Being someone who values the driving experience over practically everything else, it came as no surprise to family and friends when I decided on an NB MX-5 Miata as my new daily in October of 2016. At the onset of Seattle’s wettest, coldest and darkest months, I set off in a RWD, 6-speed roadster. By no means was my decision to purchase a decade-old Miata at the beginning of winter practical or sensible. I was forgoing comfort, utility, and a certain level of safety all in the name of driving enjoyment. The little MX-5 may be emblematic of my journey towards Triumph TR6 ownership (a boyhood dream), but the past four months have not been without their lessons. Here are five lessons I’ve learned from daily driving a Miata:
5. Vehicular Bullying is Inevitable
There are three scenarios in which I find that Miata drivers are bullied the most. The first is freeway on-ramps; I am frequently merged into by merging vehicles. As part of the already-moving freeway traffic, it is my responsibility to maintain a steady, consistent speed and center my position when in the slow lane. Right? Wrong, at least according to the morons that decide to come inches from my front bumper or simply run me off into the other lane.
The second scenario is parking lots; typically, when you pull out of a parking spot, especially in reverse, oncoming cars give you two or three car lengths of space to select a forward gear and have enough room to drive off. Not in a Miata. Even as I’m backing up from a spot, cars will continue to approach the Miata, leaving me zero room for forward motion once I’m out. This has happened on countless occasions.
Lastly comes tailgating. Just as the scrawny poindexter gets pushed and shoved around in grade school, so too does the Miata. Drivers of larger cars, which are essentially all of them, tend think that intimidating their way up into the Miata’s rear end will force me out of the way. They would be right. If a driver aims to pass, they should rightfully pass, so I move over. However, I have never experienced such a level of tailgating as in the Miata, regardless of my lane choice or speed.
4. Momentum is Paramount
Traffic moves fast these days. In big cities, where everyone’s in a hurry or has some place to be, I am consistently being left in the dust by Toyota Siennas and Acura RDXs at green lights. Not to mention, cars themselves are fast these days. Said Siennas are hitting 60 mph a full second faster than the NB Miata. It doesn’t help that the NB 6-speed has just about the shortest 1st gear of all time; 2nd gear starts have become commonplace for me now.
High-traffic hills can be interesting. Cruising along at 50 mph at 3K RPMs in 5th gear, the Miata will flow nicely through uphill bends. However, be warned if you should ever have to brake for traffic up ahead. Having to drop into 4th or even 3rd, then getting back up to speed and into 5th again can be daunting uphill.
I had sometimes heard the terms “momentum cars” and “managing momentum” from racer friends, but only now do I fully understand what it all means. The Miata is truly a momentum car.
3. The Manual is Dead
The modern driver does not know or even care that you drive a manual.
I had one valet at a hotel, which shall remain unnamed, in Bellevue, WA shamefully reject my Miata because it’s a manual. The young man kindly guided me to the valet area, where I parked the Miata myself, free of charge, but not before he remarked “no one drives these anymore” and “I never learned.”
Not unlike lesson number one, I find that plenty of modern drivers are clueless about minimum following distance. Growing up, it was customary to leave the driver in front of you at least a car length of space when stopped on a hill, in case they should roll back even just a couple feet for any reason. Of course, those were the days when manuals were more common. Those days are gone. Hill-assist, ubiquitous automatics, and everyone being in a hurry have made for city streets where the cars are almost glued to each other, nose-to-rear. No one is thinking, “Hey, the guy in front of me might need a couple extra feet of space to engage that clutch.” I bought the NB from a dealer in downtown Seattle and faced the uphill nose-to-rear challenge almost immediately after driving off the lot. Let’s just say, I was gritting my teeth for the first few miles of gridlock. I did my best to synchronize the pedals in a car I had practically never driven before, with an Escalade just several inches from my rear bumper.
2. Driving is [not] Everything
Spending four months daily driving a Miata has truly revealed that no matter how unimportant you may think utility is, it is not. There will be times when you need a third or fourth seat. The need for additional cargo space will arise. You will grow tired of tiny road surface imperfections disrupting the balance of the car.
A daily driver should float over potholes and carry you and your friends/family, things which the Miata does not do. The fact is that drivers have lives to live, and life consists of a lot more than occasional trips to the racetrack or boardwalk. The NB Miata is undoubtedly one of the best driver’s cars on the face of the planet. To that point, the very attributes that make it a brilliant driver’s car (lightweight, RWD, short-ratio manual) are those which make it a sub-par daily driver.
Can the Miata be driven daily? Of course. Will it fit perfectly into your lifestyle as a daily driver? It hasn’t fit into mine, that’s for sure.
1. Driving is Everything
Okay, so maybe the NB Miata hasn’t fit perfectly into my lifestyle as a daily driver. But that’s exactly the point – I knew what I was getting myself into. Of course the car was going to serve no purpose other than to have me focus on the driving experience. It was my conscious sacrifice of attributes which may serve more purpose other than drivability. The Mazda Miata is engineered to engage the senses, which it does perfectly. It beckons you to think of nothing other than apexes, RPMS, road surfaces, and the like, because those elements are so front-and-center. I bought the Miata to fulfill a desire for driving enjoyment, not to carry cargo or zombie myself through stop-and-go traffic.
There are several other elements that go into deciding on a daily driver besides the driving experience. However, for those of us that are willing to sacrifice said other elements for sheer driving enjoyment, the NB Miata just may be the pinnacle of value.