I won't be purchasing one of those. A weighted shift knob, on the other hand...

    I'm not sure when I'll have the opportunity to take the car past 120. I AM going to be attending SCCA autocross school next month, so I'll have a chance to push the car hard. However, given the layout of autocross circuits, I doubt I'll hit speeds higher than 60.

    Thanks for your comment.