I’m not under any illusions about how this story will be used. It’s going to be presented as evidence by hopeful gearhead parents who desperately want to convince the other parent that, somehow, in the face of all logic, a two-seater roadster like the new 2016 Mazda Miata makes sense with kids. I’m not promising any results, but I’m going to try my best to help.
But before I begin, let me clear up two quick things. First, I know my kid isn’t really a baby anymore; he’s a pre-schooler, a toddler, a Micronian, whatever the hell they call five-year-olds now. He’s a little kid. But he still has to have a child seat, so I think my findings here should be valid for kids between, oh, two and somewhere in the mid-30s.
Second, you need to just accept up front that if you’re trying to convince your partner that you can totally use the new Miata as a kid-hauler, you’re fucking crazy. I don’t say this to dissuade you, but I feel like we all need to be honest here if this has any chance of flying.
It’s nuts. It’s a stupid idea. At no point in this car’s design was anybody thinking that this little roofless bathtub filled with driving joy would make any sense at all to use as a responsible parenting vehicle. We can accept this. It’s okay because even with this in mind, I found there’s some real, if less traditionally tangible or sane, reasons that a Miata makes a fantastic car for parents and kids.
The Miata is an unflinchingly two-seater car. Even spiritual forebearers to the MX-5 like the MGB had a little well behind the seats that you could, in a pinch, cram a kid into, safe enough for the life-is-cheap standards of the 1970s. The Miata has nothing like that. Two seats, some little cubbies to shove a half-eaten sandwich and some broken sunglasses and that’s it.
This simple fact brings up perhaps the most obvious limitation and the most overlooked benefit: there’s only room for two.
If you’re a single parent with an only child, then this is less of an issue, but if not, it presents some interesting challenges. I only have one kid, and, coincidentally, only one wife, but even with the absolute minimum staff filling both of those roles, one person is going to have to stay behind.
This, of course, makes the car unsuitable for any full-family excursion, but unless it’s your only car (a choice even I would have trouble defending), this can actually be a good thing.
A two seater car that a parent enjoys driving means that you will spend some one-on-one time with your kid. If you have one kid, like me, it’s great because it’s time for you and your kid to bond, and an opportunity to expose your child to all of your ideas and passions without your smarter, more rational partner getting in the way. If you feel like your parenting game has been getting sloppy, or you’re being lazy, a Miata-borne excursion will put a quick end to that.
It forces one partner to occasionally give the other one a break by taking one kid off their hands, for a while, and that’s a gesture that’s always appreciated. Plus, if you have more than one kid, the one-on-one time is probably even more important. How can you pick your favorite or turn your kids against each other if you never get them alone?
As far as the actual mechanics of getting a child seat in the car, it’s not as bad as you’d think. For Otto, I used a forward-facing child seat, a pretty common one. There’s no LATCH system, but most child seats have provisions to be anchored via the seat belt, which worked fine for me.
As you may or may not know, little kids and front-seat airbags are usually a bad combination. Definitely for rear-facing seats, and almost always for front-facing when the kids are young. Unlike previous Miatas that sometimes employed a mechanical switch to shut off the passenger airbag, the new car uses a seat weight sensor (I think) to determine if the airbag should be on or off.
While I was driving with Otto in his child seat, the airbag always stayed off. It was pretty idiot-proof and trouble-free. The belt anchored the seat securely, and there was plenty of room for kid and seat.
Knowing that 5-year-olds have a built-in algorithm to kick the shit out of anything within footreach while in a car, I was pleased that Mazda made an easy system to remove the passenger cupholder from its somewhat intrusive footwell position, and relocate it to the center console, between the seats. I’m pretty sure Otto would have kicked it off eventually anyway, but I was pleased it didn’t need to come to that.
As far as other kid-related practicalities go, while there’s not many, there are some. All of the negatives you’d expect are there, and they all pretty much fit in the category of “this is a very small car.”
The trunk can’t fit any stroller beyond a tiny umbrella one, but it’s still a usable volume of space in there. There’s also not a whole lot of space in general for all the equipment and supplies that taking a human child out in the world usually entails. There’s some room in the footwell, and a couple of little cubbies and compartments, but the Miata will force you to be a more efficient with your kid-excursion baggage. That’s not a bad thing.
