David Putter: "They treated me so awesome."
It's well known on car forums that "the answer to every question is 'Miata.'" It's also well known that the Miata is the best-selling roadster of all time. Since I love roadsters (a woman friend once told me, "you like go-karty cars," which nailed that), you might imagine that I'd like it. I do. In fact, the 2016+ Miata (codenamed ND, following as it did the NA, NB, and NC) is, in my opinion, the ideal car. It's small and light, the top folds down manually, it's rear-wheel drive, it has the engine at the correct end, it has the right number of seats, and it's available with a stick shift. The engine is low-powered enough that you have to row the gears and stay on the right one. Plus, it's the right size and power level to be usable and enjoyable on real-world roads, driving real-world speeds.
If someone offered to give me one or the other and I had to drive them and couldn't resell them, I would take a new Miata over a new Ferrari, and I'm deadly serious. If I could resell them, I'd take the Ferrari, drive it for a month for the experience of turning some heads on the freeway, sell it, buy a Miata or maybe even two, and pocket the change. There would be a lot of change.
There aren't a lot of roadsters these days. Their historical moment has passed. The quintessential driving experience c. 2017 is sitting in an SUV in endless stop-and-go traffic, despairing and wishing that Google would hurry up with those self-driving cars already. Me, I'm just grateful that one example of the perfect car is still available to buy new. I don't happen to be able to afford one, but that's my fault. I don't do enough gear posts ;-)
More than most cars, Miata buyers skew male—about 70%, a rate surpassed only by a few iconic muscle cars such as the Corvette. (The Corvette has a take-rate that's about 86% male. The other 14% must be the type of femmes fatales who wear stiletto heels at bars and could hurt you). Much more than most cars, male Miata buyers skew middle-aged. Finally, most middle-aged male Miata buyers have beards.
Middle-aged dudes with beards. That's the Miata's demographic.
David Putter is a middle-aged beardy guy. More about him in a minute.
The "chick-car" myth is not the only thing about Miatas that isn't true. Actually, that idea about the Miata being the best-selling roadster isn't quite accurate either.
I mean, it is—the Miata has sold right around a million iterations since 1989, far more than any other roadster nameplate in automotive history. But what they don't tell you is that that it hasn't sold very well for a long, long time. Long gone are the days when Mazda sold 59,000 Miatas a year. In recent years, it's been more like one-tenth that.
In fact, had the Miata not been the "halo car" for the Mazda brand—a brand in need of its halo, as Mazda is one of the lesser Japanese carmakers—there is a pretty good possibility that it would have been discontinued after the NC variant (2006–2015). The NC saw its North American sales numbers dip below 5k before it was retired. In fact, in 2014, U.S. Miata sales dipped below 300 in four separate months, which is not good at all.
This leads to the demise of the last myth, which is that Miata buyers love...well, Miatas. I.e., true roadsters with stick shifts. Again, they do, no doubt, for sure...in theory...but they're also middle-aged males, who are getting older, creakier, and, um, thicker, and who, despite themselves, care more about creature comforts than they used to. So a few things Mazda discovered over the run of the NC, besides the mystifying fact that Americans love cup-holders, was that a) more buyers than you might think went for the automatic transmission option, despite it being sacrilege; and b) that the retractable hardtop variant was popular.
The retractable hardtop was the biggest surprise. Meant as a one-off to spur flagging sales, it was so popular it ended up outselling the ragtop version of the car.
So when Mazda decided to go ahead with the new ND, and opted for a total ground-up redesign, a hardtop variant was designed-in from the start.
The result is the Mazda Miata RF. That doesn't stand for rangefinder, which is what "RF" always means to me; it stands for Retractable Fastback. It's actually a targa with an automatically self-stowing top, but Porsche has the word "targa" so tied up that Harry Houdini himself couldn't get it loose. Here's a video showing how it works. And, of course, having learned its lesson with the NC RH, Mazda expects the '17 RF to outsell the convertible versions of the car.
And that's where David Putter comes in. The ND Miata debuted in convertible form. David Putter, who has owned 16 Mazdas and eight Miatas and is a Miata fanatic, was chosen by Mazda last Fall to be the ceremonial recipient of the very first North American RF "Launch Edition."
All very cool. The RF is one of the best-looking cars on the road and, if historical trends for sports cars hold true, Mazda can enjoy a few years of strong sales (new sports cars tend to sell well for a few years when they're new. Sales then tail off). So far, so good: in 2016, the convertible ND broke 1,000 in monthly sales in the U.S. three times. No telling how many more middle-aged beardy guys like David Putter were holding off for the RF, but we'll know soon.
Me? I'd still take the convertible. I had a Miata for three years and hardly ever raised the top. Roadsters forever.
And if you actually like muscle cars? Well, you're strange and I don't understand, but, for you, compliments of Flyin' Miata in Colorado, there's a 2016+ Miata with a Chevy small-block LS3 engine from a Corvette in it. Since the Miata with a V-8 is still 600 lbs. lighter than the lightest Corvette, you will be eating Corvettes and Mustang GTs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
And even holding your own with Ferraris, too.
