By on September 2, 2014


photo courtesy:

TTAC Commentator johnny ro writes:

Hi Sajeev,

So I like my new 2010 Miata Touring (second car and half time daily driver), and picked it because it looked good on the side of the road by my house, low miles (19k), priced OK(mid 14’s), I had the dough saved up for a bike and I am happy with the current Vstrom, and last but not least it is an automatic. The OEM suspension seems firm to me but obviously not race ready. Roads in Northeast are usually not-so-new ranging down to horrible. Miata people say its mushy and floaty, those who want to autocross or race.

It’s body is stiffer than my 1999 was. The 1999 benefited from chassis stiffeners- new frame rails, X-brace underneath, frog arms under the front fenders, door bars. Still a small noisy uncomfortable car for more than an hour. The 2010 is a bit more comfortable. For the 2006-2014 there are also aftermarket body stiffeners and plenty of suspension upgrades all meant to improve track performance.

What I really want is a GT, not a race car. I am not interested in more power.

Question for the best and brightest, should I bother stiffening the body on an automatic Miata?

What suspension would make it more civilized without less comfort?

Am I better off buying a true GT? What GT for $14k.

Sajeev answers:

When someone complains about a stock one, the words “Miata Ride Comfort” make no sense together. Instead do an LSX-FTW swap so you’ll rarely have the time to focus on the punishing ride. And no, I’m only partially kidding.

To wit, a friend once asked if their Miata wouldn’t punish one’s lower back with the upgraded leather slip covers from a Grand Touring model: what a load of trash! Leather seats aren’t magically wrapped around Fleetwood Brougham thrones, or even CamCord thrones. Time to suck it up and buy a more comfortable car.

“What I really want is a GT, not a race car.”

Oh wait, you already admitted that.  Why? Chassis stiffeners cannot cut the impact harshness from a pothole, they help the suspension/steering/braking systems work as intended in spirited driving on imperfect roads.  Which totally isn’t the same thing.

And if there is a softer-than-stock suspension (not likely) it won’t help enough. Considering roadster levels of suspension travel, seat cushion padding, short wheelbase, light weight (to some extent), low-ish profile tires, a quite-modest sprinkling of NVH reducing materials…see where I’m going with this?

Go find a pre-engineered GT car!  A Mazda 3 or 6 sedan is a logical and practical step backward, but perhaps there are too many doors.  Maybe a Mazda 2? Maybe a somewhat used Mustang? Not refined enough.  A fairly used 3-series?  If you know a good indie-BMW mechanic and don’t mind paying them.  A garage-queen C5 Corvette with Magnaride and conventional (not run-flat) tires?  Entirely possible.



Or just suck it up and maraud your way to love…




(photo courtesy:

…Panther Love…


Send your queries to [email protected]com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry…but be realistic, and use your make/model specific forums instead of TTAC for more timely advice.


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52 Comments on “Piston Slap: The Fallacy of Miata Ride Comfort?...”

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Want a $14k GT car? 2004 GTO. You don’t need an LS2 to have fun.
    Pick one up that has all the issues sorted out and you are good to go.
    If I had to do it over again, I’d skip my 2006 and get a nicely put together 2004.

  • avatar

    The optional OEM Bilsteins that comes with the suspension package should be a little softer than the standard shocks, and switching to 16″ wheels (206/45R17 -> 206/50R16) will give a bit more ride comfort.

    That said, it will hardly be a GT car, as Sajeev mentioned.

    Given the Northeast road conditions, my vote would be a 4th gen Subaru Legacy.

    • 0 avatar

      I think this has been disproven for NC2. The NC2 Bilstein valving is as stiff or stiffer than the OE Tokico on the NC1 2006-2008. Source: I owned both.

      I certainly understand how someone could think the NC2 is harsh. It all depends on viewpoint. If you drive a S500 otherwise, yeah, it’s pretty harsh. Compared to many economy cars it’s just slightly firmer. It definitely has WAY too little roll stiffness for my taste stock. Some giant swaybars really help if you don’t want to swap in high quality dampers and springs.

      • 0 avatar

        Whoops, I didn’t know that the OEM Bilsteins were different between NC1 and NC2. Thank you for the correction!

        I have an NC1 with stock Bilsteins that seems to work well for me with just the right amount of body roll. Now I am curious to check-out how NC2 feels in comparison though, before the ND comes out.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    “Chassis stiffeners cannot cut the impact harshness from a pothole”

    Not in isolation, but a stiffer chassis means that you can use softer springs (and shocks). Flip the equation around, and a soft chassis is really just a big undampened spring, which forces you to use stiffer springs/shocks to compensate.

  • avatar

    I don’t have much experience with the NC, although I do know that the body is much stiffer than the NB, and that the suspension is largely considered to be poorly matched to the car. Experts say that you can increase comfort by going to stiffer springs and better shocks. My FM springs, at nearly twice the spring rate of stock, paired with Illumina shocks, ride about as well as stock, but handle much better. There would be better-riding setups with much stiffer springs if I had been willing to spend the coin (and I kind of wish I had). I also have Flyin’ Miata’s butterfly brace, and am not as convinced of its value as others seem to be. I doubt that the NC’s ride quality would benefit much from stiffening.

