With a 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata in our care for only two short months, we vowed to use it as much as possible. To that end, I commandeered the car for a quick weekend trip to Washington, D.C. -- a 1000-mile round trip during which I promised myself that I would keep the power hardtop retracted beneath the rear deck as much as possible.
Without a roof restricting your view, the Miata gives you a closer look at the terrain you cover on a road trip. You can hear and smell and see everything in every state you cross. The view becomes more interesting on the trip from Michigan to D.C., as the flat landscape and monotonous turnpikes eventually giving way to mountains, winding roads, and even tunnels. There are plenty of more spacious, more comfortable cars in the Automobile Magazine fleet for an eight-hour drive, but few return the same fun as this pure-bred sports car while blasting down the road.
Doing without a roof isn’t as much of a challenge as it might seem. With the windows raised and the factory-installed wind-blocker positioned behind the seats, the turbulent air pouring past the windshield doesn't pummel passengers too badly at highway speeds. If you don’t want to muss your hair, you can raise the power-operated hardtop in just 12 seconds when the car is stationary, but the ride isn’t really much quieter. The windstream howls at the rubber seals around the frameless windows, while the roof echoes with the buzz from the engine.
And the engine will seem to buzz occasionally. Even though this Miata’s six-speed manual transmission has a fairly tall ratio in sixth gear for highway cruising, the rear axle’s final-drive ratio is fairly short to enhance acceleration, so the Miata's 2.0-liter inline-4 engine spins above 3000 rpm at ordinary cruising speed and close to 4000 rpm if you're brave with speed limits. There was a time when 3000 rpm didn’t seem like a lot—especially in a small-displacement engine—but these days it does.
Despite that, the 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata positively sipped at its supply of premium. Over 1030 miles the car averaged just over 32 mpg, trumping the EPA's prediction of a 28-mpg highway average. And that's despite keeping the roof down for around 700 of those miles, which compromises the car's aerodynamics.
Once the 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata arrived in D.C., it became a bit of a challenge in the city’s notorious traffic. The clutch is light and easy to modulate, but short gearing means continually flicking between first and second gear. It's hardly a chore with a gearbox as responsive as this one, but stop-and-go traffic reminds us why so few people pick a stick-shift transmission for a commuter car.
Clearly, a sporty, driver-focused car like the 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata is more at home chasing twisty two-lanes or carving up a track day than taking a cruise-control blast down the Ohio Turnpike. Yet the beauty of the MX-5 with its power-operated hardtop is that it's more than just a toy. You can put it to use purely as a sports car, and you can use it as an all-weather cruiser for a 500-mile drive from Michigan to the east coast without a hitch. No wonder the Miata is the world's best-selling sports car.