Convertibles

12 months of Mazda Miata: The winter tire chronicles

Is winter driving really that bad in a Mazda MX-5 Miata?

Andrew Krok/CNET

When I first introduced our new long-term 2016 Mazda MX-5, I mentioned that most folks consider such a car -- a small, rear-wheel drive convertible -- a three-season machine, fit for everything but winter. How appropriate, then, that I'd spend the first month completely mired in snow, sleet and freezing temperatures.

Thankfully, I had help -- Bridgestone Blizzak LM02 winter tires, measuring 205/45/17 at each corner. No matter how much snow was on the ground, leaving a stop was not at all difficult. During the worst of it, additional clutch feathering dealt with any traction issues. While at speed, the car performed admirably, never once feeling loosey-goosey, even with some spirited on-ramp throttle application. (The car wasn't so firmly planted, though, that I couldn't get the rear end to rotate on command. Flipping off traction control and goosing the throttle made for some exciting -- and controllable -- low-speed slides.)

Good winter tires aren't cheap. At the time of this writing, Blizzak LM-60s in the Miata's size are $177.30 each on Tire Rack's website.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

Winter tires come with some drawbacks, of course, especially when you're trying to suss out a sporty car's character. First, there's the tracking. As speeds climb up to 80 mph on Michigan's freeways, the Blizzaks have a slight tendency to wander, requiring additional steering input to keep the car dead straight. Then, there's the noise. Winter tires are not quiet, especially at speed, droning on and on like a boring humanities professor.

Not that noise isn't an issue before rubber enters the equation. The Miata's soft top does a great job keeping precipitation out (as it should, it's a brand-new car), but noise is another matter. At highway speeds, I had to crank the stereo volume to about 75 percent, and even with the trick speakers built into the headrests, the occasional Bluetooth phone conversation involved lots of, "What?"

The Miata's otherwise excellent and precise six-speed manual transmission occasionally exhibited some notchiness going into first gear, which has all but disappeared since it started warming up. The ride is understandably firm, as when we picked the stiffest Club trim with all the sporty accoutrements, but even on southeastern Michigan's pockmarked roadways, the ride hasn't been obscenely uncomfortable. And, thankfully, I'd managed to avoid nicking those lovely gloss-black BBS wheels.

Over the roughly 2,000 miles accumulated since receiving the car, fuel economy remains largely unchanged. I'm still seeing between 28 and 30 mpg between fill-ups, which is at or just under the EPA combined estimate. I've had a hard time deviating from that average, too. Even with a couple laps of Gingerman Raceway (yes, on winter tires) thrown into the mix, fuel economy hasn't dropped below 28 mpg.

Now that the Midwest's crappy winter weather is fading into the rearview, it's time to slap on some summer tires. This will give me a much better baseline against which to judge the car, since winter tires aren't technically original equipment. The updates that follow will take a much deeper dive into the car's dynamics, and will help us decide whether or not the car's most "sporty" loadout is suited for daily driving on anything other than billiard-table-smooth roads.

Mazda suggests you not lower the top below 41 degrees. But, on the off chance that you do, keep the windows up and you won't be too chilly. Pointing the HVAC vents at your hands works wonders.

Andrew Krok/CNET