Sunday, February 10, 2019

One week with the MX5

So... I'm a proud owner of a new-to-me 2013 NC MX5 Miata :) 6 speed manual transmission with a retractable hard top, and it's the "GS" trim, which comes equipped with bilstein shocks and lsd. The previous owner also did some mods to it, like hid headlights (gonna remove 'em when one of them blows) and the rx8 wiper swap. It also came with Michelin Pilot Sport AS3 tires. These are much wider than stock 205 tires, and run flats at that. I'm haven't yet figured out how heavy these are compared to the stock tires. I'm reading really good reviews for them, but if they're killing my fuel economy they will have to go. Let's start with that.

Fuel Economy
Oh my god it's bad. I always though the stated average of 24mpg ~ 9.8l/100km was reasonable for a convertible, but I'm getting horrendous fuel economy, at 16.6l/100km (14.2mpg). Oh my god. I think it's a combination of winter, bigger heavier tires and my inexperience at driving a manual transmission, and the tendency to rev the engine out. Some forums have mentioned a stuck thermostat causing poor fuel economy, but I'll see how it goes when summer comes around. I also haven't checked the tire pressure, so I hope I figure this out soonish.

10th Feb 2019 - Drove it to Horseshoe Bay this morning, then looped around to the Spanish Banks. It started snowing then, and decided not to push on to a car meet. When I checked the fuel economy, it read 14.8l/100! Yes it's going down! Perhaps sitting for half a year at the dealership messed up the reading. I'm also rapidly improving my clutch control, and figuring out better shift points, so that might have helped.

13th Feb 2019 - Finally got around to filling the tank for the first time! Woot! Cost me 46.65 CAD for 30.9L of 91 octane (OUCH). That was with the gas gauge at about 1/4 tank left. The mpg improved a fair bit as well, it's now at 13.6l/100km, about 17.3mpg. Getting better! I have a gut feeling the horrible economy is caused by crappy fuel used by the dealership.

16th Feb 2019 - Now that I have winter tires, I took the car over Aria Auto Services to get my some scheduled maintenance done. While it's still "early" in terms of mileage, the car is over 6 years old now, and I don't trust the dealership or the previous owner to have maintained it properly. I got the engine oil, oil filter, differential fluid, transmission fluid, power steering fluid, and brake fluid (upgraded to ATE 200 :)) changed, and then got an alignment done. On the way back, the mpg readout quickly jumped to 12.xL/100km, and the best I got on the way back was 11.9l/100km (19.76mpg)!

Pretty sure that all the fluids haven't been maintained. I got Motul fluids but the transmission I requested for Ford XT-M5-QS. I'll detail these in another post.  This is in the cold of winter as well, and pretty much start-stop traffic, only a short stretch on the highway (2-3 minutes?). I'm pretty chuffed to see the improvement.

17th Feb 2019 - Doing 8.84l/100km or 26.61mpg :)

6 Speed Manual Transmission
It's great! Ok, so this is the 2nd manual car I've driven and it's definitely waaaay nicer than the Toyota Echo I learned on. In the week after I bought it, I've been practicing how to more gently take off from a stop, as well as figure out hill starts and parking in reverse... without a camera! All these, in the parking garage. I think the fruits of practice paid off, for today, I set off for my first journey, to buy a set of winter tires! Tires I wanted were out of stock, but I thought I handled the car well. I'm surprised at how many roads I've driven today had an uphill grade; when I used to drive an automatic I don't really care, the car just goes when the throttle goes down. Here, I have to pay so much attention to everything. Must say I've made a few mistakes like start in 2nd gear lol.

The convertible top
I'm 184cm, and the car feels just right for me with the top up. Not too closed in, and I still have headspace. The seating position is really low; my eye line is just under the door handle of some vehicles. In addition, the windshield frame just perfectly blocks my vision of the lights if I'm the first vehicle. It's a bit annoying as I have to crane my head under to make sure I can see the green light in time.

The blind spots with the top up are also pretty bad. With properly adjusted mirrors it's livable - unlike regular passenger cars where I can check the blindspots without my shoulder blades leaving the seat, I need to turn my upper body a bit more to properly check them.

Now, with the top down, the situation is greatly improved, but still not perfect. When I check to my left it's great as there's nothing in the way. No B pillar, nada :P Checking the right though, the passenger roll hoops do obscure my vision a bit. Pretty sure it would hide a Caterham there!

