In 1996 I made a choice that would change my life forever. No. I didn’t get married. I had already done that five years before. I didn’t quit my job to pursue a lifelong dream of being a chinchilla wrangler and I didn’t get questionable tattoos scribed onto highly personal areas of my body.
What I did do was buy a Miata. I didn’t even know I was buying a little sports car until a couple of hours before I drove her home. I was determined to get a ’96 Mustang Cobra. I drove several of them and I tried to work deals on at least three. No dice.
On the way home after an all-day Cobra hunt my wife suggested we stop one last place to see what we could see. Big mistake. That day began an affection for a tiny vehicle model that stretched over almost 20 years and four different cars, until one sad day in 2015 when I sent my first love, my original 1996 Miata, home with her new owner. I still had a 2012 Special Edition – the most recent of three different third generation Miatas to live in my garage – and my passion hadn’t completely died, but the affair wasn’t as torrid as it had been the past two decades. A few months later even that car would be gone, replaced by a car I had desired for 12 years. For the first time in a long, long time I was Miataless, and there was no sign of me returning to the fold anytime soon.
The fourth generation MX-5 – many, including me, refuse to stop calling it the Miata – was introduced a couple of months after my ’96 left. It would be an understatement to say that I was a bit nonplussed at first reveal. I was confused and really wanted to love it. I’d always had a zeal for Miatas. How could I not carry a flame for this one too? I tried. Almost all my friends who had an opportunity to see it in the flesh or better yet, drive it, were enamored. They used many superlatives to describe their ardor. I wasn’t so sure. I felt like I had lost my desire for these little cars and it stung.
I found faults in every aspect of the new car. It had less horsepower than my ’12 did. It looked more like a Z4 and less like a Miata. The panel gap where the hood met the nose was wonky to my eyes. The interior just didn’t look right to me. I was disinterested. So disinterested that I didn’t bother stopping to look at the car when it started filtering into dealerships, which was the first time I wasn’t there the day a new Miata model hit the ground locally. I just didn’t care. I didn’t actually see one in the flesh until I went shopping yesterday and parked next to a brand new one, still on its temporary tag.
I walked around the shiny new ride. I peered into the interior. I grudgingly admitted it looked better in person, but I still wasn’t thrilled with it. It still looked derivative and the cockpit just didn’t get me in the feels. I drove home with my groceries, feeling dejected.
Several hours later the Internet came alive with pictures and video of the one thing that might bring me back to the Miata fold. Mazda introduced the brand new, 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF – short for retractable fastback – ahead of the New York International Auto Show.
It was glorious.
I’ve been lamenting the lack of a proper Miata coupe for a long time, having seen the first-generation Miata Coupe concept in the flesh at an international Miata gathering in Dallas in 1999. Sure, the Miata had an optional removable hardtop from the moment of its initial introduction, but I never really liked it. Mazda had teased me, and so many others, by producing a limited run of second-generation coupes exclusively for the Japanese domestic market a few years back. The third-generation retractable hardtop – which two of my three third-gens had been – scratched some of the itch, but it didn’t quite get there.
Rumors had flown that the new Miata would get a Targa-style roof, which I wasn’t all that thrilled with, especially given the early speculative renderings. But this? This grabs me in more places than any Miata has since I drove my first one. The embers of passion that I had banked before have started to smoke again.
From the side view, the new RF looks like I imagined a Miata coupe would look, with a proper fastback style. Sloping sail panels blending into the rear haunches, with a small trunk bump aft give a sleek, dynamic look. Beautiful buttresses that echo the simply stunning Jaguar F-Type convey a sportiness that was missing for me in the soft top version. “This is good. This is very good,” I thought to myself, “but how does it work?”
Then the video started. The fastback portion of the top lifted up and back, then the overhead panel folded in half. The rear window tucked under and the overhead disappeared into the cubby the soft top fits into, leaving the same trunk space as the standard Miata has. The fastback lowered back into place leaving what amounts to an open Targa top and my jaw dropped.
There she was. On my computer screen was the new MX-5 that could very well put me firmly back into the Miata fold. My lust had returned.
Yes, I still think the hood cut looks terrible, though the newest color, Machine Grey, does much to alleviate that concern by blending in with the panel gap. Yes, I still loathe the BMW-esque taillights. No, I really don’t like the touchscreen plopped up high on the dashboard in what seems, to me, to be an afterthought. But I like the ND now. I might even go so far as to say there’s a potential for love again. With this newest offering Mazda may very well kindle old, almost forgotten flames in the hearts of past Miata lovers. I, for one, feel a heat I’ve not felt in quite a while, and it feels good.