It feels like a Miata, a BETTER Miata!
That was my first thought today while driving our new ND LE with Mike Garant of Mazda North America doing a live Apple 'Periscope' broadcast from the passenger seat (they tell me they hope to edit it down and post it to the Mazda USA YouTube page). Conditions were not ideal as it started to rain immediately during this first drive, the top was down and they were already broadcasting LIVE, so I just drove faster to keep the increasing rain out of our hair.
Yet even in the rain the Miata DNA is what came through to me first, the feel of the switchgear and the location of every control is all very 'Miata', where you expect it, how you expect it, no surprises on these points, which is perhaps the most important conclusion. In other words, if you have owned any Miata, I promise you will easily FEEL the Miata DNA under the new ND skin and you will feel immediately at home in how the car responds.
Conditions in the cabin are impressively calm with the top down, we only did speeds of 60mph on the country road we ended up on but that was enough to teach me that noise and wind is better controlled in the top down environment than with any prior generation.
The transmission is BETTER THAN EVER. I had read about various plastic bits being removed from the design and the effect this had, etc., but driving is believing and this is easily the best Miata transmission ever. Why? You can find each cog choice with even more confidence because the selection of each cog is even more direct, more obvious. I know this point will be hard to imagine but you will find it to be true when you drive it.
On that question of power, clearly stronger than stock NC in the low to mid range rpms, a result of the better torque/pound ratio in that range. Once into the upper rpms it feels like a stock NC in terms of power but from 3k to 5k it feels noticeably stronger with the result that spirited off the line starts as well as passing moves done without a downshift will crush prior generations.
Coming from lots of NC driving of late I noticed the shorter wheel base dynamics immediately, feels more like a NA/NB in size and wheelbase.....but the body is tighter and the stronger torque is obvious. The steering is a bit light on center as many reporters have noted but not vague and it loads up quick as you turn in. With just minutes in the car the steering feedback was telling me what I wanted to know about the tires and the surface conditions in the turns...IN THE RAIN. Overall the shorter wheelbase responsiveness as compared with NC coupled with even better switchgear and tighter chassis and better torque off the line had me thinking that this baby is going to own autocross events...and we will do our first next weekend!
The view down the hood while driving is AWESOME. This is something that was not obvious to me ahead of time, even from sitting in the car at other events before this first drive. I compared it to looking down a gun sight, you have the fenders rising up on each side and a great view between those fenders down the VERY LOW hood. The effect is very confidence inspiring and quite the opposite of several other sports cars I could name where it seems the hood stretches forever in front of you with the drop off and final location of the nose left uncertain.
Live questions from the Periscope viewers included lots of concern for the view over the Nav display and whether it is 'in my way.' I am 6'2 and easily see over the top of the monitor with at least 3 more inches of dash visible over the top of the display. I then slid myself way down in the seat to pretend I was much shorter, more like 5'7 or less.. and no matter how far down I slid there was still something above the display, like the wipers at the base of the windshield. Thus, I have a hard time imagining that the Nav screen as 'in the way' for anyone able to see over the steering wheel.
As for handling, since it was raining I did not push the car in this first drive, Mike Garant was having hard enough time holding the camera phone still and several viewers asked him to try and hold it better. We did notice the dash indications light up a few times when the driving dynamics detected too much slip and jumped in to make adjustments. Once Mike was out of the car, and I started home after raising the top the rain became downright torrential...yet I shut off the driving nannies once on the lonely side roads again because the car had already given me enough confidence in the feel to know it would be easy without the aids.
Result? Very easy, very neutral. Even in this LE without limited slip I was working hard out of corners to get the back end to come out and every time I forced it to jump out it would come back into line quickly and with little drama, just constant throttle and the slightest opposite steering wheel flick. Meanwhile it was raining so hard that tow trucks were pulling folks off embankments all along the drive home.
Exhaust note. You hear it more with top up. With top down it gets lost in the wind and other sounds easily. With the top up it is still very quiet but you can hear it, tone is good but volume won't be enough for many enthusiasts.
Rain is finally giving up here so I am heading out for some more driving. Work, work, work, it never let's up.
And we are back from the first DRY road driving, took the pics you see here. Took the wife this time. The new seat 'net' design gives a feeling of being more 'hammocked' in place as the speeds increase on dry pavement corners, never has a Miata leather interior made me feel more solidly held in the seat. Took some quick videos that we will upload to Youtube. I drove up the coast and the wife drove it back, which was her first ND drive (got a video of that to share too). In the dry in the turns the contrast with the NC becomes more clear. The super soft NC suspension can be driven by me at about 6/10ths and it is fun, and beyond that it quickly becomes a sloppy mess in stock form as you slam into and bounce off the bumpstops. Ultimately you can slam and bounce off the stops in the ND too, but it happens at a higher speed, I get a bit over 8/10ths before things start to get ugly. And when things start to get ugly they never get as ugly as they do with a stock NC driven past the limits of the stock setup, in particular the rear does not toe out on ND as it does on NC under high loads and the result is that the drift and tire squeal past the limit is lower in drama even as it is significantly higher in speed. The tail gets out a foot or so under constant throttle and intentional overdriving but then the tail just sits out there and will calmly walk back inline if you just stay in the throttle, very confidence inspiring even if when you intentionally abuse the stock suspension limits.
More impressions to come but that completes the first 100 miles in our ND....in just the first day!