From West Wendover, I find my way onto eastbound I-80, theoretically the end of my cross-country drive. Next year, if General Motors sticks to its schedule, I ought to be able to cross large swaths of I-80 in a Cadillac CT6 with its SuperCruise automation doing much of the driving. I begin to set the Miata’s cruise control when the sign for the first exit past Wendover calls out the Bonneville Salt Flats. Being a month-and-a-half before Speed Week, there isn’t much traffic, just a few cars and trucks motoring in and out of a large gas station/truck stop off the exit. I drive a mile or so north of the station and following the signs, turn right, then another couple of miles to the end of the surface road.
Four people are taking in the otherworldly landscape, one Russian couple and one Chinese couple, as I pull up in front of the historic landmark sign. The Russians leave before a large van full of Japanese tourists drive up. A young man from the van walks up to me and, excitedly, asks, “is that the new Miata?!”
“How fast?” he asks. I try to explain it’s more about not slowing down much for turns. “Yeah, I hear it’s a good drift car.”
Then a man closer to my age pulls up on a Trek Domane, wearing full biking regalia. He steps off the surface road onto the Salt Flats, which is flooded up past his ankles, while the Japanese gentleman takes photos of him with the biker’s camera.
“All this water is from yesterday’s rain,” the Domane rider explains.
The Bonneville Salt Flats have been deteriorating for about three decades, according to local reports. Poor conditions cancelled the 2014 and ’15 Speed Weeks, though the competitors return this August.
As I start to drive off, an older man from the tour van walks up to the Miata, points to the car and spouts – I assume – praise for it in his native Japanese, a big smile on his face. I smile, nod and drive off, anxious to make Wyoming later tonight.
Traffic gets heavier as I close in on Salt Lake City. The top and windows are down. My neck, face and arms are slathered in SPF 45. There’s not much to do other than keep the wheel steady and occasionally move into the passing lane to get by a slower vehicle.
Vehicle. That’s what everybody else is driving, whether it’s a commercial truck or a cushy, boring crossover-sport/utility. Or a big-ass pickup truck or SUV with some sort of trailer. I start to feel sorry for these road warriors – unlike them, I am one with my car, engaged with the road, not cooped up in an air-conditioned rolling cubicle where I’d have to rely on some electronic device for entertainment.
The ND Miata has come under criticism for not advancing enough over the past three generations, as if losing a couple-hundred pounds in this age of increasingly restrictive safety mandates is an engineer’s walk-in-the-park. I’m happy this car isn’t festooned with half a dozen cameras and blind-spot warning signals. With or without them, you need to drive small sports cars by constantly checking blind spots, aware of any other vehicle that’s speeding up or slowing down near you, who’s switching lanes, and who’s wavering between the lines as the driver yacks or types on his or her smartphone.
Thanks to Lotus-esque “added lightness” and its gas direct-injection 2.0-liter four, the ND is the quickest MX-5 at 6.0-seconds-flat for 0-60 mph, according to our friends at Motor Trend, and I will average 29.6 mpg for this trip by the time I make my last fill-up Thursday evening in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Apple CarPlay or Android for Autos would have me shouting into the dash in vain, what with all the wind noise, and I could do without the large rotary knob for the center screen infotainment display. I hate inadvertently changing radio stations when all I want to do is shift gears.
Interstate 80, through Utah and Wyoming, may be smooth and boring, but it isn’t flat, or else I might have breached 30 mpg. I make Evanston, in Western Wyoming, before the sun goes down, and fill up with gas. Forty-eight miles later, the Miata’s odometer finally hits 10k. The home office hasn’t been driving the manual transmission two-seater much, but that will change at the Detroit Bureau.
Wednesday’s drive is rather uneventful. Somewhere west of Laramie, I stop in Sinclair, Wyoming, to take a few photos. It’s a former oil company town – in the ‘60s, Sinclair stations with their friendly green dinosaur logos were plentiful in my hometown of Milwaukee. Today, with headquarters moved to Salt Lake City, the stations can be found only west of the Mississippi. A hotel-turned-museum in Sinclair was built as a fancy Roaring ‘20s centerpiece to this dusty little town, like something out of Sinclair Lewis’ “Oil,” or its film version, “There Will Be Blood.”
Nebraska is, well, Nebraska, with its ethanol-friendly gas stations (confusingly labeling premium pumps “85 octane”). But Nebraska also is hotter than Fresno, topping 100 degrees, with higher humidity. It’s here that I learn something important about top-down driving, something I wouldn’t know from a one- or two-day drive. When it’s this sunny, raise the top from 11 a.m. to about 2 p.m., or the sun will blare in your eyes, just below the header. Here’s where a taller convertible with decent visors might work better.
I take advantage of the Miata being a convertible, and not just a roadster, on the sprint home Thursday after spending the night in a revitalized downtown Omaha. Iowa is too hot, and I raise the top again, between 11 and 2. Illinois has too much traffic and too much construction, and then I make my way across a corner of Northeast Indiana and the familiar I-94 across Michigan. Nothing unusual, and nothing difficult other than making sure all the big cars and mostly, trucks, sharing the road see me. Thursday night and I’m finally home, tanned, relaxed and not the least affected by the Flyin’ Miata exhaust, having traversed most of the country in a zen-like bonding ritual with the car.
Part I of this Four Seasons 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club update covered Paso Robles, California, to West Wendover, Nevada.
- Body style 2-door front-engine RWD convertible
- Accommodation 2-passenger
- Construction Steel unibody
- Base price (with dest.) $29,420
- As tested $32,820
- Engine 16-valve DOHC I-4
- Displacement 2.0 liters (106 cu in)
- Power 155 hp @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque 148 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm
- Transmission 6-spd manual
- Drive rear-wheel
- EPA Fuel Economy 27/34/30 (city/hwy/combined)
- Steering Electrically assisted
- Lock-to-lock 2.7 turns
- Turning circle 380.8 ft
- Suspension, Front control arms, coil spring
- Suspension, Rear multilink, coil springs
- Brakes F/R Vented front discs, solid rear discs
- Wheels 17-inch aluminum
- Tires F/R Bridgestone Potenza S001
- Tire size F/R 205/45R 17
- Headroom 37.4 in
- Legroom 43.1 in
- Shoulder room 52.2 in
- Wheelbase 90.9 in
- Track F/R 58.9/59.17 in
- L x W x H 154.1 x 68.3 x 48,8 in
- Cargo capacity 4.6 cu ft
- Weight 2,332 lb
- Weight dist. F/R 52/48 %
- Fuel capacity 11.9 gal
- Est. fuel range 404 miles
- Fuel grade 91 octane (premium)
- Sport suspension with Bilstein shocks, shock tower brace
- Limited-slip differential
- LED headlights with LED daytime running lights
- Manual air conditioning/climate control
- Black cloth bucket seats with red stitching and manual adjustment
- 3-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel
- Leather-wrapped shift knob and parking brake handle
- Mesh-board windblocker
- Touchscreen infotainment with rotary knob control
- Remote keyless entry
- Bose 9-speaker audio system
- Bluetooth phone and audio, AUX port, CD player, USB connectivity
- 17-inch aluminum wheels
- Cruise control
- Pushbutton start
options for this vehicle:
- Brembo/BBS Package ($3,400)
- Brembo front brakes with red calipers
- 17-inch forged aluminum BBS wheels
- Advanced keyless entry
- Aero kit: side sill extensions and rear bumper skirt
- Ceramic Metallic paint: $0
- Appearance package for Club ($0)
- Front air dam
- Rear lip spoiler