2007 Mazda Miata MX-5. Click image to enlarge
By Michael Clark
Is Michael Clark nuts?
I suppose talking about myself in the third person isn’t exactly a good sign, however we’ll leave that up to the nice people in the white van with the padded interior that I continue to elude. The wackiness at issue is my choice of a winter car for this season’s frosty goodness; a 2007 Mazda MX-5, a.k.a Miata. The good folks at Mazda Canada have agreed to supply this GT model for the purposes of snow tire testing, with the added benefit of proving that an MX-5 doesn’t have to dangle its tires in the air in the carport from October to April, while you still get to enjoy making payments.
This particular GT edition is an inspired choice. Like other MX-5’s, the rear-drive GT is equipped with four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. However, the base GT option tick actually removes the limited slip differential, as well as the Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with traction control. Translation; set the Traction Clock to 1985, Marty.
Currently, the GT wears its summer-only Michelin Pilots, to confirm the painfully obvious. The past week has seen our enjoyable dry pavement replaced by side street and backlane skating rinks for such skins. At Casa Clark, the coating was enough to require second-gear starts with the six-speed stick. The slightest application of torque on frosty corners means instant oversteer, with only steering input, gear management, and nerves of hardwood to keep the 17-inch alloys dent-free.
Initial conversations with tire manufacturers are moving quickly, with the latest in snow and ice grip en route. Since winter conditions will vary, reports on tires tested will include temperatures and observed conditions, as well as such anomalies as a 20-centimetre dump of fluffy white. Once winter is firmly entrenched in these parts, (Any minute now.) the goal will be a new set of tires every two weeks. The types of tires will include performance models for the GT wheels, as well as passenger car fare, with a set of smaller steel rims. When available, stud-capable tires will also be scrutinized. Will a few sand bags in the trunk aid traction? OK, maybe two bags. (It is a Miata trunk, after all.)
Real-world testing will be supplemented with really weird testing. Think of all of the slabs of high-polished ice that are in use for winter sports both amateur and professional. What about a run up North on a seasonal Manitoba winter road? Maybe a few solo, untimed laps at an ice racing track, perhaps.
Sadly, a hardtop wasn’t part of the standard equipment roster. Actually, the former Miata two-man hoist hardtop (which made a great coffee table with cinder block legs), is becoming a thing of history, with the recent arrival of the Power Retractable Hardtop. It’s a $2,195 option bump, available on all three levels of MX-5 trim. The existence of the soft-top will also undergo testing, in respect to cabin heat, speed of warm-up, and heat retention. Thankfully, the GT level includes heated seats. Precious, precious heated seats. The bun-warmer buckets are also side airbag-equipped, for those of you concerned with my safety. (Relax, Mom.) The GT pack adds High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps, which should provide improved penetration through the flakes on the road – and the snow, too.
Apart from the winter tires, the GT will also be used to evaluate the plethora of winter-only products that flood the aisles of your local auto parts concern.
As much as I never thought I’d be saying this, there’s just one more thing that needs to be done. Pray for snow. Lots and lots of snow.