Happily for me, spending the Fourth of July weekend with my family meant a 600-plus-mile drive from Ann Arbor, Michigan, to the New York City metro area in our black 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata.
As senior web editor Phil Floraday noted when he drove the Miata to Chicago for the weekend, the droptop lacks cruise control, which is a drawback when you're going to be spending several hours on the highway. While it did prove to be a minor annoyance once we reached about hour seven of the nine-plus-hour drive, my co-pilot Scott and I weren't too inconvenienced by the lack of cruise control. Granted, Scott's primary set of wheels is a 2005 Ford Ranger that, like our Miata, has no options and a five-speed manual, so he felt right at home.
We wouldn't be rocking out to Robyn on an upgraded Bose stereo, since this particular Miata has no options, but at least it has an AM/FM/CD radio with MP3 capability. Going topless took little more than tossing the roof over our shoulders and snapping it in place. With SPF sunscreen applied and "Call Your Girlfriend" cranked, I-80 East awaited.
"Tell her I give you something you never even knew you missed..."
Avoiding the long, straight slogs of the interstate to better take advantage of the Miata's handling prowess wasn't really an option, but driving it on the highway can be just as fun. The Miata's petite footprint, notchy transmission, and spectacular visibility (especially with the top down) make zipping through traffic very entertaining. This is the kind of basic automotive fun that you often forget that you're missing during your daily routine. Plenty of cars are fun to drive, but few of them remind the driver now much fun the simple act of driving can be.
Going back to New York is bittersweet, since I spent the better part of my life there. I was glad to have the Miata as my companion for this trip, because in many ways the little roadster is like an old friend. Although now well into its third iteration, the Miata still handles much like the original 1989 model. Whether you're on a winding back road in the woods or on the flat and wide highways and byways of the Midwest, the Miata's nimble and balanced chassis shines. The car always feels planted, ready and able to take on whatever you ask of it.
"My new boy used to be a model; he looks way better than you..."
As the miles wore on -- and the music migrated from Robyn to Selena Gomez -- day faded into night and the open top gave us an uninhibited view of the wide Pennsylvania night sky suffused with thousands of stars and the streaks of the Milky Way.
When we stopped for gas under the night sky, the dim orange light of the gas station emphasized the Miata's simple yet expressive design. The taut, lozenge-shaped body has barely changed over the past twelve years, other than the deviously smiling grille that it acquired during Mazda's Nagare design period. (Other models in the line weren't quite so lucky -- I'm looking at you Mazda3.)
"But I set fire to the rain; watched it pour as I touched your face..."
The summer heat brought on rainstorms all day Sunday, which meant that the top went up on the Miata and Adele's latest album went into the CD player. Unfortunately, whether the top is up or down, there is little difference in sound isolation; on the other hand, there is also little difference in the sightlines.
The rain could not put a damper on the little black roadster's enthusiasm on our drive into Manhattan, as the Miata happily splashed around cabs and potholes. I almost couldn't leave the car behind at the parking garage. Dripping wet and smiling, it was like the family dog begging to play in the rain.
The clouds parted for the trek back to Michigan on the Fourth. The Miata had one more trick up its sleeve for the journey westward: it managed to make it just shy of halfway on a single tank of gas. When the numbers were tallied, the Miata returned an average of 29.383 mpg on the 1335-mile round trip. Fun and frugal -- just one more reason to love the Miata. And to think, most of the journey was done with the top down, the wind blowing by, and a smile on both the Miata's face and my own.
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)