Payne: How do I love Miata?

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

It’s 28 degrees outside. Gloves? Check. Hat? Check. Heater cranked to 84 degree max, windows up and top down? Check. In Michigan you have to embrace the six-month winters or go stir crazy. Having a 2016 Mazda Miata MX-5 in your driveway helps.

How do I love the new Miata? Let me count the ways:

1. Above all, it is – after 26 years – still the raw, throwback car that it set out to be. Just over a quarter-century after it was introduced, the fourth-generation car is the same weight as the original. Heck, I’m not the same weight I was 26 years ago. And neither is any other car on the market I can think of. The BMW M3, for example – an icon of automotive athleticism – weighs 900 pounds more than it did three decades ago. Nine-hundred pounds. That’s 40 percent of a Miata.

2. That raw character translates into throw-able, joyous handling. Go on. Turn off the traction control. Go too fast into a corner. Throw the front end into the apex. Let the rear slide out. It’ll come back to you just like your favorite puppy. Lightweight. Good balance. Low center of gravity. All the things that make a predictable sports car.

3. The shifter. Short, firm throws. Why doesn’t every gearbox feel like this?

4. That’s gearbox as in manual gearbox. Yeah, I know, automatics have made manuals an anachronism because they deliver better fuel economy, better zero-60 times, better sanity when you’re trapped in a five-mile winter traffic backup on the Lodge because some lunkhead was driving his F-150 90 mph and did a barrel roll. But automatics lack one thing: total control. Heel-and-tow downshifts, rowing the box out to redline, drifting with throttle. The good stuff.

5. A trunk big enough so you don’t have to mail your luggage to your destination (lookin’ at you, Alfa Romeo 4C Spider).

6. Going topless is as easy as pulling off a T-shirt. When I get the spontaneous urge to put the top down and take Mrs. Payne out to dinner (she’s more appreciative of my spontaneity when it’s 80 degrees outside), the Miata is just as spontaneous. No manual required for a multi-step roof fold. No pull-down tabs that require the strength of Arnold Schwarzenegger (remember the last gen Camaro?). No long, Corvette-like button presses while the top folds into a tonneau cover in the rear (though the Vette’s ability to drop the top up to 35 mph is a real convenience). No, all you have to do is flip back the switch, pull back the soft cover and stuff it behind the seats. With one arm. Without getting out of the car. And it’s just as easy to put back up.

7. In this age of alphanumeric badges, it’s still OK to call the Mazda roadster a “Miata.”

8. Distinctive design. At a time of me-too styling, Miata ditched its me-too, Lotus Elan, retro look for its own wardrobe. It took guts but it also rewards the Mazda’s staying power. A quarter-century after it took a risk in the U.S. market, it is now an icon in its own right. A halo for the Mazda brand.

9. Modern outside – but still festooned with interior quirks reminiscent of a British sports car. Quirks like cup holders that can snap into place at driver’s elbow – or by the passenger’s left knee. Cute – but you’d be crazy to trust a McDonald’s coffee in this baby. Of course, the sensible thing to do would be to put the cup holder in the middle of the console – but that’s occupied by a rotary dial needed to operate a touchscreen that’s only six inches away inside a car so small everything is six inches away. Seriously, the 2,309-pound roadster is so small you can throw it in the back of a Suburban with your golf clubs for a weekend up north.

10. You can buy a turn-key, ready-to-race, Cup car to compete in the single-make, factory-supported, SCCA Miata MX-5 Cup series. And true to the affordable, $25,735 base Miata production sticker, the Cup car’s 53-grand price is one of the cheapest ways you can go racing today. Which means those Michigan winter months will fly by as you prep your car and team for the opening round at Laguna Seca Raceway, California on April 29.

It’ll still be winter in Michigan. But it’s always 70 degrees and sunny at Laguna.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Email him at Follow him on Twitter @HenryEPayne.

’16 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Vehicle type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger sports car

Price: $25,735 base ($31,015 GT as tested)

Power plant: 2.0-liter, dual overhead-cam 4-cylinder

Power: 155 horsepower, 148 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: Six-speed manual and six-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 5.9 seconds (Car & Driver)

Weight: 2,309 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA 27 mpg city/34 mpg highway/29.8 mpg heavily flogged by Payne

Report card

Highs: Topless-made-easy; simple, affordable fun

Lows: Flimsy cupholders; BMW-like rotary infotainment dial


Grading scale

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