There was a time in my life when a 1994 Chevy Lumina was the best car I had ever driven.
It was not fast. It did not handle well. It was not necessarily comfortable. And with a symphony of maroon flooding both the exterior and interior, it was anything but stylish.
But I was 16 years old and had just received my license. With a face still riddled with acne and peach fuzz on my chin, suddenly all roads were open for exploration and I was experiencing a sense of freedom heretofore unknown. And most importantly, the Lumina was all mine. Even though at this age I had already driven a number of cars, this 11-year old midsize Chevy, reeking of cigarette smoke and with trim pieces falling off its exterior, was by far the best car I had ever driven.
The Lumina remained the best car I had even driven for over a year. Right up to the point I hydroplaned on a back road and smashed it into a telephone pole.
To this day, the Chevy remains one of my favorite cars. Not because it was necessarily a good car, but because of the memories I associate with driving it.
Thirteen years after slamming the Lumina into a pole, I will now also be able to fondly recall driving the 2018 MX-5.
The top was down on a warm spring day with sun shining bright. I piloted the MX-5 through undulating, single-lane mountain roads, its suspension and chassis neatly handing the camber of the asphalt even when I continually lowered my foot on the accelerator. The roadsters exhaust was humming, drowning out the bird calls and frightening nearby deer. After a long ascent up the mountainside, I put the Brembo brakes to work on the steep plunge back down, with the grade of the roads moving the car more with gravity than the two-liter engine.
And as I reached the bottom of the descent, the pine trees suddenly parted as the blacktop trail sent me along a dam overlooking a crystal blue lake, with just a wooden fence separating me from the cool water.
It was the kind of drive the MX-5 was meant to take. And at that moment in my life, it was, without a doubt, the best car I have ever driven.
But a major difference between a 1994 Chevy Lumina and the new MX-5 — okay there are way too many to list — is the Mazda would have been in the running for the best car I had ever driven even if the skies had opened up, it was freezing and I had a bad case of hemorrhoids.
I can use only one word to describe the Mazda, and it is perhaps the biggest compliment I can give — the 2018 MX-5 is fun.
On my journey along mountainous roads, there was no other car I’d rather be in because no other can deliver this many smiles per mile.
When you put your foot down, the two-liter, 155-horsepower engine will take you with gusto to the corners. And when you get there, you can keep your right foot down, safe in the knowledge that no matter the road’s camber or the severity of the turn, you will hit the apex and the suspension will glide you through the corner with ease. All the while, you will experience the rush of feeling as if the steering wheel is directly connected to your own spinal system with the MX-5’s perfect steering feel. When you actually have to hit the brakes — and believe me, you won’t want to — they will quickly dampen your speed without upsetting the car. The clutch on the manual version is no more difficult to maneuver than cream and the gear changes are crisp.
I could go on about the MX-5, but the truth is me sitting here telling you how great it is in no way would compare to the actually thrill of driving it. Someone may have raved about your favorite book at one point, but it did not hold the same weight until you’ve flipped through the pages yourself.
So I suggest you go to your local Mazda dealership, leave the salesman by the curb, take the MX-5 to an open, twisting bit of road and give it a good thrashing. And make sure your checkbook is ready for a good thrashing, too. Because this test drive will undoubtedly motivate you to post a down payment.
It must be said, though, the MX-5 has drawbacks.
Unlike most other cars in the American market, the Mazda roadster has not put on size and weight in the past three decades, unlike the populous. If you happen to share my body type — a bit under six-foot with and a waistline nearly that same measurement — getting out of the Mazda is what I imagine it feels like to be birthed. In these tight quarters the steering wheel resides dangerously close to your crotch so that every time you take a sharp corner with zest you punch yourself in the family jewels.
The 2018 version comes with reworked power steering and rear suspension to help mitigate cabin noise, but the interior is anything but quiet.
The suspension, while perfect for keeping the MX-5 under infallible control in the corners, is on the rough side for daily driving.
I would only consider having one if I was retired, did not have to deal Atlanta traffic or lived adjacent to empty country roads.
But in comparison to the driving joy that the MX-5, these are really minor quibbles. When it is a warm and clear spring day, and a curvaceous mountain ride lie ahead, there is no car I’d rather be driving.