Bidding farewell to our long-term 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

We drove 14,000 miles in one of the most uncompromising sports cars on the market, and we just want it back.

Nick Miotke/Roadshow
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It always takes me longer to dress for a funeral than a wedding.

Roadshow's long-term 2016 Mazda MX-5, a Miata that spent more time in my driveway than anyone else's, has been gone for the past month or so. And I haven't been dreading writing this, per se, but it still feels like it's adding some finality to the whole thing.

I suppose that is the main takeaway about this car -- it leaves a mark. I wasn't necessarily a person who loved convertibles or subscribed to the Gospel of Miata, but after a year behind the wheel of this red pocket rocket, I've come to appreciate what it offers, I wasn't ready for it to end, and all I want is more.

Four seasons of fun

It didn't matter if the sun was out, or there was a foot of snow coming down, our $33,595-as-tested Miata handled it all with aplomb. And it might have saved my butt more than once.

Our Miata arrived in the winter, shod with Bridgestone Blizzak LM-02 performance winter tires. Two relatively light winters meant that the Blizzaks were traditionally charged with contacting dry pavement and scattering salt across the Soul Red paint. But there were exceptions.

Namely, a blizzard that happened to occupy every inch of I-94 between Detroit and Chicago. I was by myself, white-knuckle driving at 55 mph, trying to keep the Miata's tires in the ruts created by other, larger vehicles. Several cars and trucks were spun out. All that was required from me was a light foot and the ability to minimize steering input. Other drivers looked at me like I was insane, tackling whiteout conditions in a rear-wheel-drive sports car. But I made it.

Not every minute spent in the white stuff was bad, though. Nick Miotke, our video producer, managed to figure out the benefit of a small, rear-wheel drive car in slippery conditions: "In the snow, this car is a ball. The snow tires made it a very usable and a practical vehicle in the winter. But after a fresh snow fall -- oh, boy. It's like a kid grabbing his sled to race to the hill, but in this case it was me finding an empty, out-of-the-way parking lot to practice safe and fun drifting."

The majority of our long-termer's 12,961 miles with us, though, was spent driving on dry pavement in moderate temperatures. There, the Miata was in its element, tires gripping the pavement, exhaust buzzing as its 2.0-liter engine found its way to redline again, and again, and again. Its Bridgestone Potenza S001 summer tires enthusiastically gripping as I tossed the lithe roadster to and fro.

Summer is very obviously the Miata's thang, thanks to that fabric top that opens and closes as fast as your arm can move. There was something liberating about hopping into the car in the morning, tossing back the top and just going for a drive to nowhere in particular.

Foot to the floor, most of the time

A hundred and fifty five horsepower might not seem like much, but the Miata is a charter member of the Slow Car Fast club. It has plenty of scoot, but lower limits means you're able to truly explore those limits without going so fast that you'll end up on the evening news one way or another.

While I did enjoy the occasional attempt to stretch as much mileage out of a tank of gas as possible, the majority of the time was spent being rather liberal with the throttle. Between the sound of the four-banger spinning up and the crisp action offered by the six-speed manual transmission, it begged to be driven hard, and I wasn't about to deny it that.

But if we really wanted to explore the Miata's limits, the best place to do so was the track, a place we visited several times. Road test editor Jon Wong, our resident hotshoe, quite enjoyed it: "Lap a track in anger and the MX-5 lets you know exactly what's going on, enabling you to push the car right up to the grip limits of the front tires," he says. "It's a playful car that's easy to sling around corners sideways if that's what you enjoy, or push hard in search of good lap times. Over the course of a couple of laps, you quickly realize why so many MX-5s find their way to circuits."

With going comes stopping, and the Miata's optional Brembo and BBS package ($3,400) made sure that stopping was awfully prompt. The brakes held up for the whole year, with a couple track outings thrown in the mix, but I wouldn't have gone back out for serious driving without replacing or upgrading the pads. The wheels don't really help with stopping, but the gloss-black BBS rollers are lightweight and look straight-up stunning.

Throttle response was always instantaneous, and the starchier Bilstein-equipped suspension on our midlevel Club trim was firm, but not entirely unforgiving. As managing editor Chris Paukert notes, "If you live in the pothole-strewn Midwest like we do and you don't plan to track your car, the standard suspension is probably the wiser choice for a daily driver. It's just a shame you can't get the limited-slip differential on the Sport trim." Either way, the Miata's ample body roll helped smartly communicate its limits, making it easy to drive in a spirited manner without biting off more than you could chew. And with minimal in-car distraction, the drive was that much purer.