Backing up is also not ideal. Unlike a regular passenger car where you'd look downwards out your rear window, I'm sitting really low in  the Miata, and even with my height I'm really, at best, just looking over the boot. It gets really sketchy when I'm reversing up hill and I have to do a reverse hillstart lol!

Even though it's winter here in Vancouver, I've seen and read so many other Miata drivers who drive top down with the car, and it does it really well. With the top down, windows up and the heater on, it's surprisingly comfortable. The heater generates a surprising amount of heat, and the vents can be aimed at my hands where it seems to get cold first.

Apart from that, thanks to my height, my hair goes awry in the wind. But, I bought a golf visor and that worked out great. The visor keeps the sun out of the way, and I can still feel the breeze without looking like a Pantene commercial gone wrong.

One final thing, fuel economy isn't as good with the top down, so I read. So perhaps I should drive more top up if I want to improve my fuel economy lol.

I wish I can tell you this car drives on a knife edge and takes corners exceeding 2Gs, but hey, I've only been driving on my own for barely 4 months, and it's mostly city driving. In addition, I don't really have any other cars to compare it against. What I can say is, on the highway I need to give a tiny bit more steering input than say, Mazda 3/Prius/Honda Fit. Just a bit. In terms of the steering feel, it's great. It's not like a prius or honda fit where it's pretty light, it's a good sort of heavy that's not tiring. It's in between say a Scion FR-S (feels really heavy, and I could feel it after I returned the car!) and Mazda 3 (It's been a while since I drove a 3, but I remember it having a good weight as well).

I guess I might as well slot in a mention to some upgraded components on the GS trim - namely the torsen lsd and bilstein shocks. I don't really care about the shocks, as I would probably upgrade them once I get to grips with the car. The lsd though, sounds great in theory - it splits torque, so both wheels get drive. Unless one of the wheels lift, then it acts as an open diff, or so I understand.

And so that we're on the same page, this car has a FR layout - front engine, rear wheel drive.

The ride is surprisingly comfortable. I thought the more sporty suspension would be harsh, but I found it otherwise. The damping appears to match the way I take bumps, and it goes over it without the car feeling underdamped. Under heavy braking there's a fair bit of dive, so I've learnt to modulate the brakes and keep a greater follow distance.

Sidetrack - tires
As mentioned above, the car came with 225/45R17 Michelin Pilot Sport AS3 tires. While I won't comment on the handling as I have nothing to compare against, I was very surprised that this tire did not come with a M+S or snowflake symbol as I've seen videos of people driving in snow, and the marketing for their newer AS3+ goes on about better snow performance.

The M+S or Snowflake is required between October and March in BC when travelling further into the province. I'll definitely be getting some winter shoes for my mx5 so I can head up the Sea To Sky Highway for some sightseeing :)

Update 12th Feb 2019
About -1 degrees C outside, wanted to do my first ever refueling run. And since I still have the Pilot Sport AS3, I thought it would be good to see how the tires performed in Vancouver's "snowmageddon".  Outside my apartment complex, is a somewhat steep upward slope. With momentum, I managed to get up the slope but... there is a stop sign... on an incline. And with that, I could not get any more forward traction XD Thankfully, the tires are good enough to hold the car on the slope with no problems, but trying my usual hill starts... nope. Can't do it. The tires would spin and my tail wobbled and started to drift into the curb. Uh oh. Thankfully there were no cars behind me, and I just reversed back into the parking garage. Bleh. Can't wait to get my winters.

Update 13th Feb 2019
We had a clear blue day in Vancouver, and most of the slush had cleared off. I took off the same uphill tonight with zero problems even thought it was cold and wet. Upon entering North Vancouver though, I had to drive through several uncleared lanes and parking lots. I had my reservations, but as I was on a one-way street I had no choice but to soldier on. The AS3s did perfectly fine going over the white snow, I even had to start on a gentle incline. While it felt a bit squirmy on the rear, it never felt like it was going to fishtail. I do these these tires are pretty solid for most conditions, except for the one important one in Vancouver: cold icy slush.

The cabin is quite rumbly with the top up, I have no idea why. Probably, to keep the car light, there's not as much insulation. Could be my tires as well. I only really notice this when I'm driving on the highway - most of the time, I'm too focused on the road and shifting.

With the top down, it's louder - especially when driving besides trucks and semis, but the rumbly experience is gone. And what's better, I can hear the very distinct *snick* of the shifter. It is so very satisfying to hear to it shift, it's pretty much worth it to drive with the top down on a cold day.

