It seems just a little wrong – slightly off-putting – to immerse yourself in a rare indulgence while the world churns and burns with an expanding health crisis and an unfolding economic catastrophe.
As such, I’m feeling guilty. Not overwhelmed, mind you, but with hospitals overflowing in Arizona and a traumatized Canada doubling the national debt in four months, well, tucking into the embrace of a brilliant sports car has me feeling unsettled. This surely is something from and for a more carefree time.
The world today feels like it’s unraveling. There is a madman in the White House, a clown in No. 10, despicable despots in charge in Beijing and Moscow, and our own ethically-challenged PM swaggers about, mouthing platitudes and bromides.
“We’re there for you,” the PM says, frequently, verbally patting us on the head. Ugh. Mr. Trudeau, I am not – Canadians are not – adolescent drama students in need of reassurance, recognition and a hug. I’ll take Churchill over Dr. Phil.
I’m taking the day with what has been and remains a universally recognized work of automotive excellence. The 2020 Mazda MX-5 (Miata) will be my tonic, my escape. I love this car, have loved every generation of it dating all the way back to 1989.
If you have not driven a Miata, any Miata, there is a hole in your life. The latest version that I am testing today is true to the basics of all roadsters, though at 181 horsepower it might be just a little too muscular. At least in my view of roadster authenticity.
That said, the hand-operated roof – one hand is all you need – lifts and tucks like slipping your fingers into a deerskin glove; the snug, bum-inches-from-the-grounds seating is perfect, though the climb down feels odd and is, for at least some, demanding on in this age of SUVs; and, the tight responses, the short-throw shifter (six-speed manual gearbox) and the taste and smell of open-air driving is 21st century primal.
This was the case 31 years ago, too. Still, that first, 105-hp Miata I tested in the summer of 1989, the one with a flick-it-from-ratio-to-ratio stick shift no bigger than my thumb, was excruciatingly basic compared to the high-tech Miata of today.
Buyers back then were willing to pay a price premium of $6,000, $7,000, $8,000 to get their hands on an $18,000 Miata. Mazda electrified the world with a British sports-car knockoff that was a driver’s dream and didn’t leave a pool of oil in the driveway. It was common to pay $25,000 for a Miata in ’89.
My 2020 tester in Soul Red Crystal Metallic, and a luscious paint job it is, lists for $33,500, as tested $35,400. In inflation-adjusted dollars, that $25,000 from 1989 is equivalent to nearly $52,000 today. By god, the current Miata is a bargain.
I mean, three decades ago you got a radio, skinny tires, bare-bones plastics and not much more. This tester, with it’s smooth inline four-cylinder engine, 17-inch alloy wheels and standard leather-wrapped steering wheel, shift knob and parking brake, is a thoroughly modern car, just very sporty: Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatible, fuel efficient SKYACTIVE direct injection four-banger (but it needs premium) with a 7,600 redline, and a super-intuitive infotainment interface. Sync your smartphone, tune into the satellite stations, and be assured that a full suite of safety features will help you if you drive over your head – ABS, stability control, various warnings and protections and the like.
The thing is, the Miata does not tempt your baser instincts so much as titillate your enthusiasms. The Miata encourages a kind of one-ness that goes away when a car has too, too much horsepower and not enough soul.
I spent my day gently carving the many twists and turns of the Sea-to-Sky Highway from West Vancouver to Whistler. The front-engine (long nose) and rear-drive Miata settles into a corner best if you’re just a tiny bit aggressive, but avoid being brutal. Dab the disc brakes ever so carefully to tuck the nose, let the car find its balance, then smoothly accelerate out. Again and again, with rhythm and care.
That’s where you mine the best from the fully independent suspension, the 17-inch alloy wheels with 205/45R17 tires, the rack-and-pinion steering that responds precisely to your smallest input. Honestly, you don’t drive this Miata, you dance with it.