I walked into a Mazda dealership, fell in love with a green leather package NB Miata and walked out, after getting completed screwed by the dealership, buying extended warranties, permaplate, under coating, glass protection, etc. I was so enamored by the car, I never bothered to put the top up while test driving it... when I proudly arrived at dinner, old car weeping gently in the trade in lot, I put the top up for the first time, and bonked myself on top of the head with it. Uhhh... what did I just buy??
It was a truly horrible deal, with upside down from my trade rolled in, and a grossly marked up money factor. Luckily, (and specifically because of this, I set out to learn how not to get hosed on buying cars...) I loved the car, it was so alive with promise. Every moment I spent behind the wheel, when the top was down, was basically bliss... until I realized I was sick of getting beaten up by V6 Toyota Camrys and sold the car at a loss, for a Mitsubishi Eclipse GSX, on which I put a big turbo, and all was right with the world for a short while.
Fast forward about 16 years, and nearly 40 cars... Mazda announced specs of the ND MX-5 (can I just call it a Miata, please?) earlier this year, and the response was an internet wide facepalm. Torque was up slightly, but redline was down 500 rpm and power was down 7. I mean, in this day and age of 300 hp family sedans that get 30 MPG, where was our motor? We got the base motor from Mazda's econobox and were expected to like it? This motor was as plebian as plebian gets, a Honda Civic Del Sol VTEC from 1994 out motored it and had that near VTEC rush to a much higher redline. Surely they had something else in the wings... and there was, but it was a 1.5l motor with even less power. Internet outrage and entitlement spread like wildfire; How could Mazda betray us with what could have been the perfect car with 300hp, and could have been brilliant with 250hp and we probably would have bought it still with 200 hp, but could do nothing but cruise at 55 in the slow lane with the Priuses of the world upping the CAFE average of a megalomaniac car company, shoving terrible vehicles down our unwavering throats.
The ND Miata's saving grace from the gallows of the internet trolls was curb weight. But, so many lies in pre-release press releases - promises of hundreds of pound weight reductions that ended up being false promises (I'm looking at you F80/F82 M3, with your supposed 400 lbs weight reduction to 3300 lbs that ballooned to less than 150 lbs delta from the 3704lbs previous generation rotund E92 M3.) that no one would take the claims at face value.
Low and behold, the press embargo on the ND Miata dropped at 12:01am on 6/1/2015 and the headlines were full of ridiculously fast 0-60 claims. Ridiculously fast at least, for 155hp. Automobile Magazine clocked their test Miata at 5.8 seconds 0-60, Car and Driver achieved a 5.9 0-60, and the internet went wild. There were the vaunted times that the 90s supercars could barely achieve with their techno-turbo marvel power plants making 300 horsepower! How could a little roadster with an econobox engine actually beat a Ferrari 348tS 0-60?
But, 155hp? It's like finding out your gorgeously flirty prom date has a 55 gallon drum of a lube and a bigger member than you do.
90s Supercar beating 0-60 times but econobox horsepower... what is really enjoy power? I've had some pretty fast cars, a modified 2007 911 Turbo that would spin the tires despite being AWD, a modified 2015 M3 that would break the tires loose in 3rd gear, and a modified twin turbo Supra, in menacing black, to hide the bits of rubber flung up from losing traction from freeway pulls. But, none of those fast in a straight line cars captivated me, like a lightweight roadster. Especially as I get older and am less willing to drive at super legal speeds on narrow twisty roads, the definition of enough power has changed quite a bit. I thought I'd found my ideal car in two vehicles, the Honda S2000 and the 2008-2013 BMW M3. The Honda combined appliance like reliability with roadster excitement and 237 hp of VTEC thrills at the top of the powerband. The M3 had an exotic sounding torqueless V8 that came alive as the tach shot past 5500 rpm, sounding more italian than current generation Maseratis that hide their tenor voices behind exhaust clogging turbochargers.
