Fun, twisty sports car roads connecting Paso Robles, California, with Royal Oak, Michigan are rare, especially when time is a factor and you have to return AUTOMOBILE’s Four Seasons 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club to the Detroit Bureau in four days. I had thought of diverting north through Idaho and then east through Yosemite National Park as I did 24 years ago in a 1987 Honda CRX when I moved from San Diego to Washingon, D.C., but that would get me home to Michigan no earlier than the weekend. Best I could do to make this interesting is promise myself to never raise the top for a single mile among the 2,569 ahead.
Christopher Nelson was worried the Flyin’ Miata exhaust tips he installed before Rory Jurnecka drove the car north for our last update, in which we compared the Miata with a 2017 Fiat 124 Spider Elaborazione Abarth, would be too much for this old man. It isn’t. With the aftermarket exhaust tips, the 4Seasons Miata is barely as brappy as the Abarth Spider, itself an aural disappointment considering my expectations based on the Fiat 500 Abarth’s titillating exhaust note. The Flyin’ Miata tips don’t affect power, by the way, so our comparison of said Miata and Spiata stands.
After Rory and I finish our comparison drive along California Highway 58, followed by a visit to HammerSky Vineyards in Paso Robles, I grab the keys for our Ceramic Metallic ND and head east.
The constant open-air plan quickly goes out the windows, both of which I always keep lowered when the top is down. First, there’s Fresno’s dry, but still scorching 97 degrees Fahrenheit this Monday afternoon. The top is lowered again by the time I reach the Wawona Road entrance to Yosemite National Park and pay the $30 fee. Though no Highway 58 thanks to early-evening tourist traffic, I manage a couple of nice corners past El Capitan. Every rental Ford Mustang V-6 convertible coming in the opposite direction has its top up, but I keep the Miata’s dropped until I wind my way up to the highest elevations, where snow and ice at the edges of the two-lane tarmac prompt me to slow down and mind the Miata’s three-season tires. At 44 degrees Fahrenheit, they’re not providing optimal grip.
Fortunately, thanks to the Miata’s famously communicative chassis, you can feel this change in surface temperatures. You’ll know the grip is going away before you reach panic braking levels at the next hairpin or switchback. I’m driving this with no electronic traction or stability control. I like that you simply hop into the Miata and drive, with no complicated chassis or powertrain settings to dial in like the ones you find in more expensive German cars. But holding the ESC button to turn it off every time I start the car is something I’ve picked up when we bought our NC Miata in 2008. The electronic nannies were optional back then, though every Grand Touring MX-5 with the sport suspension in stock also had ESC.
Automotive sybarites might bristle at the thought of a solo cross-country drive in a tight two-seater, whether with the top up or down. Nonsense. This is the only way to travel. The trunk, though not quite as capacious as my NC Miata’s, has space to spare after loading two fitted NC MX-5 Roadster bags (highly recommended if you want to take a Miata on any sort of road trip), a Timbuk2 bike messenger bag containing my company-issued MacBook Pro, and a blanket and a pullover for my wife, purchased four days earlier in San Diego’s Mexican Town.
I was in San Diego County – Escondido, to be exact – for the first drive of the Fiat 124 Spider. I drove an Abarth manual up to Highway 58 for the face off with this car. But first, there was time to visit old friend and former San Diego Business Journal colleague Rick Dower in Point Loma, whose family is on their second Miata, a wine-colored ’06 NC he purchased after his teenage son totaled his NB. I don’t know whether Rick gets his NC out to San Diego County’s more entertaining roads, like the East County two-lanes near Ramona, but the ragtop fits nicely into Point Loma’s laid-back lifestyle, where you can cruise in third gear, top down, all year long.
After I leave Yosemite through the east-entrance at Tioga Pass, I continue east along Highway 120, then north to 395. I tried to get a motel room in Tonopah for late arrival (11 p.m. or so), but they’re all booked. My wife, Donna, checks online while I drive. Because Nevada’s motels are more popular than I expect for a Monday night, I have to drive another 168 miles northeast to Ely.
Some time past midnight on Highway 6, a hare stops in front of me and I quickly yank the wheel a few degrees left and then quickly back to center. If I hadn’t reacted instinctually, I’d have sacrificed the hare – especially in most any other car, where slower steering and more understeer would have exaggerated the quick moves. But the Miata’s steering is quick, precise and drama-free.
I check into Ely’s Ramada motel/casino some time after 2 a.m., giving me carte blanche to sleep late enough to get on the road after noon for another 10-hour day. I take Highway 93 north by northeast, toward the Nevada-Utah border and I-80. Ninety-three is a long, straight two-lane, and I’ve driven across wide swaths of the Big Sky West before, though not in a convertible. The sky always is deep blue and the clouds big and puffy, but not like this. Passing slower cars and trucks only occasionally – and easily, with a six-five downshift – over the 130 miles between Ely and the Salt Lakes, I lean back and take in the panorama.
There isn’t much civilization to be found until I cross the border. There’s a big billboard in Wendover, Utah, proclaiming the future site of the Bonneville Salt Flats museum, which makes me wonder whether I’m anywhere close to the fabled natural circuit. A building on both sides of Wendover’s main street marks the border – it’s a casino with a skywalk connecting two buildings in West Wendover, Nevada.
I brake for a late lunch at a Mexican food truck, which serves up the best burrito I’ve ever had.
- 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