When Miata Is No Longer the Answer

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For 17 of the last 18 years, I’ve owned a […]

For 17 of the last 18 years, I’ve owned a Miata. Mazda’s small, two-seat roadster is a wonderful car. A brilliant, communicative roadster in that classic, English style, just with added reliability and fewer leaks, both oil and rain. I’d always felt it was all the car I’d ever need. It turns out that wasn’t the case. I’m now Miata-less.

Unfathomable. I’m the Miata community’s self-declared PR person. My first car was a Miata. I drove it to high school. To work. On dates. I drifted it. Autocrossed it. Modified it. Drove it through deep snow. It was even a subpar moving van.

The author’s first Miata, a 1996 M Edition that was sold in 2020.

DW Burnett

I talked about the car so much. The first published car story I ever wrote extolled the virtues of the Miata, and it helped spread the saying ‘Miata is always the answer’ beyond the car’s own tight-knit community. It became part of my identity. I was the Miata guy.

esprit

A rare photo of the Esprit that replaced the Miata without a trail of smoke behind it.

Travis Okulski

In 2020, I sold the Miata (and my BMW 330i ZHP) to buy a Lotus Esprit S4, a car I’ve wanted since I was a little kid. That turned out to be a mistake. While the Lotus was impossibly cool, it also drained my bank account. Repairs mounted, something anyone could’ve predicted. I sold the Lotus and marched into a Mazda dealer, handed them a check, and left with a brand new Miata. That was also a mistake.

It’s not a mistake in a vacuum. The ND Miata is excellent, my favorite car available today. My first time driving one is burned in my mind. I knew by the time I shifted into second gear that the car was special. After that first drive I made up excuses to call in a Miata press car again. I can count a dozen occasions I got back in an ND since its debut and before I bought my own.

miata

The author with his ND Miata the day he picked it up.

Courtesy Travis Okulski

This is not a family car. When I was 17 and didn’t want to take people places, the Miata was perfect. Now I have a wife and a young son. We like to go places together. Obviously, we couldn’t do that with the Esprit, particularly when much of its mileage under my care was on a flatbed. While the Miata got rid of the Lotus’s non-existent reliability, it was no more practical.

I barely got to drive the ND. Pretty much every time I did, it was alone. Don’t get me wrong, I love a long drive by myself. It’s my meditation. But another great joy of driving and cars is sharing it with people you care about. My wife and I couldn’t go out in it together unless we got a babysitter. My son is too young to ride in the Miata. That means I was always driving the family Volvo, a fine car, but not an exciting one. It became clear that I had to make a change. I had to give up the sports car. Kind of.

miata

The final song played on the Miata’s radio before it was traded in. A poignant moment.

Travis Okulski

Hot hatchbacks and sport compacts have filled the void between sports cars and family cars for ages. You can fit the family while driving something that won’t induce narcolepsy. And right now, we’re spoiled for choice. The GR Corolla, VW GTI/Golf R, Hyundai Elantra N, Subaru WRX, and Mini Cooper S can all scratch that small family car itch. My favorite of the bunch is the latest Civic Type R. Honda toned down the design for this new generation, which makes it look serious, like a squat touring car. The interior is top notch, with seats created by angels. And the way it drives is a revelation. This is a king of front-drive performance, a raucous bulldog of a thing that behaves like a family 911 GT3. This is what I chose to replace the Miata. It’s the first front-wheel drive car I’ve ever owned, but it has 315 hp, doesn’t torque steer, and will slide around on command.

The Type R is the opposite of the Miata in so many ways, but they share an inherent excellence. The Type R, for all of its hardcore attributes, big wing, and high output engine, still feels interesting and fun just putting around town. This is also going to be Honda’s final Type R that isn’t a hybrid or electric, so it’s the end of an era. That’s why the engineering team went so nuts on making it hardcore.

civic

The author and his very new, very blue Type R.

Courtesy Travis Okulski

Is it as great as the Miata, though? Perhaps not. The Miata is a car so good, so important, that it has outlasted every other competitor in the genre it entered in 1989. The list of affordable, front-engine, rear-drive, mass produced roadsters has one car on it. The BMW Z4 is the next-closest car to the Mazda and it has a starting price of $52,000, $12,000 more than a fully-loaded Miata.

The ND is one of those cars that feels like a moment in time, all of the right things happened inside Mazda to create a one-of-a-kind sports car that can make anything else feel bloated and obsolete. The sort of car that a company will have a hard time following up with something that lives up to the lofty expectations its predecessor felt. The ND Miata will go down as one of the all-time great sports cars. Is there another in my future? Definitely.

Will this Civic Type R be held in the same regard in 20 years? It’s the hot hatch of now, the culmination of years of refinement to create the ultimate usable performance car. Will it hold the same allure as a dedicated sports car created when every other manufacturer abandoned the idea? Time will tell.

I’m mixed. I absolutely miss the Miata. The experience of that car is as close to perfection as you can get. There’s something so right about a lightweight, rear-drive roadster that you can absolutely cane without a risk of breaking the speed limit. It’s a real tribute to the roadsters that made me fall in love with cars in the first place.

civic

Just your average family hatchback.

Travis Okulski

Then again, the Civic looks great and turns heads. It is, by far, the quickest car I’ve ever owned. Having a car with actual power has far more pros than cons. The interior is beautiful, and the seats are the best out there. I’m really enjoying the shift to a front drive car and learning how to get the best out of it. The gearbox is on par with the Miata, a rave because that is the best manual this side of a 911 GT3.

What don’t I like? It’s a bigger car than you might expect–wide and long–so I occasionally find myself wishing it was a little smaller. I’ve also had to recalibrate how far I pull into the garage; I’ve gotten out of the car and realized a foot or two is still sticking out in the driveway countless times. It doesn’t sound like much, but neither did the Miata. I miss rear drive balance. I also miss throwing the top down. I just don’t miss only being able to drive alone. I love looking in the back seat and seeing my son smiling or his excitement before we go for a ride. That alone makes it perfect.

civic

Travis Okulski

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