[Ed. Note: ...Er, now this is embarrassing.
Having just changed the schedule, moving "Open Mike" to Monday and reserving Sunday for book-length projects, I have to...well, change back. But just for this week. I have a medical appointment tomorrow that's going to take up most of the day, so I won't be able to work much tomorrow. So, today, an Open Mike just like old times, and then I'll get to the new schedule next week.
Classic "SNAFU" ("situation normal, all f----d up"). Sorry. I'm going to have to keep doing this blogging thing for another decade, because clearly one decade has not been long enough for me to learn how to do it right.]
So do you have a perfect car? I mean not necessarily own it, but know what it is? (Another potentially interesting statistic that will never be measured: how many people actually own their ideal car.) Different for everyone, I know.
But do you? I do, now. The thought is making me happy.
ND (fourth generation) Mazda Miata, 2016–
I went to the local Mazda dealership the other day to inquire about an SUV, and ended up—well, taking a test drive in the new 2016 ND (fourth generation) MX-5 Miata. I know, I'm not good at staying on task.
For those of you who have not followed along, I owned a well-used 2001 Miata for a happy three years, but sold it to help raise money for a house move. Bought it for ten, sold it for six, put $1,400 of maintenance into it while I owned it—expensive, in other words. Got my money's worth.
The new one is...perfect. Fits my 6'1.5" 230-lbs. frame like a glove; pedals are in the right place; steering is magnificent, despite being electric; brake feel is good; top is super-easy to raise and lower (and I thought the old one was easy); corners like...well, a Miata, which is to say, will put a smile on your face every time; and it has enough naturally-aspirated power. Just enough, but that's part of the package: you're supposed to have fun staying in the right gear and keeping your momentum up, not relying on brute power to overwhelm all the inherent problems of proceeding quickly. For a car to be fun, it has to have a manual transmission, but for a manual transmission to be fun, you have to have a small motor. Didn't Top Gear once take a Corvette Z06 from a dead stop to over 160 MPH in one gear—fifth? No fun in having a manual if the engine makes it into an automatic.
And of course the engine is in the proper place, there are enough seats but not too many, the top can be removed, the car is light and small, the correct wheels are driven, and the transmission is operated in the way God intended. It all fits together. For example, with a small motor and stick shift, you have to be able to hear the engine so you know what it's doing...which is another great reason for the car to be a convertible. It's the whole interrelated package that makes life so right, you see.
Bad hat cars
Miatas have a reputation as "chick cars." Although I am not a chick, I fail to see any inherent problem in liking things women like. They are typically less idiotic than we men are about many things, shoes being the main exception that I can think of off the top of my head.
Miatas got the label because, when the NB (second generation) model was new, in 1999, the take-rate among females climbed just above 50% for something like a year or 18 months, up from about 35% for the first car, before subsiding again. This highly alarming fact caused the hysterical macho males of the world—and their designated proxies, automotive writers—to spin up into a frantic tizzy from which they have not yet recovered. Because, of course, as they and all six- to ten-year-old-boys know, girls have cooties, and eww.
Actually, like many such urban myths, that one is flat not true. Miatas are unusual in that they are bought overwhelmingly by males—two-thirds vs. one-third. That's according to Mazda, applied to new cars. (For most vehicles the ratio is within single digits of 50/50.) I would bet a hundred bucks that for used cars the percentage is even more skewed. But that's another of those forever-unmeasurable stats.
Granted, Corvettes sell even more heavily to males than Miatas do. And of course we all know what men buy when they want people to think they are Ram Tough, no offense. (Forgive me. I hate pickup trucks when they're used as cars.)
However, like the Corvette, the Miata is bought mostly by...bald and gray males. Wearing hats.
The reason for that is clear, too—two-seater RWD cars are "toy" cars, seldom usable as sole vehicles except by a few hardcore types. Not only are older men pathetically trying to recapture some of the élan of their younger years, not only are they trying to realize the idle automotive dreams of their youth before it's too late (which was why I bought mine), but, well, they're more likely to have enough money for a second car.