Tech? What tech?

Sports cars aren't often known for including all the latest whiz-bang gadgetry, and the Miata is no exception. Sure, you get a touchscreen infotainment system with two USB ports, Bluetooth and navigation, but you don't get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, and it's not very expandable.

That's what you want in a sports car, though. You want the bare minimum of services that will cut distraction and offer a bit of help on the road, and that's what the Miata offers. The nav system is easy enough to figure out, and its Bluetooth microphone was impressive, picking up my voice even as I was driving with the top down.

While the two USB ports in the center console are the first such ports in any Miata, they're not necessarily good. The current draw is low, so charging takes a long time, and running certain functions on your phone (like Google Maps) can actually drain the battery faster than the USB port can charge it. That was... not ideal.

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A handful of battle scars

Over our year together, the Miata picked up some gnarly battle scars. The first, a paint chip just above the headlight, cropped up less than a month into our loan. An errant rock on the highway bounced off the paint, and with that, the $300 Soul Red paint job was marred.

The remainder of the year was no less forgiving to the Miata. Additional chips appeared on the front end, and the occasional parallel-park job left the Miata with a small scuff right on the tip of its nose. Parallel parking the Miata is easy, since you can see every inch of the vehicle all at once with the top down -- it's generally the other drivers you have to worry about. Good thing, too, as our car didn't come with a rear-view camera.

The soft top fared better, but still picked up some wear. A year of constant folding and unfolding left a few frays around the joints. They never became holes, but they were a little on the unsightly side. Thankfully, the ideal solution is to just keep the top down as often as possible. Out of sight, out of mind.

A few minor improvements would go a long way

I've heaped a lot of laurels upon this car, but like every piece of metal constructed by mankind, it's not exactly perfect.

It shakes a bunch, especially at idle. Even though the radio was engineered to play at loud volumes for long periods of time, you're really going to need to crank it to hear it, even with the top up. Perhaps the most annoying niggle, though, was the tire pressure monitor system -- it stayed lit almost constantly while we had the winter tires equipped, even though pressures were correct and our wheels had the correct sensors. Trips to the dealer didn't resolve the problem.

Paukert's love for Miatas is extensively documented, but even he had gripes: "Mazda seems to have gone out of its way to make the interior lack storage space, even more so than with previous generations. A need for passenger knee room meant the glovebox was broomed, and there are no door pockets. Storage space is essentially limited to a lidded cubby between the seatbacks."

The removable cupholders are no less problematic -- their plug-in receptacles either sit awkwardly behind you, at your elbows, or you can plug one into the transmission tunnel to bash your passenger's left knee. Besides the inconvenience, neither of them work well for having only one purpose in life. A bottle holder in the doors or in the lower corners of the dash doesn't seem like a lot to ask for.

Nor does it seem ridiculous to ask for redesigned sun visors. Paukert again: "The ND continues a long tradition of maddeningly engineered Miata sun visors. Once more, they're cheap-feeling hard plastic, and as before, you can't unclip one end or swivel them enough to block, you know, the sun."

Goodnight, sweet prince

These flaws are largely easy to look past. I own a station wagon, so I have the practical side of life covered. The Miata functioned perfectly as a liberator, a reason to shrug off the rat race and just get away for a while. It's a car that, every time I looked at it, seemingly gave me a reason to go out for a drive. It doesn't matter if I went out for groceries, made a trip to the garden center or felt like driving a few states over.

Nick Miotke was in the same boat, finding its lack of practicality difficult for everyday use: "The Miata, for me, is a bittersweet vehicle. I love it for the great driver that it is, but it doesn't fit into my life as much as I could wish. My 5-year-old child can't ride in it with me, as he's too young still, and my daily hobbies like hockey and golf require a vehicle that can haul my gear without some serious smashing of bags and equipment. So I find it to be more of a single person's vehicle, where I can escape for quick errand trips, or in the evening after my wife and kid are asleep."

The Miata was always there for me, like a loyal puppy, excited to go for a walk at a moment's notice. Anyone who buys one will hopefully experience the same thing. It might not be a good primary car, but as a secondary car, it's a tough act to beat.