Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Straight Flush, NC High

Regular readers---at least those who don't tune out when I start gabbing about my automotive addiction---know that I've been wanting an NC (third-generation Miata) for almost 2 years now. On Saturday, my very understanding wife drove me to Frederiksburg, Virginia to purchase one.

The new car was a leftover 2009 model, so I was able to get a pretty good deal on it: 7,660 dollars off of MSRP, in fact. I started my search for an '09 a bit late to find exactly what I was looking for in-town. Hence our schlep out to Fredericksburg. The scarcity of leftovers also meant that I wasn't able to find exactly, exactly what I wanted anywhere closer than Massachusetts, so I had to compromise a bit. More on that in a few paragraphs.

Why was I so dead-set on the 2009? Well, I was originally looking for a 2006 to 2008, preferably a 2007. Then I read of people on getting 6000 or 7000 off of MSRP on leftover '09s, and my interest was piqued. You see, the Miata received a midcycle refresh for 2009, resulting in what has come to be called the NC2. The changes, which constitute more than a simple facelift, consist of numerous small but meaningful alterations to the engine, transmission, suspension (6MT only), interior and exterior. Almost all of these changes, especially the 500-rpm redline increase, are for the better.

Except for the grill. Oh, and the "induction sound enhancer."

The new grill brings Mazda's company-wide smiling grill to the Miata. It's enormous. And hideous. At least in my opinion. I'm especially annoyed that about 60% of it is blocked off, fake.

Anyway, the new car is the Touring trim level, which means it comes with some nice performance parts, like the 6-speed transmission and a front-shock-tower brace. Additionally, all the '09 and '10 manual Tourings are bundled with the Suspension Package, which includes Bilstein dampers, different springs, and a limited-slip differential.* Sadly, to acquire all those goodies, I also had to get heavier, 17-inch wheels, and a bunch of comfort-and-convenience features in which I was uninterested: power windows, a fancier stereo, fog lamps, auto-dimming mirror with Homelink, and the aforementioned induction sound enhancer. The ISE is a plastic pipe, branching off the induction system and running to the port side of the firewall, thus pointing the intake sound at the driver, presumably to make him feel like he's driving a sports car. I guess it's less obnoxious than a loud exhaust, but it seems like a stupid expenditure of perhaps 3 lb. Especially given the way Mazda touts the "gram strategy" they used on the NC, like how how they shaved 80 g from the (base) rearview mirror. Did I mention that my car has the "luxurious" portly mirror with a bunch of built in electronics? Gram strategy? No.

I decided that the weight penalty---I calculate about 10 to 15 lbs---associated with all those extra, unwanted luxuries, combined with the additional weight of the 6MT and FSTB---probably around 20 lb---was counterbalanced by the performance enhancements of the 6MT and the Suspension Package. I guess Oh, I suppose I should add the weight of the spoiler that came on my particular car into this computation as well. I'm still not convinced it was a worthwhile tradeoff.

Anyone other than Colin Chapman would say I'm being ridiculous, beyond up-tight, about the weight of my Miata. According to Mazda, the curb weight on my new NC is 2511 lbs. That's 19 lbs lighter than Mia, my Mazdaspeed (NB) Miata, even though the new car has those extra features, a noticably stiffer chassis, and an integrated rollbar. And the new car is more than 300 lbs lighter than the lightest Honda S2000---the S200CR, but only if the hardtop is counted---or the Pontiac Soltice/Saturn Sky. Now that those cars are out of production, you can't find another non-Lotus sports car under about 3200 lbs. That's right; the Miata is the lightest production sports car an American can buy that isn't an Elise or Exige. And those cars have waivers for certain safety standards because of the small production numbers. So I guess I shouldn't be too upset.

"Enough about weight; what about the power?" I hear you ask. The Mazdaspeed Miata was the highest-power, highest-torque Miata ever sold by Mazda. It was rated at 178 bhp and 166 lb-ft using the pre-2006 testing protocol. Using the same procedure, my car would come in at 171 bhp and 140 lb-feet. So, the power-to-weight ratio is almost as high, but the torque is comparatively lacking. I plan to fix that shortcoming this summer. Because the NC is naturally aspirated, it doesn't benefit from simple intake and exhaust modifications like the MSM would. I can't take the NC to 200 wheel horsepower (about 230 brake horsepower) like I could have with the NC, but 167 whp (about 200 bhp) is possible, and that's about the right amount of power for street use in this car, at least in my opinion.

I'm enjoying the car so far. The chassis is clearly much stiffer than Mia's, and the doors are much weightier, indicating improved crashworthyness. How is the weight actually lower, then? Partly because more liberal use was made of aluminum in place of steel; in addition to the hood and engine head, which are aluminum on the NA and NB, the NC uses aluminum in the trunklid, front control arms, and engine block. I think a lot of the weight reduction came from clever engineering; I guess the gram strategy did pay off. My MSM is the ultimate evolution of the NB, which was itself an overhaul of the NA, but not a clean-sheet redesign. The NA was designed in the 1980s, so the MSM is saddled with an engine and chassis that are essentially '80s designs. The NC chassis---a modification of the RX-8 chassis---and engine were designed in the 2000s. Actually, everything in the NC seems both better engineered and better assembled than on Mia or Emma, my NA.