That's too bad, of course, because the Miata is the perfect car for anyone in their twenties. But twentysomethings have to drive well-used beater Camrys or Impalas or Accords or Fusions because they can't afford anything else. Life is unjust. Look at it this way: they have more sex, too. Life giveth and life taketh away.
Incidentally, there's a reason for the hat thing. My dermatologist recently suggested I start wearing hats outdoors lest I get sunburn, and eventually skin cancer, on my bald spot. I chose this and it's awesome.
Watch for convertible Corvettes and Miatas and notice who's driving. Chances are it'll be a grumpy-looking older male in a bad hat. Bro! :-)
And they only look grumpy. If you could see them better you would notice a faint smile, which is how they register happiness and contentment.
A photographer's car
I would like to assert that the Miata is the perfect photographer's car. Small, handy, and maneuverable; with the top down, offering an unparalleled view of the earth and the heavens; and you can keep the camera handy on the well-bolstered seat next to you or else in the well-bolstered lap of the postulated sexy lady in the seat.
I say I would like to assert that, but of course it's just craven low-down rationalizing BS.
The new Miata is set up soft. It's a bit detuned; steering and clutch are light; a fair amount of body roll has been left in. This is surely by design, in the same way that the Subaru BRZ comes with skinny tires so they don't grip too well (the better to drift with, my dear). Many older buyers will want their Miatas not as sports cars but as sporty cruisers; and the wife doesn't want her teeth to rattle every time the adventuring couple encounters rough pavement.
Modified 10th Anniversary Miata that has an aftermarket turbocharger
Mazda is, of course, being crafty like the fox. The passion, the enthusiasm that is Miata mania is greatly nourished by the flourishing aftermarket for mods and parts. Flyin' Miata, Good-Win Racing, Moss Miata, and dozens of others sell a proliferation of bits and pieces to help you or your mechanic set up your Miata exactly as you want it. Tuner ECU calibration, turbochargers and superchargers, suspension kits, bigger brakes, all sorts of goodies. I bought super-duper spark plugs and spark-plug wires for my '01 and was amazed at how much of a difference it made. Of course Miata enthusiasts all have their favorite exhausts, of which there are dozens, if not hundreds, to allow you to get the noise you like. I'm kinda partial to the Racing Beat Power Pulse myself. Flyin' Miata will even sell you an exhaust with a button on the key fob that allows you to switch it into quiet mode, loud (bypass) mode, or a combination of the two—quiet unless you go hard on the throttle, which triggers a butterfly valve that lets the engine make a fine noise. Now I ask you, what kind of hat-wearing older gentleman would not want to get something like that for Christmas?
Buy it! Buy it! Buy it!
My "perfect car" really does have to be something affordable. Even in my daydreams, I do not hanker after supercars. I wouldn't want to be responsible for a finicky low-volume supercar; I'd resent the through-the-roof cost of maintenance even if I could afford it; and it's a matter of principle and of perspective, too. I don't like ostentation, and for me to feel comfortable driving a car, it would have to be something an ordinary non-1%er citizen a) could theoretically afford and b) wouldn't envy too much. I don't mind sticking out, but I wouldn't want to be "sticking anyone's nose in it" when I drive by. That's just me, and I'm probably in the minority.
Since I've lived here in Western New York State, I've been seeing a new car in my future. But I will most likely never own a brand new ND Miata. I already had my open-top roadster Summers, and I'm very happy I went ahead and did that. But the cars are light and rear-wheel drive—in my '01 I once got stuck on the ice on a hill so gentle and mild it was actually kinda hard to tell it was a hill. We have hills you could fall down around here. And big news on the new one is that although the trunk isn't any bigger, it's actually shaped differently enough so that you can put a couple of brown paper sacks full of groceries in it standing upright and not crush them with the trunklid! Wow! Technology!
My problem isn't that I couldn't possibly afford an ND...my problem is that once I owned it, I would still need a car. Something that will transport two dogs and occasionally lumber, that can claw its way up steep hills and isn't too fazed by Winter. Something like that CX-5 SUV I went to the Mazda dealer to look at, before my head got turned.
