I realized at an early age that the entire motoring press had glowing reviews for this little roadster. The consistency of their thoughts baffled me. How could so many people like the same car so often?
On paper, the MX-5 doesn't appear to be that exceptional. If you want something fast, there are sportier hot hatches that cost considerably less. If you're shopping for a convertible, paying a little extra for a Camaro or Mustang will give you a lot more horsepower and a back seat. It's not that I didn't trust all the car magazines. I just felt like I needed more evidence for me to jump on the bandwagon, too. I understood why people liked the MX-5—but I didn't understand why they loved it.
I was working for MotorWeek during their annual track testing in Georgia, and we probably had over a million dollars worth of cars at our disposal. After a day of shooting, my boss told me to pick one and hit the track. We had V-series Cadillacs, Mercedes AMGs, a Lamborghini, a Viper, and even a McLaren. But for some reason, the Miata caught my eye. I'd driven one before, but that was relatively brief and slow. Now was my chance to truly find out how this car managed to infatuate all who got behind the wheel. Plus, I figured it was probably the easiest to drive and the least expensive if I wrecked it. So I put my helmet on, strapped in, fired it up, and took off.
I had an epiphany on the track that day. After years of healthy skepticism, I was a believer. The MX-5 was an absolute blast to drive. There is no number that can measure or express why this car is so much fun. It seems to have an invisible touch; it reaches in and grabs right ahold of your heart.
Seriously though, there's something magical about this car. It's so small and so light; you really feel connected to the road. The MX-5's strength is it's simplicity. In a era where cars use all kinds of computers to hide their flaws and isolate the driver, the MX-5 is refreshingly honest. It feels natural. For how much I love cars, I have very little track experience (none). Yet, I was very comfortable. As my confidence increased I even felt the tail break lose going around a turn, and I couldn't help bursting out in laughter. With only 155 horsepower, the MX-5 is "good Christian fun," in the sense that you don't have to risk life and limb to enjoy all it has to offer.
For the rest of the week, I drove the MX-5 whenever I could. Other, less exciting features began to appeal to me, too. The infotainment system is remarkably intuitive to use, and I love that the manual top can be raised or lowered in just seconds with only one hand. Every part of the car seems thoughtfully executed for simplicity. Unlike all of the other cars I drove that week, the Miata was just as much fun on a long highway or twisty backroad as it was on the track. For a fleeting moment, I was tempted to visit a dealer.
Then reality kicked in, and I realized the on-paper impracticality of buying a two-seat, rear wheel drive roadster. My time on the track couldn't overcome all of my misgivings. The Miata's fun-to-drive factor doesn't outweigh the other cheaper, bigger, more fuel efficient options for people like me.
However, my question was answered. Sure, Vipers and Lamborghini are awesome, but the Miata has something special. It's like that girl you're really good friends with, and then one day you realize that you're in love with her, too. It's something mysterious. I think I'm falling, falling for her...