With a land-speed record out of the picture, those intangible virtues become more apparent as we tootle north on Queen Kaahumanu Highway 19 through the stark, black lava fields covering the Kohala Coast's lap of luxury (boasting Four Seasons, Kona Village, Mauna Lani, and Orchid resorts), breaking due east at the Kawaihae Harbor (after lunch at Cafe Pesto) to climb swiftly into the blustery Kohala uplands through the vast Parker Ranch lands.
The MX-5 is solid as a rock, a car of real substance. That's the first thing you notice after admiring how perfectly the little shift lever snicks through its six gears and the surprising amount of acceleration and sustained torque; 90 percent of the peak 140 lb-ft of torque is available from 2500 rpm to the 6700-rpm redline. The gen-three Miata is only 22 pounds heavier, yet bending rigidity has improved by 22 percent, and torsional rigidity is higher by a whopping 47 percent, as we noted in our initial technical presentation of the car in the April 2005 issue.
We also mentioned there that the major masses under the body-the engine, the battery, the fuel tank-have been moved closer to the center of the car to minimize the polar moment of inertia and to achieve a nearly balanced weight distribution. Managing weight, improving antidive and antisquat, stiffening steering, and improving brake response and rigidity are among the most important factors in making the new Miata feel as sensational to drive as it ever did, with every-thing operating in perfect harmony at a higher level.
There is a problem. It is no longer quite so sensational to ride along in this Miata, perhaps because of the new engine placement. Whatever the cause, the center tunnel intrudes farther into the passenger compartment than before, at an angle that causes several different riders of varying body types to suffer back cricks from shifting sideways in their seats. The driver has a different problem. Some change in the seat bolstering causes pressure that, after eight hours in the saddle, brings on sciatica.
For now, we are oblivious, especially as we've found Highway 250, the Kohala Mountain Road, heading north just before the laid-back cow town of Waimea (the site of Aioli's for lunch and Merriman's for dinner). Only twenty miles long, Highway 250 is a narrow, winding, two-lane blacktop that climbs to 3564 feet through windswept volcanic fields and waving silvery grasses. Cattle graze on endless ranch lands to the right; paniolos on horseback guide dude riders across high desert to the left. As you climb, you catch glimpses of the vast Waimea Valley back to Mauna Kea or out to sea, where Maui's rocky peaks rise through mist-filled clouds. It's windy as hell the higher you climb, and majestic ironwood trees lining the road at the high elevations are permanently bent toward the sea. The MX-5 loves 250's twists and turns, especially with traction control and dynamic stability control switched off, both accomplished at once by depressing the DSC button for seven seconds. Its sweet nature is perfect for this combo plate of top-down sightseeing and easygoing road-rallying. We feel no speed deprivation.