COAL: 2015 Mazda Roadster – Miata is Always The Answer

As you read two weeks ago, by 2017 I had decided to move my XK8 on because although I enjoyed the wind in the hair driving aspect, the car itself was too big and soft to be fun to drive and was making rather too large a dent in my wallet. So, what could I get that was a convertible, fun to drive, reliable and not too expensive? Is there really any other answer?

I have always been a fan of the Miata, the concept of all the good parts of British roadsters combined with Japanese reliability made as much sense to me as it did to the many generations of Miata buyers before me. We had a reasonable number of first generation (NA chassis) cars in Sri Lanka, but not many of subsequent generations. I liked them all, but really respected how the 2015-on ND generation seemed to have taken the basic formula and brought it right up to date while actually becoming smaller and lighter than the preceding NC. My first exposure to an ND Miata happened by chance when out for one of my weekend drives in the Jag; I ran into a friend who was doing a test drive of one for a magazine article, and the owner of the car (the very first and at that time only ND to make it to Sri Lanka) was more than happy to let me have a go in it as well. It really was a revelation, even though that example was saddled with an automatic gearbox the way it drove was so great that it immediately had me hooked. So when I started thinking about selling the Jag, there really was only one car that was in the running as a replacement. Since the local agents for Mazda were not even slightly interested in offering the Miata for sale, the only way I could get hold of one within budget was as a used import from Japan or the UK. I started asking around and soon identified a company that was well recommended, so on the very day the XK was picked up by the new buyer I went straight over and placed an order to import a car.

It was definitely love at first drive. 

Because of taxation, the 2 liter engine that was offered in the US and Europe was out of the question of course, so I would have to be content with the 1.5 liter, which was anyway the only engine offered in Japan. I wanted the Bose sound system but preferred cloth seats because the Mazda leather just felt cheap when coming from the Jaguar, and I wanted a color that wasn’t “soul red”, the most popular ND color choice by far. Well, as you can see from the pictures I had to compromise on the color because it turned out that the cloth seat/Bose audio combination was quite rare, so the only car they could find at the time so equipped was a red one. No doubt waiting a bit would have found something else, but I’ve never been great with being patient on car purchases, so I asked them to go ahead. They had the car inspected and sent me a document indicating everything was in good shape. It was a 2015 manufactured example, with 12,000 Km on it and one owner, which all sounded pretty good.

The inspection sheet said everything was pretty solid.

Then came the waiting period while the car was bought in Japan, shipped over and cleared. I assumed it would take a few months at least, but thanks to some stellar work by the import company the car was on Lankan soil just 28 days after I had placed the first phone call to them. They were super transparent throughout the process, giving me updates and pictures every step of the way, even giving me the name of the exact vessel the car was loaded on, which I religiously tracked on a ship tracking website every day. Finally, just after Christmas, I got the call that the car had arrived. Of course I wanted to go pick it up immediately, but registration, insurance and the like would all take some time. They wanted me to wait until the first of January so the car would be registered in 2018 rather than 2017 but that didn’t bother me so it registered, insured and ready to roll on the 30th of December 2017.

This was my first sight of the car

Seeing the car in the metal for the first time made me appreciate just how well Japanese people take care of their cars; it was two and a half years old with 12,000km on it by this point, but to all intents and purposes it felt brand new. Well almost anyway, as there were a couple of divots in the rear bumper that indicated a minor rear end bump, but everything else was perfect, especially inside. Trim levels in Japan were different from the rest of the world, so the choices at the time (in order of ascension) were; Base or S, S Special Package, S Leather Package and at the top, the RS. All had the 1.5l engine and were available with manual and automatic transmissions. Also, the car was known as a Mazda Roadster in Japan, not an MX5 or Miata. My car was a manual S Special Package, which meant it got automatic climate control, snazzier interior trim, the Mazda Connect infotainment system and a Limited Slip Differential over the base model. On top of this it had the optional Bose sound system, blind spot detection, rear cross traffic alert and lane keeping assist. Those last three things I could honestly have done without, but I wasn’t complaining.

Everything exactly where you want it to be.

My brief test drive in the other car had already whetted my appetite but oh man, did the manual gearbox make a difference! It is hands down the best shift action I have ever experienced; super short, perfectly weighted and supremely accurate. I can be a bit ham fisted when shifting quickly, especially from first to second but the Miata’s shifter made even me capable of looking like an expert. You did need to shift a bit to get the car to move quickly; the 1.5 liter engine had just 129 bhp peaking at a sky high 7000 rpm and 110 lb/ft of Torque at 4800 rpm so there wasn’t a whole lot happening low down. Still, the little four pot absolutely loved to rev and did so super smoothly all the way up to the 7800 rpm redline so it was not really a chore. The handling was just as amazing as it felt the first time, in fact even more so because the manual car had the limited slip diff and also had a rear sway bar which the automatic did without for some reason. It was just so easy to throw this car into corners, the turn in was scalpel sharp and it felt like it responded to the driver’s thoughts before his actual actions. The body did roll a bit more than I expected, apparently Mazda set it up this way so you could get a better feel when the car was reaching its limits, which makes sense. Getting the tail out was quite easy, although I wasn’t brave enough to try holding it in slides or anything like that. It was just an incredibly accessible and friendly car and very. very easy to drive quickly. The only complaint I can think of is that, much like in the Mazda 2, the electrically assisted power steering was just not as good at providing feedback as a hydraulic setup would. Mazda had put a lot of effort into the system and it was certainly a lot better in feel than average, but since I’d driven a first generation Miata, I knew the ND was not quite as perfect as it could have been.

