Wow. What a day. When I was still in college, I didn’t think that driving out to Irvine or Los Angeles was that bad, but for some reason it feels like a chore now.
However, spending a bit of time in traffic between San Clemente and Irvine was worth it. For the longest time, I’ve been wanting to do a test drive of Mazda’s latest Miata. When I heard that Mazda was still doing the “MX-5 Experience” event, I made sure my schedule stayed clear for today.
PS. Sorry for the lack of photos. I was so excited and anxious to get behind the wheel that I didn’t even think of taking pictures until I was leaving.
Initially, I was not sure where the event was taking place since Mazda just noted it was at the “Orange County Great Park.” But once I saw the address on the map, I realized the event was going to be at the former MCAS El Toro, an airfield where I have fond memories of Drift Day.
On my way in, I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of people present. For an event without much advertisement, it was cool to see a bunch of neatly modified Miatas driving in and out; there were a lot of waving and pop-up winking to be had, haha. When I arrived, the process to get into the car was pretty simple. All I had to do was go up to one of the iPad stations Mazda had up, scan the barcode on the back of my California driver’s license, answer a few survey questions, and then take a breathalyzer test. Yes, they really did check my BAC prior to setting foot in a car, hahaha.
Anyway, they had three stations set up; Braking, Slalom, and Hot Laps. They all imply exactly as described. For the Braking station, you had a straight away where you launched the car, got the car up to the top of 2nd gear, and then hit the brakes at a set point to stop in a box; it felt a lot like those braking license tests in Gran Turismo games. Of the whole event, the first station was my best experience. The Mazda employee stationed in the car I drove was very friendly and personable. In the brief minutes in the car, we talked about the car I drove and answered all my questions about the car.
Next was the slalom station. At this station, you were also set in a straight away, but with a few cones set up for slalom. This was probably my most entertaining station because prior to my turn, the older gentleman before me blew the transmission of one of the demo cars. By the time his car exited the last cone, there was a loud bang followed by a bunch of shrapnel noises, lol. Unfortunately f0r me, I ended up driving an automatic at this station. For some reason, the Mazda employee in this car seemed irrate, so I kinda went easy and dipped out of the station after my turn was up. He didn’t even answer my question on how to set the automatic transmission so I could use the wheel shifter paddles; just told me to drive it up to second and told me to keep a certain steering position. Dude was helpful, but just didn’t seem friendly.
The last station was quite a walk away and had the longest queue time because Mazda set up a pretty big AutoX course where people were allowed to have two laps on. Even though the line was long, the Mazda employees helped keep me busy by giving out a free 8GB micro flash drive and a neat Mazda keychain. When it was my turn, the gentleman stationed in the car gave me a quick tutorial of what to expect and let me set off. Since I’ve never actually driven on an AutoX course until today, I wasn’t sure what every cone color/position meant, so I took it slow. The funny thing was that compared to everyone else, I was driving like a grandma while others drove at full throttle; this was one of those times where I feel like the way I accustom myself to a car/course sucks when you have limited seat time. (Generally, I take things really slow. For example, if I’m at a new track or skid pad for drifting, I always grip my lines first. And in the case of the hot lap course, I was not familiar with the car at all and I have zero experience with narrow, low speed 90 degree turns.)
That said, I’d say that my overall experience was a blast. The funny thing is that even though I got a really good feel of what to expect from the car, I paid almost zero attention to the interior. My initial reactions are that the car is surprisingly quick. Even though I daily drive a 1.8L NA with an M45 super charger, the ND felt super quick and responsive; the whole time I drove the car, I pretty much had a grin on my face. And while I think I should’ve paid more attention to details in the interior, I’ll have a chance to check those out properly once I visit a dealership. (You know you didn’t really pay attention to the interior when you can barely recall how the gauge cluster looked like without referring to online photos, lol).
Anyway, I think that Mazda will still be holding this event at a few more locations, so I highly recommend that you check it out if you live near any of the event stops. There’s no better way to test drive a new car than on a closed course without some dealership salesman hounding you.