Driving Sideways and Other Assets

As always, the MX-5 has rear-wheel drive with excellent front/rear weight distribution. At roughly 52/48 (51/49 with the hardtop), its bias is toward slight understeer, which keeps things safe. An electronic stability system, which is optional on the Grand Touring trim level, keeps things safer still. I turned it off most of the time because the Miata is one of the most controllable cars out there, and part of the fun is sliding around a bit, hanging the tail out and occasionally driving sideways. The standard tires are summer performance ones. The two lower trim levels get 16-inchers, and the Touring and Grand Touring's measure 17 inches.

My car's Bridgestone Potenza RE050As, rated P205/45R17, provided excellent grip and had the courtesy to lose traction gradually and silently, which prevents calling attention to oneself. Truth be told, the tires grip well enough that driving sideways might require more speed than you can wisely muster in normal use. That's not to say the car is anything but fun at all speeds and circumstances. Mazda retuned the suspension for 2009 with the goal of improving road feel, and it was there, especially with my car's optional Suspension Package, which includes sport tuning and a limited-slip differential. Thankfully, the ride quality was still livable, keeping in perspective that it's a small car, yet steering feedback is excellent and all the various components and attributes work together so well that your confidence grows with every mile. In time you're looking for reasons to turn, practically seeking out boneheaded traffic scenarios you can scoot past in your overgrown rollerskate.

Lest you think I'm a biased Miata owner, drop by your nearest racing club, such as a Sports Car Club of America, and see how many of these cars show up. The Miata's low price, legendary tractability and engine durability make it a mainstay. Mazda boasts about more of its cars being road-raced on any given weekend than any other brand, and Miata is the most-raced nameplate in the world.

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