With a friend’s almost perfect NA.

That aside, I was totally in love with the thing. It fit me like a glove and instantly felt familiar to be in. I was assuming that it would be a weekend car just like the XK was but instead used it almost every day because it was just so easy and fun to drive that even the commute to work became something to look forward to. Back then I used to drive over to my then girlfriend’s house every day after work, hang out with her and head home after dinner. The drive home was about 8 Km, which could be covered in 10 minutes or so in the traffic free night time, but most days I would end up taking close to an hour from door to door because I’d put the roof down and go for a long and meandering drive through Colombo at night. Speaking of the roof, compared to the Jaguar’s super complicated electro-hydraulic setup that had me living in perpetual fear of breaking it, the Miata’s was the definition of simplicity: one central catch to undo, and it could be pushed back with one hand, took all of 5 seconds. Honestly all convertibles should just be like that.

Top down in 5 seconds, you just can’t beat that.

Since it was a newish Mazda and there was no need to worry about reliability, weekends saw me taking much longer drives in search of great driving roads and enjoyed running through roads that seemed to have been made specifically for it.

This run was with the another ND Miata.

In early 2018 a good friend of mine had recently become the editor of the Sri Lankan edition of Top Gear magazine, so he asked me if I would mind my car being featured in an article they were running about affordable sports cars. It seemed like a fun day out so I said yes and this decision ended up influencing the course of my life in more ways than I could even have imagined at the time.

The issue the Miata was featured in.

You see, I was doing part time work as car reviewer at the time, and had tried starting a new automotive publication with a few friends, which we ran for a couple of years before things got tough to keep going. My friend at Top Gear had been part of that team, but left because he got the TG opportunity, so for awhile I felt a little bit of animosity towards him. Anyway, by 2018 our publication had ended and I still did want to write about cars so going for this shoot soon led to an opportunity to be a part time contributing editor for Top Gear Sri Lanka, which you can believe I jumped at!

That opportunity led to some of the greatest driving experiences of my life and over the time it lasted (2018-2020) created some of the best memories. But even better than that I got to meet and work with a whole bunch of great people of whom one in particular, the Sub Editor of the magazine, was an extremely bright, interesting girl who also liked cars a bit. We became friends and got to know each other quite well through the process of getting a monthly magazine together. By mid 2018 the relationship I was in for 7 years ended due to the two of us heading in different directions so after a few abortive attempts at dating random people I asked my work friend out on a date in early 2019, which we went in the Miata. To cut a slightly longer Long story short, she ended up becoming wife in 2020. So all things considered, that one random article definitely did much more than I could ever have imagined.

A rather good picture from that shoot. Image credits: Top Gear Sri Lanka

Through all this, the Miata kept racking up the miles as both daily and weekend toy. The road that very first Top Gear shoot was on ended up being such an amazing drive that it became a regular haunt, despite being an hour or so away from home and soon an alternating group of fellow car people were doing the drive with me on weekend mornings. We’d set off at 5.30, drive up to the road, do a couple of runs up and down and be back in town for breakfast. That was an excellent way to spend a weekend morning, you can be sure. Along the way, I fitted a set of Bilstein shocks and lower/stiffer springs from the RS model. This made quite a difference because the body roll was significantly reduced and the cornering speeds available increased by quite a bit. It did become less playfully tail happy though.

We drove it in all weathers too.

Besides purely recreational drives, the Miata carried me and my wife to be on plenty of weekends away into Sri Lanka’s abundant holiday destinations. Sadly for the most part, I was too busy enjoying the driving and the company to take pictures of the car, so I don’t actually have a single one near any of our iconic beaches.

I did however, remember to take a few in the mountains. 

Like most of my cars, by the time three years of ownership rolled around, I started feeling that old hankering for a change. Besides this, since my wife and I were planning on starting a family soon we needed something bigger than the Mazda 2 (which couldn’t be sold as it was a company car, and my wife preferred SUVs (she owned a Suzuki Jimny at the time). So after a lot of soul searching, the time came for the Miata to move on. At this point I discovered that the market for a small, manual roadster in Sri Lanka was not as healthy as I’d been hoping so for a couple of months there was not a lot of interest at the price I wanted. I had just about decided to give up and find a way to hang onto the car when a friend of mine who had always thought the Miata was interesting called me up with an idea. He had something interesting that he was thinking of selling, so did I want to do a part exchange? The eventual price we settled on was a bit less than what I had ideally wanted, but I was happy it went to someone I knew. Unfortunately, he had a few joint issues so the contortions required to get in and out of a low car like the Miata got old fast so he moved it on after just a couple of months, not really having enjoyed it like it should have been.

Chasing an S2000 into the rising sun IS a way to enjoy it, definitely!

Like the MR2, the Miata is a car that I definitely regret selling. It was without a doubt the best driver’s car I’ve owned and despite the low on paper figures, always was a thoroughly excellent driving experience. Hopefully one day I’ll be in a position to buy it back. I know a lot of people on CC have owned or experienced Miatas themselves, for those who haven’t, do yourself a favor and take one for a good drive, it is definitely one of those memories that will stick with you for life!