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Roadster Redemption

joeycrosetti April 11, 2023 Projects Comments Off on Roadster Redemption

Another Attempt at Miata Shenanigans

It happened again. Another Miata has found its way into the hands of Milton. After the trials and tribulations of his NA supercharged Miata dumpster fire, somehow he still yearned for another. Fast forward a few years and he was in the market for a modern, reliable set of wheels. In classic Milton fashion, he woke up one day, drank six cups of coffee, and decided another Miata was the answer.

An Almost Exclusive Club

The ND generation Mazda MX-5 Miata has been around for a while (since 2016) and is due to be replaced in the near future, yet there are still a lot of merits to the ND MX-5. Most notably is its low curb weight of just 2300 pounds that harkens back to the spirit of the original Miata. And somehow Mazda also made the ND conform to modern “safety” standards. I’m not sure how well a new Miata can take a hit from a 5,000 pound SUV driven by someone texting or power-swiping on the latest dating app, but I don’t think anybody wants to volunteer either.

Shop ‘Til You Drop the Top

While shopping for another Miata, Milton did have a few requirements. The first was the car had to be the later ND2 181 horsepower car with the all-important LSD found in the Club trim. The second item was that it was a true soft top for simplicity, unlike the RF model with the heavier power top. The final must-have qualification was that the car wasn’t a “boring” color like gray. In his defense, most dishwashers on wheels sold today are some shade of gray or silver. It’s even gotten to the point that some companies like Toyota now charge a premium for “exotic” colors such as white and red. What’s next, brown shag carpet makes a comeback?

After a bit of searching, Milton found a black 2020 MX-5 Club that had been traded in at a Lexus dealer in Sacramento. With constant rain for a few weeks straight, the convertible Miata remained sitting on the dealer lot. More importantly, the price kept dropping during that time, so Milton seized the opportunity to buy it. Was it the perfect car? Probably not, but it turns out it’s not so easy to find an ND2 Club as production delays and new car price gouging are still a real thing. Unfortunately no fancy Brembo brakes, BBS wheels, or Recaro seats here, but that can always be changed.

New Miata, Who Dis

Despite Milton cutting the check for the glossy black roadster, I was given the honors of driving it home. Kudos to Mazda for making a simple back-to-basics car that functions just as you had hoped. If you’re a cranky person who complains that cars used to be a lot simpler, then the ND Miata might be the modern car for you.

The HVAC switchgear is easy to operate, the infotainment screen is mostly intuitive for music and navigation things, and it even has heated seats. It’s everything you need and not a slight bit more. Just as advertised, the top can be dropped and stowed away with just one hand motion. Ok, more like one coordinated hand motion. But not everything is so hunky dory.

At just 2300 pounds, there are without a doubt compromises in the ND Miata. Immediately you will notice there is no glove box aside from the rear cubby holder, which requires being a double jointed action figure to access. There is also a shallow trunk which turns grocery shopping into a game of Tetris. Lastly, the passenger footwell is awkwardly shaped because the catalytic converter won’t fit anywhere else. Sorry tall people, you’re not going to like riding shotgun.

Let’s face it though, nobody is buying a Miata because it’s practical. It’s a glorified go kart with a license plate. Unfortunately this is going to be hard sell for any family that exceeds 1.5 people, which is why Miata’s generally join Corvettes in the second or third car category. The good news though is that it can haul Milton’s bowling bag. Donny, Walter, and The Dude would certainly have a fit if he missed practice.

The Things That Actually Matter

So what does the ND Miata actually have to offer as a 2 seat sports car? Right off the bat the ND2 Miata is genuinely quick. Unlike other MX-5 cars that you have to constantly argue online that “it’s a momentum” car, the ND’s 2.0-liter SKYACTIV 4-banger really scoots. If anything, it constantly taunts the driver to wring out the 7200+ RPM redline. Curiously the gearing is a bit tall given the reasonably high revving engine. This is likely a remnant of the original design for the ND1 cars with the lower redline. The autocross crowd probably prefers it this way, but the top of 3rd gear is going to end up with a visit to traffic school if you’re not careful!