For example, on the NC, the coolant is routed correctly,** and the heater can be turned all the way off, so both the engine and the driver can stay comfortable, even when the car is working hard. Additionally, because the pistons and engine block are the same material, their thermal coefficients of expansion match, preventing the pistons from being either pinched or loose, a condition that both Emma and Mia suffer from.

And that brings me to the name for my latest tiny car. I was originally looking for a True Red example. Since I'm an avid Batman fan, and I've recently been playing Batman: Arkhan Asylum, it seemed natural to me that a red-and black car with a huge, black Joker grin should be named Harley, as in Quinn. I mean, such a car would clearly be the automotive incarnation of Dr. Harleen Quinzel. But, since the best-colored '09 Touring manual soft top*** I could find was Liquid Silver, I'm uncertain what do now. I considered Selina, but this car seems too happy for such a serious name. Besides, Ms Kyle usually dresses in black, though sometimes in purple. Your suggestions are welcome.

Well, I've told you far, far more about my latest automotive acquisition than you wanted. So I'll shut up now. For a bit, at least.

(And don't worry; I'm not keeping them all.)

* The LSD alone is worth the 500-dollar premium for the Suspension Package.
** In one end of the block and out the other, not in one end and back out the same end.
*** No power-retractable hard top for me. If you think I get annoyed about the 10- or 15-lb weight penulty associated with some superfluous conveniences, you should see my head spin around at mention of the 75 lbs the PRHT adds to the car. Plus, I'd prefer to avoid all the elctro-mechanical complexity of the powered hard top. Doubleplus, none of the aftermarket rollbars will fit under the PRHT.


  1. So, are you going to keep the other two Miatas, or is one of them going to be sold?

    Out of curiousity, do you empty your pockets before doing any sort of performance driving? Experiments with a doctor's scale indicate that my belt, shoes, keys, knife, flashlight, wallet, phone, and chapstick have a collective weight of more than five pounds. Of course, I carry ~70 pounds more weight with me that you do at all times...

    I might suggest Pallas, a name for Athena and the source of the name for palladium (which is silvery).

  2. The plan is to sell Mia. The new car would be used for commuting and autocross. Emma will remain the track car.

    Actually, I do cut down on what I carry when I drive in autocross or on track. I usually have my wallet, car keys only, and phone. My wallet is much smaller than yours, since I typically only carry my license, an ATM card, a credit card, and my emergency check. I carry the car keeps separately from the house keys, office keys, multi-tool, and miniature pen because (a) I don't like having all that crap dangling from the ignition, and (b) I swap cars frequently. I keep the phone on my because it's too valuable to leave in the paddock with my spare tire, tools, and whatnot.

    I like the reasoning behind your suggestion of Pallas, but I'm afraid it sounds too much like "phallus" for me.

  3. My sophisticated and informed opinion is that it is a very pretty car that looks like it would be fun to drive. So, well done.

    My name recommendation (first draft) is "Ginny." Rationale:
    1. You seem to prefer feminine names for your cars
    2. It is a light-hearted name as specified by your response to Nick
    3. "Gin" (hard "g") is a Japanese word for silver, the color of this Japanese car
    4. "Gin" (soft "g") and "ginny" are antiquated abbreviations for "engine" (e.g. cotton gin) and you like engines
    5. I like the other kind of gin

    Unfortunately, I can't think of even a specious connection to the feminine name or state of Virginia.

  4. And if you're still fixated on the world of the Batman, Bruce Wayne did have a recurring girlfriend named Silver St. Cloud. Maybe you can do something with that. Though I'm not optimistic.

  5. If only it had a wankel, it could be the "Spinning Ginny." And with that it is time for bed.

  6. Thank you, folks! Ken will be here all week! Try the fish, and be sure to tip your server!

    I like the suggestion of Ginny very much.

    Another idea: "Alma," for Almaden, the mine in Spain that's been producing mercury for 2500+ years.

  7. Silencius,

    I like the reasoning behind---and delivery of---your suggestion. There is, in fact, a non-specious connection to the Commonwealth of Virginia: That's where I got the car.

    Did Wayne seriously data a woman with that name? That's worse than Vicky Vale.

    I already have names picked out for any rotary-powered car I ever own: Savanna (for an RX-7) or Cosmo (for any car with fat-triangle-powered car).

    On a similar note, if I ever own another Z, it will be named Eliza:

    And any Nissan SX car will be christened Silvia:

    Thanks for your suggestion.

  8. Nick,

    It's quite handy having a chemist at hand when looking for a name for a Liquid Silver car. I was looking for a connection to mercury but couldn't come up with one. The best I could do was Hermes.

  9. All I have to say is that this post is worthless without pics!!!