My elation at having a 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata on loan quickly evaporated when I discovered it had an automatic transmission. Some cars are fine with an automatic, but not the Miata. This is a sports car, a roadster of immeasurable fun, and having a slushbox doing the shifting for you seemed an affront to what the whole car stands for.
That said, I'd never driven a Miata with an automatic transmission. Not only was it perfect convertible weather -- sunny and not too hot -- but it was my journalistic duty to check it out.
Paddling a shift or two
I hopped in, got comfortable, and put the power hard top down. The automatic comes with paddles on the steering wheel, and it responds with about a half-second delay, about par for the course for these kinds of automatics. You have to anticipate when to shift before you hit redline or you'll bounce off the rev limiter, and the transmission doesn't match revs when downshifting, so the engine takes a couple moments to get back up to speed.
After slogging through traffic, I finally found a patch of open road where I was able to push the Miata a little harder. The little two-seater arced playfully through a corner, the engine's throaty rasp rising and falling with the high baritone of the exhaust. In manual mode, the transmission held its gear perfectly, but I discovered that even in Drive it would hang onto a downshift for a while, in case you needed the extra revs again. Very sporty.
Wishing for a twin clutch
Later, back in traffic, I started thinking. The obvious conclusion is that the 2014 Mazda MX-5 isn't as fun with an automatic as it is with a stick. But it's still a Miata, which means that the suspension and steering are spot-on, and driving it is no punishment. Besides, I'm a leggy 6 feet 2 inches and not once did I have to worry banging my knee into the steering wheel when I shifted. With a dual-clutch automated manual, like in a Volkswagen GTI, this Miata could be downright fun, and there is a new Miata coming in just a few months. If it has proper dual-clutch automatic, that might just be the Miata to get.
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