Just like Miata’s of yesteryear, the shift linkage is arguably one of the best out there for a production car, let alone an affordable car. Similar to the Honda S2000, the throw is very short and light with tight gate spacing. Since the linkage is directly part of the transmission, shifting gears is a mechanically satisfying experience. The clutch is quite light as well, so stop and go traffic is easy to manage if you fancy driving a manual transmission every day. If you’re feeling extra lazy, you can even shift with the mere flip of a wrist.

The Nitpicking Begins

There are two areas that Milton and I can’t seem to agree on a solution, but both need improvement. First are the seats. The two of us find the standard seats uncomfortable, especially after longer stints behind the wheel. He claims the optional Recaro seats are substantially better, and normally I’d agree with him. However, since the OE Recaro seats are based on the standard seat frames with some extra bolstering, I’m not quite sold on them being a major upgrade. Sitting in a set at the dealership will determine if they’re worth plunking down any extra money over aftermarket options.

The brakes are another area of contention. Milton thinks they are total garbage and they need to be upgraded immediately to the optional factory Brembo setup. While I’m just as guilty of wanting fancy brakes, I don’t find the stock sliding calipers are that bad. If anything I think it’s worth experimenting with a set of better pads and flushing the brake fluid first. Especially since Brembo equipped cars use the same size rotors as the standard cars. I will admit the Brembo calipers make pad changes convenient, and all the parts are available through Mazda should we go that route down the line.  

Body Rollie Pollie 

Like any good “Mi-yat”, the handling is what everyone cares about most. The ND certainly lives up to its namesake, with precise inputs that allow you to dance the car through the corners. But that’s just it–Mazda has made the car a little too playful. 

In an effort to make the car fun on the street at lower speeds, the suspension exhibits a lot of body roll and the rear end is quite squirrely. Sure, this gives the car a playful nature, but for the Club models with Bilstein shocks and an LSD, serious drivers will find the handling irritating after the novelty wears off. 

From the factory I’m surprised Mazda didn’t fit bigger sway bars or make the Club spring rates more aggressive. That’s not to say the car doesn’t ride or handle well, but it makes you wonder whether the base Sport model with an LSD fitted afterwards is the better buy? Especially if you’ll have to go shopping for a new suspension regardless of the trim level. Only time well tell once the ND Miata gets older and more DIY grassroots racers get their hands on the cars.

What’s the Plan, Dan?

Now that the Miata has been acquired, what’s in store? As mentioned earlier, the whole reason behind this purchase was for Milton to get a reliable modern car that would also be easy on consumables. Since he’s become quite the track day bro in recent years, the GR86 and BMW M2 were also contenders, but the GR86 was hard to find a 6-speed manual car in stock, and the BMW would get overly expensive once the modifications commenced. For daily driving though, the Toyota and BMW are exponentially more practical than the microscopic Miata.

Road to the Track

To get the Miata 2.0 ready for some hot laps, it’s going to need a bit of a makeover. Immediately the car will need a set of coilovers. It’s kind of a shame to throw away the reasonably new Bilstein shocks, but the current offering of lowering springs don’t seem to be quite up to the task or compromise suspension travel. To compliment the suspension upgrade, a new set of wheels and tires will likely follow suit because we both want some wider rubber, particularly since the stock wheels look extra dinky under the ND’s pronounced fenders.

If this Miata is truly going to see the track though, the elephant in the room needs to be addressed. With no roof structure, a proper roll bar setup is a must for any Miata that sees serious action. Upon initial research, it seems there are a couple options as long as the bar has double-diagonals and passes the broomstick test, but the jury is still out which brand to get. Either way, this will probably be the most involved of the installations. This will also dictate if we need aftermarket seats installed for helmet clearance. Measure once, cut twice.

In case it wasn’t already obvious, Milton and I are quite excited to get cracking on his latest Miata. Not only will we get a chance to fix all the poor decisions of previous Miata ownership, this new ND will be a serious piece of kit once mildly prepared. It’s all the glory of what made the old NA car fun, but this one is a solid performer right out of the box. I’m generally not a convertible car person myself, but even I can’t help but put the top down and drive with a fat grin on my face. Uh oh…now Milton knows his car is more fun than mine.

-JC

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