- Ross Ballot
A sports car is the perfect winter vehicle
The light turned green. I rolled off the clutch and onto the accelerator, easing forward, carefully managing traction as the car gained speed. Beside me a crossover spun its front tires, then all four, desperately clawing for grip on the snow-covered uphill. Glancing quickly to my left showed me that the crossover driver’s expression of utter shock shone as vivid as did my smile. Moments later, family hauler long out of my sight, I turned down a deserted side street. Traction Control: Off. Every driving enthusiast who has had an empty, unplowed stretch of road to themselves knows what came next. Much fun was had that afternoon and by the time I returned home my face was sore from smiling. And just like that, a simple mid-snowstorm trip to the supermarket became an automotive memory forever solidified in my brain.
This sequence of events is a perfect representation of the beauty in driving a sports car in the winter. Be it out-maneuvering vehicles that most think are superior in cold-month precipitation or taking advantage of the car’s inherent dynamics, driving a rear-wheel-drive sports car through the snow affords a special kind of fun that simply can’t be found in any other vehicle. But the ways in which this is so go further. And with the Everyday Driver team pushing this incessantly, I had to find out for myself if it held weight. What I found not only aligns with what Todd and Paul have expressed but also strengthened my feelings towards my MX-5 and sports car ownership. Put simply, daily-driving my Mazda Miata regardless of weather has enlightened me as to how and why you absolutely can and absolutely should drive your sports car year-round. Why is this so? The answers lie in what already make sports cars so engaging.
Small and light are the two most crucial elements. Mazda’s engineers managed to keep the NC-generation car’s weight down even though it bears the nameplate’s heaviest iteration. In the snow the lack of mass acting against it is among its greatest features. Whereas heavier cars may fight to change direction, the Miata can be manipulated easier as there’s less of a battle against physics. This is especially so when the limits of grip are low, as they are in winter precipitation conditions. Whether in the form of fighting to hold a line on an icy back-road or avoiding potholes, it’s the low weight that ultimately makes even a coffee run entertaining. Add in a bit of snow and a toggling-off of the traction control system and every drive can be an adventure. Oversteer is, and always will be, far more enjoyable than understeer.
Moments like this bring joy to otherwise dull, dreary winter days. Like during any other season, chucking a sports car into a corner-- be it inside city limits en route to work or on a spirited Saturday morning just-for-the-sake-of-it drive-- can provide hearty laughs and driving enjoyment. The Miata might not be fast but dynamics are where it shines. The handling, the steering feel, the chassis’ responsiveness, the shifter’s directness, and so on are all great in the summer and equally great in the winter.
To further my point, consider that The Smoking Tire’s Matt Farah is on the record as saying that strong on-road dynamics translate to strong off-road dynamics. This is usually cited in referring to Safari-build Porsche 911s but I’ll extend his point: good dynamics on dry roads translate to good dynamics in wet and snowy conditions. And this, as dynamics and driver involvement are the Miata’s key characteristics, in turn mean the MX-5-- and yes, likely your sports car as well-- is fun even when it’s rainy or snowy.
Perhaps most enjoyable is the increased ease of sliding, sideways shenanigans. Low grip means low limits, and limits that can be safely explored somewhat regularly. Incidentally it’s almost exactly two years since posting my first Everyday Driver article. In it I waxed poetic over how Subaru’s WRX is a fantastic all-arounder but it’s far from being a dynamic powerhouse. The WRX made such easy work of even the worst snow storms that it left me numb. And whereas the WRX needed a large open parking to engage in winter time fun, the Miata can provide such with a stab of the throttle and dabble of opposite lock.
I should have known; this wasn’t my first time driving a RWD car through a Connecticut winter. A long time ago, in what feels like a galaxy far, far away, I equipped my long-departed 2014 Dodge Challenger R/T with the best snow tires Craigslist had to offer. It opened my eyes to the difference the right tires make, making the two-ton-plus muscle car capable and confident not only in day-to-day commuting but also in serious storms. A number of cars later I approached winter with the aforementioned Miata, the Challenger’s antithesis, and to my satisfaction I was delighted to the fact that driving a sports in the least wonderful time of the year proved more infinitely more gratifying than did the big Dodge. Not only is the Miata better to drive, it’s better to live with, too.
Generally being small physically, there’s other added benefits of driving a sports car year-round. The tiny cabin means it heats up quickly inside. And the diminutive exterior dimensions mean relatively little time is required to clear off frost, ice, or snow. And, of course, the Miata remains easy to park and still achieves econobox-like fuel economy. Many great things about sports car ownership do not change simply because the temperature does. And enjoying driving does not have to stop simply because the weather changes.
That said, and in all transparency, it isn’t all good and there are some other caveats. If your sports car is fragile or gets totaled with minimal damage, like a Lotus Elise (looking at you, Todd) or you pride yourself in taking exceptional care of your car (looking at you, Paul) then there’s justification in keeping it tucked away. A pass is also allowed if winter tires in your required size are exponentially expensive and hard to find, or if you simply do not have enough ground clearance to overcome about three inches of snowfall. In my case, the downsides presented themself in the Miata’s shifter becoming a little reluctant to move briefly upon startup during extreme cold stretches. And some frost occasionally developed on the inside of the windshield. But these negatives are all heavily offset by the positives.
Amidst the cold there’s sporadic days when the weather breaks, the sun shines, and the temperature rises enough to drop the roof. Driving a roadster with snow tires fitted and beneath you and nothing but the sky above you in the middle of the winter feels borderline ethereal. It feels like a forbidden act, like something severely frowned upon. You become that person, the one having fun when most think it should not be possible. But it doesn’t matter when you’re behind the wheel. When so many others are out in their crossovers, sealed off from the world, you’re living in it.
Perhaps that’s why the Miata, or any sports car, is the perfect winter vehicle: rather than isolate it involves the driver in their environment, in their surroundings, in driving. Irrelevant of conditions the car dances at the inputs made by your feet and fingertips, allowing you to experience the world in which you live, all with an added delicacy required to maintain control. It brings the engaging aspect to a new realm. You become one with wherever it is you’re driving. It’s a sensation only a sports car can provide.
As myself and countless others have proven, a sports car can be driven year-round, even in a climate that gets snow. Not only can it be done, but I, and the EDD hosts, encourage it. The reasons allow you to become a stronger driver and extend the fun that can be had in your car. In my winter daily-driving my Miata, I found that dodging potholes became a sport, carving corners is still fun, and the sports car dynamics that I fell in love with can still be enjoyed. I’m a believer now: a sports car is absolutely the perfect winter vehicle. Maybe not for everyone, but certainly for the true driving enthusiast.
Hi, my name is Ross. I write primarily for Hooniverse and co-host the Off the Road Again Podcast. I'm an off-road enthusiast/self-proclaimed expert and an amateur autocrosser. My current car is an NC Miata Club PRHT 6MT but the joke goes that my Automotive ADHD means I'm perpetually looking for the next vehicle I will regret. Follow me on Instagram @nonotliketheonefromfriends
The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.