Mazda's MX-5 Miata joins us for 12 months of flogging

Over the next 12 months, we're going to tell you what it's like to go through four seasons with a car that most would only deem fine for three.

Andrew Krok/CNET

"A rear-wheel-drive convertible? In the winter?"

For all intents and purposes, most folks consider cars of this ilk to be three-season machines -- great when the weather is also great, but bad when it starts to turn. Thus, when we took possession of our long-term 2016 Mazda MX-5 in the Greater Detroit area a month ago, we expected a few questions like that. But our goal isn't to get questioned -- it's to look for answers.

Science argues against a small, RWD convertible in the winter. Its short wheelbase increases the likelihood of inadvertent changes in yaw -- something already more likely in slippery conditions. A convertible soft top will hold snow, but it may not be exactly the most weatherproof solution in bitter cold. And your grandmother likely told you horror stories about driving in precipitation without -- gasp -- all-wheel drive.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow

But what's the point of convention if someone isn't willing to buck it and do something else? That's where our MX-5 comes in. Mazda has graciously loaned us this Miata for a year, and over the course of 12 months, we're going to treat it like we would any other daily driver -- we're going to take it out for errands, partake in some spirited weekend drives and maybe even undertake a road trip or two, no matter what the weather holds. We might even introduce it to a closed circuit or two.

The Miata isn't a terribly powerful car, putting down just 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque from its 2.0-liter, four-cylinder Skyactiv engine, but that was never its point. Ours is the Club trim, which includes LED daytime running lights, sportier suspension tuning and Mazda's Connect infotainment system. This one also packs the Brembo/BBS Package, which grants it unique wheels and beefier front brakes. It arrived resplendent in Soul Red paint wearing 205/45/17 Bridgestone Blizzak LM-60 performance winter tires, but we'll swap the latter out for warmer-weather rubber soon.

We chose the Club trim and added the Brembo/BBS package because we wanted to see how livable Mazda's sportiest configuration is on a daily basis. Of course, if you want lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive lighting and rain-sensing wipers, you'll have to move up to the Grand Touring trim, which is not only more expensive, it also swaps out Mazda's cloth seats in favor of leather upholstery and adds more weight overall in the bargain.

"Bargain" is putting it lightly. This is one of the cheapest sports cars you can buy new. Our MX-5 Club starts at $28,600, and even after adding $3,400 for the Brembo/BBS package, $425 for door sill trim plates, a whopping $50 for the Soul Red paint job and your standard taxes and associated fees, its out-the-door price is $33,595.

Don't expect money saved in MSRP to go towards a ballooning gas budget. With a six-speed manual transmission, the MX-5 Club achieves 27 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. Thus far, with a brand-new engine, we've moved the odometer north of 2,100 miles and have calculated fuel mileage of about 30 mpg on the highway. In mostly city driving, we're seeing 26.9 to 28.5 mpg. Since the break-in period finished, we haven't been exactly light on the gas pedal, either. Hell, even with a bit of track driving on a trip to the other end of Michigan, we still achieved 28.0 mpg. Not too shabby.

To summarize, we have a small, rear-wheel drive convertible with a stiffened suspension, lightweight wheels and essentially none of the advanced safety electronic nannies that are part and parcel with the car-buying experience nowadays. Dreading the remainder of the cold season? On the contrary, we're looking forward to it.

Andrew Krok/Roadshow
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