The GS trim comes with cloth seats. Which is exactly what I want, as I don't want to deal with leather. Bleh. The leather seats in the GT trim does come with heated seats, something folks in colder weather conditions might like to have.

Out of the few brands of cars I've drive, I found I fit Mazda seats the best. The Mazda 3's seats are great, and the MX5's are great too, but while the former is very easy to get in, the MX5 I have to almost fall into the seat as it's that low.

There are only manual adjustments, which is great - weight savings!

Now, the passenger side looks to have similar seats, but there's significantly less legroom. I haven't gone on long trips, but the space on the driver side is good. The passenger side though... I feel a bit... tight. Can't stretch out the legs.

It's a tiny car. The glove box is reasonably sized, and there are 4 cup holders, one on each door, and two in the center armrest. There's also a storage bay between the seats, but it's pretty small, and awkwardly sized, no idea what I'm going to use it for at the moment.

The boot is tiny for sure. For me though, I'm using it to haul roadside supplies - a tire plug kit, a screwdriver, a portable jump start battery. The right corner of the boot also has the tire jack. I planning to go on long road trips with this car, so I think I might need to get a spare, some emergency triangles, a first aid kid, fire extinguisher etc etc.

Unlike the soft top mx5, there are no storage behind the seats - that's taken up by the hard top.

It's a tiny car. Last I checked, the MX5's wheelbase is smaller than a Mazda 2, and that car's pretty compact. Every time I see my Miata parked in the stalls, I find it hilarious that there's so much space around it.

On the road, I can leave more space on the right when passing cyclists. I haven't yet encountered any issues, but it is a small car. Not as small as a Fortwo or kei car for sure, but it's more or less a step up from a motorcycle. Add to the fact that it's so low, bigger vehicles might not see it in their blindspot.

I'm always keeping an eye on large SUVs that don't always keep to their lanes in turns, and I try to use my speed (ha!) to get ahead of semis.

There's cruise control and an aux jack. I can play CDs if I didn't use one of those cd player handphone mounts. It doesn't even have those beeping backup sensors lol. This is why I'm attracted to the car, there are a few safety features, like side and front airbags, and the car is designed to more modern crash standards. Keeping it simple.

A backup camera would be nice, but I'm a bit too lazy to wire one up. And where would I put the display? I see some folks replace the stock headunit with a high-tech pioneer double din. But yeah. Laaaazy.

The speakers in the GS are nothing to write home about. There is a distinct lack of bass, but the mids and highs are alright. I like to play music while detailing my car, and the kicks just don't have the same impact, but eh. My car is for driving.

Side note: I use a smartphone with google maps to navigate areas I'm not familiar with. The dashboard is curvy and most of it has a pebbled texture, so it's difficult to use a phone suction mount. There are some suction mounts with "gel" pads but these seem like more of a semi-permanent solution and I don't want to mar the finish of the plastic. I ended up getting a cd mount, and it worked quite well.

Why the 2013 MX5
Primarily, it boils down to budget, running costs/maintenance and safety.

Budget wise, I'd love to get a newer car. The ND Miata or Fiat 124 would be great. While used prices for 2016 models are still quite high, it's doable. But the problem is, insurance. My ICBC insurance is crazy high as a new driver, and I only count as having one year of driving experience, so only 5% off my insurance. The ND or 124 would be far to expensive to justify as I don't daily drive. There's also the fact that I'm a new driver, and this will be my first car. I could afford a newer ND or 124... but if I damage it... ouch!

Running costs and maintenance wise, the ND is the obvious winner. The car's newer, smaller, lighter, and the new engine has crazy good fuel economy. I'm slightly regretful of that. The NC is pretty old and has been in production for a decade. But, because of this, the later model years have had the bugs worked out and in general, it seems like a very solid car with excellent reliability.

As much as I'd love to own a NA or NB Miata, they are over a decade old, with some of them about 30 years old. Rust can be an issue with these cars. If I had my own garage, I might've gone with the NA, because, popup headlights.

But I live in an apartment with a parking spot, so I can do little more than clean my car :-/

The safety aspect is also important. Newer cars have more safety features, and while I think the newer ND's safety features are slightly over the top, I think the NCs are just perfect. I would really like to have a parking camera, but I'll deal with that when I really need it. For now, I think the NC is great for what it is.

I'm looking forward to summer!

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