Human beings are much more aware of changes in acceleration than actual acceleration itself. The gentle push of an airliner taken off, despite accelerating to speeds faster than any automobile, feels mundane, the constant push is not particularly interesting. I personally love the interruptions of a transmission shifting to the next gear, and a powerband that varies and grows the higher you rev the motor. The M3 and S2000 are perfect examples - they accelerate harder the higher you are in the RPMs, making them feel faster and more importantly satisfying to rev all the way to redline. The 2014 Porsche Boxster S I owned, with the direct injection motor and smooth powerband was another great example of a powerband I like, reasonably expedient in the midrange but screams to redline with nearly 8000 rpm of overrun available for that tight corner you just don't want to waste a shift on.
Unfortunately, it's resulted in one-up-manship in the press too, so dry weights without the vital fluids required to make the car run, giving unrealistic expectations of featherweight cars. While modern cars are moving the right direction, from a weight perspective, for most, they have a long way to go still.
But how much power is enough? For me, the car has to get out of it's own way, which means a maximum 0-60 time of 6 seconds and a maximum quarter mile time of 14 seconds. At this pace, Granny in the V6 Camry next to you isn't going to show you her permanently lit brake lights without a fight. More importantly, though, is the shape of the power curve - it has to build as you near redline in a constant surge of power, linear yet ever increasing, with increased aural urgency. Porsche used to build this kind of power curve in with lumpy power curves that straightened themselves out magically as you reached the upper end of the tachometer, but recent Porsches get it right, pulling hard into redline with plenty of overrev capability as well.
Car guy fun has an element of looking danger in the face and laughing while you're under control or at least not so far out, you can't regain it. Fun is about pushing limits of traction and cars today are getting too fast to really do that effectively. You simply can't take 4000 lbs 600 hp car out to a back road and have anything resembling fun, after you are done boiling the tires off in a fit of rage. The amount of control required to approach the limits and the inertia involved with gathering such a beast up usually dampens the enjoyment at least for me. I took an extended test drive of a Jaguar F-type V8S, with it's machine gun like overrun and constantly traction limited hooligan nature, and found it uninspiring on a curve road after the initial allure of 495 horsepower vaporizing the tires wore off. It was ponderous handling, more like a pissed off sedan than a 2 seat roadster, and the at the limit behavior conspired with brakes that seemed to go on hiatus after long bursts of acceleration led me to seek something lower on motivational bravado and higher on the lightweight scale.
Ideally in a street car, I'd like to finish a standing quarter mile in 12-12.9 seconds. This is still enough to feel "fast" to me, and sufficient to keep me interested as long as the rest of the package is good enough. I need vibrant steering, powerful and solid feeling brakes, with lots of grip and communication through the suspension. I bought a 2014 FRS and was bored silly of it less than 2 months later. Great car for going around corners and it was a hoot when it was wet out, but during the dry, the car was underpowered, uninspiring and downright boring.
I worry that the 2016 ND Miata is more of the same. I've been promised a more interesting power curve with better, more communicative handling, and the availability of serious brake hardware. But, will it be enough to keep my interest in order to own one? As I've gotten older, I've realized that driving a slower balanced car that has the right combination of a good feeling power curve, communicative handling and solid brakes is more fun than bombing along a road in a supercar too numb to really enjoy the pace. My Audi R8 was really fun on a twisty road, but you quickly realized that actually exploring the limits of the car was dangerous at best and suicidal or homicidal at worst. I loved driving it, but hated realizing I was having to double or triple the speed limit to have fun.
I am going to test drive the ND Miata with an open mind. My heart tells me I should probably just get a 6th S2000, or search in earnest for a 987 generation Boxster Spyder, if I want to scratch that roadster itch but something about the curb weight and simpicity of the Miata calls to me. Lower limits and an entertaining power curve, as long as things achieve a harmonious balance that makes running up a sunny backroad at a reasonable pace truly enjoyable.
Silicon Valley Dad, who loves cars, cooking, clothes and cameras