When my macho buddies talked about "chick cars," I always scoffed. To me, there was no such thing, and I laughed at potbellied accountants who bought Corvettes to prove their manhood. But after spending a couple of weeks in a bright orange 2011 Mazda MX5, I realized that I had been dead wrong - chick cars really do exist. And I the one I drove virtually defines the genre - the orange MX5 is a rolling Smartie, so cute it hurts. I was riding the Estrogen Express. For the first time in my life, I actually longed for a black Corvette.
The chick car subject is an old and complex one, freighted with innumerable prejudices, half-baked philosophies, and deep-rooted male insecurities. I'd never worried whether a car was masculine or feminine before. I'm married to a beautiful woman, I have two healthy kids, and I ignore the male enhancement ads in the back of the car magazines. So why did the orange MX5 make me cringe?
My experience prompted an unexpected odyssey of automotive self-analysis. When it was first introduced in 1989, I saw the Miata as the reincarnation of Lotus designer Colin Chapman's brilliant but fragile Elan roadster. But there was a caveat. If I got a Miata, I planned to carry out a set of key modifications - Koni shocks, Panasport racing wheels, and a snarling exhaust system.
The Miata had a delicate, Audrey Hepburn feel. But I still sneered at buddies who dismissed it as a chick car. The first cracks in my belief came a few years ago, when I borrowed a friend's Miata - a gay guy asked me for a date. (No harm done, but I made sure my wife was with me from then on as living proof of my orientation.) Plus, driving the little Miata was an act of reverse macho snobbery. (As my wife always said: "Big car, tiny penis.")
Back to the bright orange 2011 MX5. My chick car theory had been shattered, but excessive cuteness wasn't this car's only problem. Although I enjoyed driving the previous generations of Miata, this one wasn't as much fun. The car has gained a lot of weight over the years, blunting its handling, and the styling has strayed from the clean, unfettered lines of the original. This 2011 has a power folding hard top, which was pure sacrilege - it adds even more mass, and further distances the car from its minimalist roots. And every other MX5 driver on the road was a woman. Or at least it seemed that way.
Speed date: a driver's logbook