The Mazda Miata is the most fun you can have holding a steering wheel. Notice we didn’t stay “stick shift.” Before you judge, this writer has owned and loved many stick shift vehicles including a manual transmission Toyota Supra, Honda Civic Si., Acura Integra, pickup truck, and an NC Mazda Miata Grand Touring. I love to drive a stick and I've been being paid to do it off and on since the 1980s, starting as a driver at a landscape construction company driving stick shift rack-body trucks in downtown Boston.
For me, the joy of the Miata is linked directly to the drivetrain. I enjoy shifting the car, and more specifically, I enjoy using the downshifts to engine brake, and I enjoy rev-matching downshifts when approaching a corner in other situations. I also like to double-clutch and downshift when it makes sense. It’s fair to say I know my way around a stick shift vehicle.
However, I test electric vehicles for a living, none of which need or use a manual transmission. I’ve been very fortunate to have tested the Tesla Model 3, Kia Niro Electric, Jaguar I-Pace, and other popular EVs recently and have tested most available models over the course of their introductions. What I have discovered, and this is no secret, is that battery-electric vehicles are more fun to drive than internal combustion vehicles. That is in general. For example, a Kia Niro BEV is more fun than a Hyundai Elantra. A Tesla Model 3 is more fun than a Corolla or Lexus IS. The fun I refer to is related to the drivetrain, but the low center of gravity EVs handle is generally also enjoyable.
The instant torque is part of the allure. Also, EVs have a more linear acceleration. Finally, EVs also have great engine braking, and that engine braking is often linked to paddle shifters that can make the regenerative braking force stronger when you want it to be (spirited driving), or lighter when the situation merits that feeling (highway driving).
Watch Tesla P85 Getting zapped by Electric Mazda Miata and click to subscribe to Torque News Youtube channel for daily news on automotive industry and new cars.
There is another reason I can imagine an electric Miata being great. I’ve owned two convertibles, a Miata and a Lexus IS 350C. Aside from spirited in driving these cars on empty country roads, I love to cruise in convertibles on long rural drives, or along a waterfront. When doing so, I love the sensation of being able to hear the ambient sounds. Birds, waves, wind, and such. EVs are the quietest vehicles on the road. A quiet Miata would be great.
As a former owner of my NC Miata, I also would love the fact that I don’t have to worry about the gas going bad over the winter when my Miata is garage-bound. That was a concern when I owned mine. Also, having the vehicle serviced every six months was a drag. With an EV Miata, I know from experience that my service interval would effectively be only when the tires needed rotating or the brake fluid changed. I can handle cabin air elements myself, and frankly, a cabin air cleaner is stupid in a convertible anyway.
Miatas are all about lightness and handling. Current EVs are not light. The battery pack is heavy. Mainly because it needs to be large enough to carry the vehicle 200 miles or more. With a Miata, that would be unnecessary. I rarely drive mine more than 50 miles without stopping for a while. A small battery pack capable of 75 tor 100 miles would be fine by me. I know some folks use Miatas for daily drivers, but those are not the majority of owners. Perhaps Mazda would offer a couple of different versions, including one with a longer range for those folks. Like the Nissan Leaf line for example. The new MINI convertible uses a small battery and has limited range. It seems to make sense in that small, nimble vehicle. Until we move past big, heavy, expensive, lithium-ion batteries this compromise will be made by every manufacturer in every vehicle to some degree.
My story here is not meant to imply that the current Miata design could be converted to a decent EV. We're imagining a new generation of the vehicle. Perhaps the "NE generation." That fits the model year code nicely. I wouldn't mind losing the stick as long as the future EV Miata remains rear-wheel drive, compact, affordable, and fun.
Watch this walk-around of the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata and click to subscribe to Torque News Youtube channel for daily news on automotive industry and new cars.
I love driving convertibles and I love driving EVs. To me, it seems like a match made in heaven. Tell us what you think in the comments below. If you have some experience owning or testing EVs and Miatas be sure to include that, so we know from what experience your opinion is derived.
John Goreham can be followed on Twitter at @johngoreham.