    That said, the Miata isn’t meant to be a GT, and I don’t think will ever be a good one. For $14k, I’m sure a better fit could be found. An RX-8 might be an interesting option, if you’re into the rotary thing, although automatics seem to suffer more engine issues than the manuals. $14k would buy a nice example.

  • avatar

    I’m having trouble making sense of the question in the first place.

    First we’ve established that Johnny owns a ’10 Miata. The OEM suspension seems firm, but not track firm, to him. The roads on which he commutes are of poor quality, which we can assume leads to a lack of comfort in his Miata.

    Apparently ardent Miata racers find the OEM setup too soft, which I guess he disagrees with (?).

    Then we learn he had a ’99 Miata, which apparently had a stiffer chassis than the first gen. The 2010 model has a stiffer chassis than the ’99. But…he found the ’99 small and noisy over an hour at a time…and he also thought the ’10 would be dramatically different?

    But then there are really two questions – should he further stiffen the chassis (which is stiffer than the ’99 which was stiffer than the 1st gen) and then could he upgrade the suspension for a better GT (non-track) experience.

    So does he want to stiffen the chassis and soften the suspension? I’m confused.

  • avatar

    It’s definitely key to be 100% honest about the kind of driving you will do, and the general conditions you will have to endure, when thinking through a car purchase.

    I lived in the NYC most of my life, and recently moved to NC. When I was up there I had a few Accords and Maximas. I found that the setups that made me the most happy were the setups that balanced ground clearance/ride comfort with handling. My favorite setup was my 93 Accord with really mild Neuspeed Sports and Koni Yellows. Plenty of shock travel, excellent damping rates, and spring rates that perfectly split the difference between firm and compliant. Really how the car should have come from the factory.

    I have a 350Z now, which is a pretty good GT outside of road noise, and in NYC at least (from my road trips there) a lack of suspension travel. It is downright HARSH up there and made driving a real pain. Any real sports car will be miserable to drive in the NE, period. If you aren’t racing/tracking with any regularity, let that dream go, and get something built for the job, like a WRX or 335xi. On the rare occasion you find an empty fun backroad you will be rewarded, but 99% of the time you will appreciate their big suspension travel, good body control and midrange focused power bands.

    It’s that kind of compromise that was prevalent in so many aspects of NE living that made me leave. My commute now is a 40 mile drive (or ride on my motorcycle) through back roads. Come down south and keep your Miata.

  • avatar

    I say just do a -1 rim/tire swap to the standard 16 inch wheels.

    You want a GT instead of a sports car? Well, Mazda just happened to make a LWB 2+2 GT version of the Miata. You could pick up a very nice example for $14K. The only problem is that it has a weirdo engine that burns oil and gets bad fuel economy.

    Ironic that Mazda put the engine with poor fuel economy in the GT (i.e. to be used for daily driving and long trips) version of the Miata.

  • avatar

    Update: I see that I am echoing Varezhka and JuniperBug.

    Two interesting issues here:

    The rim size race is destroying ride quality. What can we do to make sidewalls popular again?

    Why did Mazda put its poor fuel economy/poor reliability rotary in a 3,000 pound 2+2 GT (i.e. a daily driver/commuter/long trip car), and not offer it in the 2,500 pound sports car that is popular for solo and track days (i.e. people care more about the very minor weight distribution advantages)?

    • 0 avatar

      My guess is that the reason is branding. The Miata has always had a budget I-4 from the 323/Protégé/3, and the rotary RX was the flagship. I personally like what Mazda tried to do with the RX-8, but I shy away from its maintenance costs – fuel, tires, and everything just cost much more. For people like me, the economy and reliability of a budget-engined Miata are an attractive attribute. And for the core new-Miata demographic, old white guys, straying from the original formula wouldn’t be acceptable.

      I agree that a rotary Miata and a normal RX-8 would be interesting cars, but I’m not sure there would be as many takers as the Internet suggests.

      • 0 avatar

        Since they are VERY close platform mates my recommendation would have been to offer both engines in both. Make it a trim level like hybrid. The Miata RX and the Mazda 8 RX. Obviously water under the bridge now.

      • 0 avatar

        I would love the RX-8 with a piston engine. (And a bit more headroom.)

      • 0 avatar

        Yeah, a rotary Miata/RX-5 would definitely appeal only to a specific demographic if it is ever released. I do fully understand why Mazda wouldn’t want to put its limited budget into building a niche variant of an already fairly niche car.

        It would be nice though, if they at least gave us one chance to put our money where our mouth is, because here would be one taker (almost bought an RX-8 in addition to his NC1).

    • 0 avatar

      Sidewalls are dead! Long live sidewalls!

      Seriously the 45 series tires ruin the ride on my Buick.

