Being offered a chance to drive a new car is one I would rarely pass up, and this weekend is no exception. So, when the opportunity came my way, I jumped at the chance to drive our 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata to Central Michigan University, a school that I almost went to and that many of my closest friends attend. With the hard top in place and the black OZ wheels looking stellar, I set my sights on a college weekend with my friends.
As an avid cyclist, I rarely head anywhere without my trusty two-wheeled companion. Usually, this isn’t a problem, because I drive a hatchback and my bike fits inside my vehicle. I can’t do that with the Miata, but thankfully it easily accomodates a bike rack. One thing to note with this setup: make sure all your belongings are stowed in their proper place before the rack is secure, because you’ll need to remove the rack to gain access to the trunk. I learn this the hard way. Bike secured for a second time, I’m off for a weekend away from home and office.
It’s Friday afternoon, and I’m headed out of southeast Michigan toward Mount Pleasant. If you’re familiar with this scenario, you know I’m not going anywhere at more than a crawling pace. Luckily, I have the hard top on and the A/C set to frosty cool. Despite my relative comfort, I debate removing my bike from the rack and blasting through traffic via pedal power. Thankfully, the floodgates open after I pass US-23, and I let the Mazda sing in its upper rev range.
I love small cars, and I feel right at home in the grinning Miata with three pedals, a hard roof overhead, and my bum close to the pavement. The freeway may not be the best stomping ground for this car, but it still manages to cover the miles with ease. To ensure that things don’t get too dull, I kick it down a gear and enjoy some time in the passing lane.
Before I know it, I realize that I’m a whole lot closer to my destination. The seeming ability to time travel is not one I’ve ever experienced while driving my hatchback. Perhaps it’s just the fact that I’m driving something completely different, but the fact is that the Miata is a joy to drive regardless of what kind of road you’re on.
I phone ahead to my friend to give him my ETA. Yes, I had to actually turn off the music, pick up the phone, and select the name from the screen. This base Miata doesn’t offer Bluetooth, which isn’t an option in a Miata unless you pony up for the Grand Touring trim. As far as satellite navigation goes, you’ll need to provide your own aftermarket unit. This is how I prefer it, however, clean and simple. Besides, I know where I’m going…I think.
My friends are typical male college students, and they give me typical male college student directions. That means that I’m soon circumnavigating the town of Mount Pleasant looking for a house with a white railing and bikes on the porch. Thanks for the directions, guys. OK, maybe in this case sat-nav would have helped bridge the communication gap, but what better excuse would I have to cruise a college campus in a black sports car? After all, isn’t college itself just an excuse to meet girls?
The subtle Miata doesn’t scream for attention, but it does stick out here. I feel it has just the right amount of boldness, enough to get some attention while not coming off desperate — although the fact that I have a bicycle slung to the back of a sports car could be the reason for some of those looks I receive.
Destination finally located, I reunite with old friends after a long summer and tuck the Miata away safe from the reach of any stray Ultimate Frisbee action. Dismounting the bike and extracting my weekend goods from the trunk, I can’t help but feel like I’m leaving a little brother behind, but I know a college campus on welcome weekend is no place for a younger sibling or a new sports car. So, cycling and walking will be my transportation for the remainder of the night.
Waking up to thunderstorms, we set aside our plans to spend the day cycling. However, being the stir-crazy types that we are, we decide to brave the rain under the safety of the hardtop Mazda. Mid-Michigan is mostly comprised of straight, flat byways, but the occasional lake or river will cause the road to shift a bit. So we set off west of town in search of some winding pavement.
Even in the wet, the Dunlop Direzzas cling to the road and refuse to throw in any unwelcome surprises. It’s just a short blast in the rain before Michigan’s bipolar weather soon breaks. The sky starts to clear, and I’m starting to think I should have left the hard top in Ann Arbor.
Sunday morning comes far to quickly, but it’s a beautiful day and I have some time to cruise campus one last time. I normally don’t care to drive the narrow roads here, but the little Mazda is eager to please and loves to scoot around in tight places. Even with the hard top in place and two bikes on the back, visibility isn’t an issue, as I can see directly through the middle of both bike frames in the rearview mirror. This Miata could just be the ultimate way to get around campus. With a portable bike rack, room for two large backpacks, and an extra seat for a friend, the only missing element is being able to park in front of class.
I quickly sneak up onto a sidewalk and confirm my suspicion. Mazda must have secretly designed the Miata for college students.
2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Base price (with destination): $23,905
Price as tested: $23,905
2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine
5-speed manual transmission
16-inch alloy wheels
Tilt steering wheel
4-wheel disc brakes
Auxiliary audio input
AM/FM/CD radio with MP3 capability
Options on this vehicle:
Removable hardtop — $3126
Key options not on vehicle:
Convenience package — $1160
Remote keyless entry and retractable key
Power door locks
Steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls
One-touch-down passenger window
Silver seatback bars
Appearance package — $1145
Front air dam
Body style 2-door roadster
Accommodation 2 passenger
Construction Unibody construction
Engine DOHC 16-valve I-4
Displacement 2.0 liters
Power 167 hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque 140 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Transmission type 5-speed manual
EPA Fuel Economy 22/28/25
Steering hydraulic power assisted rack-and-pinion
Turning circle 30.8 ft.
Suspension, front Double wishbone, coil springs
Suspension, rear Multilink, coil springs
Brakes f/r 11.4-inch vented disc/11.0-inch solid disc, aluminum calipers; ABS
Wheels 16 x 6.5-inch alloy wheels
Tires Yokohama Advan A11A high performance summer
Tire size 205/50R16
Headroom f 37.4 in
Legroom f 43.1 in
Shoulder room f 53.2 in
Wheelbase 91.7 in
Track f/r 58.7/58.9 in
L x W x H 157.3 x 67.7 x 49.0 in
Cargo capacity 5.3 cu ft
Weight 2480 lb (with hardtop removed)
Fuel capacity 12.7 gal
Est. fuel range 356 miles
Fuel grade 91 octane (premium unleaded)