(Thanks to Jim)
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Original contents copyright 2017 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:
Carsten Bockermann: "I still own and love my NA Miata that I bought a little over 21 years ago when I lived in the U.S."
Chris Hunt: "I came to the Miata by way of the Spec race class. I had no inclination towards them as I viewed them as a bit feminine myself, but the spec class was/is great for these cars. Big fields, competitive driver-focus with (theoretically) equal cars, lower (theoretical) costs, and so on.
"I'll tell you, though, that after getting the car, for the two months I might have driven it prior to gutting it out, installing a cage and other safety gear, as well as a stiff suspension (thereby ruining it for any use off of a track), it was like heaven in a driving experience. I drove my father's Mazdaspeed version of the NB later, and that was just heavenly-er. I have a hard time conceptualizing a car nearer to perfect. I was, and still am, shocked at my reversal of attitude toward the Miata.
"I daydream occasionally of getting another Miata to replace my daily car. Alas, I'm in that middle-aged group sans beard, and I have a child to ferry around often. Still, it's tempting.
"Long live the Miata, so I can keep those daydreams fed.
"Oh, and I'd get the convertible too. That RF is neat and all, but it's just not the same animal to me."
Jim: "Having owned over two dozen Alfas, a C4 Corvette and two Miatas (NAs), I have many stories about roadsters. These are from our 30 years in Boston.
"After my '63 Alfa Giulia Spider was the victim of a hit and run (Cadillac Escalade), I decided to never drive a vintage car on the street again. I bought a '84 C4 Corvette coupe, all black. When I took it to a shop in the Italian corner of Boston to be inspected for MA licenses, a middle-aged lady, dressed all in black, looking like a Mafia groupie, came over and hit on me—a middle-aged guy with a beard, natch.
"After a few years of Corvette ownership and some fun (made a great track car—I remember doing a 360-degree spin at New Hampshire Motor Speedway one day—and recovering), I sold it and replaced it with a '92 Miata. A few days later, I parked it in our small town center (near Cambridge, Mass.) and was surrounded by a bunch of preteen girls who were gaga over my red sports car. I found the difference in the females who were impressed with my cars interesting....
"That Miata became the car I kept for the longest—sold it when I moved to California. Bought another out here and kept it less than a month—could not live with the fact that half the vehicles here are pickups jacked up until I could almost drive under them. My sense of survival prevailed...."
Mike replies: I thought you'd be good for a great comment on this post, Jim. Thanks.
I suspect every Miata owner has an "almost got run over by an idiot who didn't notice my car" story. Miatas do need much better, louder horns, that's one way they could be improved!
Paul H: "Drove one of the first gen MX5s for a weekend when a friend and I did a weekend car swap (he needed something a bit roomier for a house moving exercise). It was a lot of fun—handled nicely, not too stiffly sprung, and plenty of feedback. Very usable performance for normal roads. Not fast, but then 'tis more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow...."
Per Kylberg (partial comment): "Being an ex-gokart racer, I am not that impressed by the Mazda. Take a look at Mercedes SLC instead. Shorter than the 'Miata' and definitely not boringly underpowered. Another fave for me is the Honda S2000; better balanced on the race track and also not underpowered."
Mike replies: All Mazdas are underpowered. It's a law of the (automotive) Universe.
There was one exception, but it had its own problems. The New Yorker magazine runs a weekly "Caption Contest," where they provide the cartoon and ask readers to supply the caption. One early one showed a car frantically scooting around in circles while two mechanics sit at a nearby repair shop looking on, one saying something to the other. One caption I thought of would only have worked in a car magazine—it was, "I told him the Mazdaspeed 3 suffered from torque steer, but he wouldn't listen." (The car was going in clockwise circles, i.e. turning to the right, so the caption I submitted was, "He really tore me a new one. Told me we made the steering pull to the left." The winning caption was, "At what point does this become our problem?")
Paul De Zan: "Right after the election (and I blame this move on a desperate need for distraction), I did something completely out of character re: cars. After a lifetime of fascination with and ownership of driver-oriented, foreign-built cars, cars that 'can be balanced' as Stirling Moss put it, I bought a phenomenally unbalanced 1964 Chevrolet Bel Air two-door sedan, which was born with a 289 V-8 but now has the legendary 409 in it. Other than the engine, the car is bone stock and looks about two years old. It is the quintessential Q-ship, a car that looks like a schoolteacher's Sunday driver, but which absolutely hammers the earth on which it stands. The engine swap was half-assed, so I've busied myself making everything correct and the end result is an absurdly fast, absurdly loud and profoundly wasteful vehicle that turns more male heads that anything I've ever driven. I plan to sell it next year and I'm going to have an absolute blast making a sales video for it.
"I am completely out of my mind to have done this, but it's certainly in the spirit of the times."