But O, Forester, O, RAV4, though I glimpse you on the horizon heading my way on an intersecting trajectory, you are not where my heart lies. In dreams, in heaven, I know how I'll be getting down the road. :-)
"Open Mike" is the off-topic page of TOP. We're not quite settled yet on when it appears.
Original contents copyright 2016 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Eric Brody: "I know how it feels. I just sold my 2007 Miata because my wife hated it, too close to the ground; my two black lab mixes did not like to ride in it, and I live in Western Oregon, where it rains a fair amount. Summary, it did not get much use. When I used it more, before my daughter left the country and I inherited the dogs, it was a lot of fun, most fun I've ever had in a car. It had a six-speed, and was way too fast (though I never got a ticket). I'm older now, definitely need a hat, and am most certainly gray, as are my dogs. The fellow who bought it has a wife and three kids. I hope he gets to use it."
Joe: "I love your phrase 'hysterical macho' since 'hysterical' originally meant 'a neurotic condition peculiar to women and thought to be caused by a dysfunction of the uterus.' Plays right into your theme. You meant to do that, right?"
Mike replies: I did. Wordsmithy being my thang. Thank you for noticing.
Russell Guzewicz: "I'd like to think the new Volvo V60 wagon with the upgrades by Polestar would fit this families needs and that new Miata certainly recaptures some of the élan of Lotus's younger years."
Mike replies: Ah, and you noticed that. My readers are sharp-eyed today. :-)
Michael Matthews: "Lease it! Lease it! Lease it! When I shopped for a Miata in September, 2012, my eight year old Civic trade-in brought the monthly price of the Mazda down to $147 per month plus tax. With that cost—needing only oil and filter changes as maintenance during the 36 month lease—and a bumper-to-bumper factory warranty, the offer was too good to refuse. The car sits and drives like my '59 MGA did 50 years ago, but it has all the construction and technical advantages of a new car. It is exactly what the MG should have become, rather than rolling over dead in the face of U.S. emissions and safety rules imposed in the 1970s. Even if you have to buy a used Subaru for bad weather the extra outlay is worth it. You are living in top-down, two seat, manual shift, RWD heaven. Go for it!"
Mike replies: You readers are a very bad influence on me. And I am very appreciative, thank you.
Michael Martin-Morgan: "Bentley Continental. Saves buying the hat."
JohnMFlores: "Not that I would recommend it for upstate NY, but I've made it through NJ winters with a Miata, four snow tires, and 80 pounds of kitty litter. With my current car, a Honda S2000, I can make it up a nearly Finger Lakes steep grade with 3" of fresh snow thanks to four snows and 50 pound plates in the trunk."
Mike replies: Like I said, hardcore.
Mani Sitaraman: "The Mazda MX-5 lists (and sells) for US$135,000 here in Singapore. That's not an extra zero; cars are very heavily taxed here."
Mike replies: I know! My Mom and stepfather lived in Singapore for three years when my stepfather was on loan from Harvard (or was it HIID?) to the National University of Singapore to establish a counterpart to the Kennedy School's Mason Fellowship program. They paid, I think, $29k for a well-used Toyota econocar, and $5k taxes annually to boot! Americans get gasoline that is effectively heavily subsidized, too. I've seen expert estimates which said that if the cost in military assets used to guard global oil shipping were added directly to gasoline, we'd all be paying $12 a gollon. We're not very grateful for the advantages we have here because we're just not very aware of them.
Alexander Thorp: "There are two features of automobile life in Germany which you might like: winter tyres and seasonal registrations. With winter tyres you can get up and down snowy hills in RWD cars with no ESP such as my E34 BMW 525i, and they are now mandatory when driving in winter conditions—you get a fine and points on your license if caught with summer tyres in snow. Meanwhile with seasonal registrations you can buy one car for winter (practical Subaru Forester, etc.) and one for summer, and just pay tax and insurance for each for those months of the year for which it is registered."
Mike replies: Whoa, I really, really like that second idea. Especially given the cost of insurance. I would go for that if it were possible here.