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Why Miatas are awesome

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  • Why Miatas are awesome

    Somebody on Quora (a fantastic question and answer site) asked the question: "Despite a relatively low top speed and acceleration, who's is the Mazda Miata considered a sports car?"

    I wrote the following response and was quite proud of it, and thought some Miata guys might like to read it. (WARNING, THIS IS A LONG READ)

    Originally posted by Me
    All the other answers are getting to the point, but one thing is missing from all the answers that I think is a critical component in the Miata’s success at making it to track events.

    To put it simply, the Miata offers great communication to the driver.

    This communicative feel is very hard to put on paper, and you have to drive the car to understand. The Miata has several “engineer’s wet dream” things going on that enhance this communication.

    A 15:1 steering ratio. Most sports cars have an 18:1 steering ratio and your “regular” cars commonly have about a 20:1 steering ratio. The Miatas steering ratio of 15 to 1 (smaller numbers are better for fast driving) means that for every 15 ° of steering input, the front wheels roughly provide 1 ° of output. Comparing a 15:1 system to a “normal” cars 20:1 means that in the Miata you have to turn the wheel 75% as much to make the same turn. How this communicates in driving is a very responsive “"go-kart-like” trait.
    A fully-independent double-wishbone suspension. Without giving you a novel of information on why this is good, essentially the suspension is constrained mechanically to keep all 4 wheels flat on the ground even as the car's body rolls. This is basically achieved by dynamically altering the camber of the wheels as the suspension travels, very hard to explain in text without graphs or animations but trust me, the grip this provides is almost unreal feeling.
    50–50 weight distribution. This makes the car extremely predictable and forgiving at the limits of grip. Should you accidentally overcome the friction of the tires, the car will not wildly swing the tail out like a drift car, but instead it will gradually begin to slide while still giving a sensation of grip. It's easier to recover from unwanted slides, and it helps you better learn where these limits of grip lie.
    The axis of pitch and yaw. This is another very technical engineering thing that I will try my best to explain briefly. When a vehicle moves, there are three variables that can describe its movement. The most commonly understood one is acceleration, the sensation of speeding up (positive acceleration) and slowing down (negative acceleration). The second one is pitch, which is the amount of body roll (left right as well as fore and aft) that a car exhibits in a corner. A lot of people think cars should be very stiff to minimize changes in pitch, and in track scenarios this can make steering feel more direct, but it will mask how much the car is communicating to you that you are approaching the limits of grip. The engineers have placed the seating position in the middle of the car so that one's torso is almost like a gyroscope directly in the center of every pitch change. It is really easy to measure the feel of the body roll with your own senses to determine how hard you are being on the car’s ability to brake, and corner. Lastly there is yaw. The best way to explain this is that if you drive straight and suddenly give a sharp steering input, there is a point along the car that the vehicle will rotate around. Try to imagine a flag pole coming right up through the middle of the car - this imaginary pole is the axis on which the car rotates. In a sedan, with 4 seats, you sit pretty far forward, much closer to the front wheels than the back wheels. The axis of yaw change on that vehicle will be behind you - probably where your rear passengers knees go. If you drive a car like the BMW Z4, where you basically sit on the rear wheels and you have a long hood in front of you, you are sitting behind the axis of yaw, and it's as if the car's front “swings around” in front of you while you turn. In a Miata however, the axis of yaw is right in line with your spine. The car rotates around you, the car drives as if you aren't driving it, but rather you ARE the car. It's so hard to explain without experiencing all 3 scenarios (yaw in front of you, yaw behind you, and then finally yaw right where you are) but it makes gauging what the car is doing to feel so natural.
    Convertible top. This one is subjective, but with the top down and the radio off you can hear the engine working, the transmission clicking into and out of gear, and the tires squealing, which tells you a lot about what is going in during your drive.
    The shifter! The gears are so close together (in terms of shifter throw, not gear ratios) and they feel so buttery smooth. This has been raved about for decades, all the car magazines talk about how right the shifter feels. There isn't much technical stuff I can write about here, but I can say Mazda did do extensive testing in measuring the position and feel of the shifter, and they even used a testing rig that monitored how much muscle effort, and in what parts of the arm were strained, the user experiences with shifting .
    So so you see, these things don't really translate to numbers and paper arguments well, but I assure you that you can feel them. Please give driving a Miata a try and see if you get a sense of how much more that car is telling you than a boring mid-sized family sedan, or even a competing sports car in the same price range. Sure you can get even better communication from a car by buying a Lotus Elise, Porsche Boxter/Cayman, or things of the sort. Even a V6 Toyota Camry will beat a Miata in a drag race. However, with the other cars you may think of as truer sports cars than a Miata. (think Mustangs, Nissan Z cars, BMW 3 series sedans or Z roadsters) they all have more money developed into their power output, some of them have more development in luxury, but they do not communicate to you like a Miata does. They may be faster cars, but if they don't communicate with you, then it will be difficult to drive them as fast as they can go. Nothing else does the same level of communication for the same money as a Miata. The BRZ comes really close, but Mazda’s engineers are the only ones who I think really have nailed it within their budget.
    If you guys want to read any of the other responses, or add your $0.02, the link is here

    Let me know if you guys like what I wrote and if I left anything major out.