Look, the problems are obvious. It’s a tiny roadster. We get it. But the benefits I found to be pretty damn compelling, so I’m going to list them out here, so they get the attention they deserve. They may not be obvious, but they matter.
• You’ll drive safer, because you won’t be a distracted driver.
This provision does assume a little bit of self-control on the behalf of the driver/parent. The Miata is a blast to drive, just the right amount of power to be quick, but you can have fun at speeds where you won’t end up in jail. It could be easy to let the fun cloud your judgement, but if you’re willing to dial it back just a bit when your kid is right next to you, what you have is a car that’s rewarding and engaging to drive.
What this means is that unlike some pampered, safe sedan with numb steering and couch-like seats that cocoon you in a metal bubble, you won’t be getting bored and tempted to be stupid and text and drive or anything like that. The Miata keeps your focus on the road, because driving it feels so damn good. That means you drive more attentively, and, as a result, safely.
• It’s way easier to keep track of your kid
When the kid is sitting in back, you only know what’s going on by swift kids to the small of your back or shrieks or the sound of expensive things tearing or getting splashed on. In the Miata, the kid is right there, next to you. There’s no dangerously craning your head backwards or flailing with a stiff-elbowed flagellation arm. They’re right there.
• The kid is more engaged with you and the real world
Do you cringe when you think about how much time your kid spends poking at a touchscreen? A Miata will solve that, no problem. Thankfully, I had one day nice enough to take the top down when I drove with Otto next to me, and he loved it.
He loved the feel of the wind, the ability to look all around, the sensation of speed, the noise, everything. He got cold after a while, but that was no big deal, since the Miata’s tiny, unpowered top is absurdly easy to put up. You just slow down, unlatch a latch between the seats, pull it forward, and snap it into place.
He wasn’t bored, he wasn’t nose-to-iPad, he was in the world, loving the experience of being alive and zooming down a road. He was having fun with me as I drove, cajoling me to “go fast!” calling out in alarming tones when the lights turn red (or yellow, or green), and he was interested in the process of driving.
He was really curious about the gearshift, so I showed him how to move the shifter, and would let him shift me between third through sixth gears. I’d tell him he could shift, he’d put his hand on the stick, I’d clutch in and say “pull back to four!” and he’d yank the stick backwards from 3rd to 4th, for example. He loved it, because he was helping to drive, and that’s very exciting for a five-year old.
• It’s kid-scaled
Most of the CUVs and SUVs I get are high, imposing mobile buildings to a 40 pound kid. But with the Miata, Otto could get in and out with ease. Sure, he can climb into the carseat on many cars, but it’s not really graceful or easy. With the little roadster, he can almost enter and exit like a somewhat full-grown human like me.
• It’s real, tangible proof of a very important life lesson
The lesson? It’s a simple one, an important one, but one really, really easy to forget: life can be a very enjoyable thing. The Miata is a car. A tool for transportation, like a bus or a Camry or a hoverboard before it catches fire. But it’s a tool that’s designed not just to ferry you from one place to another, but to maximize the pleasure of the process of that journey.
Having a Miata demonstrates to your child that the human experience, for all the challenges it will undoubtedly fling at you, is one that’s rich in opportunities to appreciate and enjoy the world around you. A Miata is designed the way it is not to make it more efficient or useful, but to make what could be a mundane chore into an experience worth having.
The act is still just driving from A to B; that hasn’t changed. But the approach to that task, the attitude by which that task is undertaken is one of enthusiasm and hope. It’s a machine to eliminate drudgery, and even if your kid doesn’t care about cars, that attitude, that understanding that life is what you choose to make of it, is an incredibly valuable lesson.
So, yes, if you’re arguing that a Miata is a sensible car to get for your family and your child, by any rational metric, you’re an idiot. But you’re an idiot with a great relationship with his kid, an idiot with a child who appreciates the life and the world around them, and an idiot who’s not afraid to do their share of parenting.
You’re an idiot grinning like an idiot, next to a kid with the same idiotic grin, and it’s the best damn idiotic decision you’ve ever made.
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