  • avatar

    If you want a GT with an automatic for $14K, to use as a part time driver check out a Jag XK8.

    But if it’s comfort you’re looking for, a Caddy CTS isn’t a bad choice, if you don’t mind the extra doors. You could even add some “Brougham GT” badges to it and not feel bad.

  • avatar
    George B

    Should be easy enough to sell a 2010 Miata and buy something more comfortable. I thought the Infiniti G sedans, non-Sport trim, were fun to drive without a punishing ride. It’s basically a Nissan Z car in adult clothing. They also made an AWD version that might be desirable in the Northeast.

    • 0 avatar

      Yea, the G is basically a lifted and stretched Z.

      The AWD versions are auto only, but the automatic transmissions are decent. The chassis is pretty playful too… the 1st gens I drove had the same light playful feel as an old stock Honda.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 a used G35 / G37 is an excellent “GT” car. You can even get the G37 as a hardtop convertible.

      • 0 avatar

        I purchased a 2009 G37x sedan a year ago and I agree with this 100%. It’s got enough power to keep things interesting, geared tall enough to make 28mpg on the highway a reasonable expectation, has enough gadgets to make living with it easy and (with snow tires) it’s damn near impossible to run out of traction in the winter.

        Every car I’ve ever driven long distances has aggravated my sciatica EXCEPT the Infiniti (and a 2006 Scion tC).

  • avatar

    +1 to the suggestion of the newest C5 your budget will accommodate. Sporty, don’t need a backseat, needs to look nice in front of your house, want a cushy GT ride and an automatic (with reasonable availability of same and no resale penalty) — sounds like a perfect description of the Corvette’s 60-year formula.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    The relatively short wheelbase of the Miata does put an upper limit on just how “GT” the car can be. Even so, there are ways to smooth out the overall ride quality. Taller sidewalls, progressive-rate springs, and good quality double-adjustable shocks will help. Any mods that increase suspension travel are worth looking into.

  • avatar

    05-09 Mustang GT automatic. The auto cars were sprung more softly than the manual cars and the 05-09 cars were sprung entirely to soft to begin with.

    Well I say sprung, I suppose it’s really dampening that’s soft on them. The parental unit has an auto 07 GT and I swapped in a set of KONI SRT dampers along with the strut bushings and sway bars from the GT500 and it firmed the car right up while using the stock springs.

    Otherwise a great upgrade for those cars with 18 inch wheels is a swap from the 235/50R18 to a nice set of 255/45R18s. They still offer a decent sidewall and can be had in a variety of styles ( touring to summer or all season performance ) with a small cosmetic and decent handling upgrade.

  • avatar

    +1 on the 05-09 Mustang.

    If you want to just a little bit cheaper and still a Mustang, the V6s of that vintage are actually pretty good. Go for one with the Pony Package and you get all the nice GT suspension bits and Torque-Thrust style wheels.

    And yes, I know the 4.0 V6 isn’t great, but its a cast-iron block with forged internals and a good amount of torque. So you’ll have years of relatively trouble-free driving.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s not a bad engine as long as you’re okay with a completely agricultural engine note and old-style American asthma at the top end of the rev range. Sort of a diesel-like driving experience. Would not personally recommend a V6 Mustang before the 3.7 came along in 2011.

  • avatar

    Smaller rims make a world of difference with the taller sidewalls, and in my opinion larger rims are more about the cosmetics than handling.

    I’ve seen testing that actually shows once you get much above 17″, the handling performance is worse for a variety of reasons. And even then, the handling gains are pretty minimal.

    In addition, it hurts acceleration and fuel economy. Then you have the issue of tires costing a fortune.

    I’d really like to see this trend reversed with some sort of normal being back to 16″ to 17″ rims. Huge rims look ridiculous anyway.

    If you really wanted to soften the ride, put a 15″ rim, it would probably ride like a luxury car but still have “tossable” handling.

    • 0 avatar

      Unless cars are set to shrink going forward I doubt you’l see larger wheels going away.

      The current Camaro is a good example of this. The 22″ wheels and cartoonist proportions complement each over. Slap a set or 17’s on there and the car looks down right funny.

      On the other hand I agree with cars like the Miata which just plain looks bad with anything over a 16.

      In some cases the larger wheels are nesscary as a 17 or smaller wheel doesn’t provide adequate space for brakes.

      At 3800 pounds and with over 600 horsepower on tap the GT500 even with space afforded by 19″ wheels had trouble with braking.

      • 0 avatar

        You do understand that when the rims are smaller, the tire sidewalls are taller? The diameter of the wheel with the tire is nearly the same, depending on what tire aspect ratio you want to use. So id don’t see the issue with car size being a problem.

        No car should have 22″ rims, it’s an absurdity. That generation Camaro with 17″ rims would look fine to everybody except a teenager. carmakers need to stop trying to appeal to people who can’t afford to buy their products anyway.

        Somehow exotic sports cars like Porsche 911s came with 15″ and smaller rims forever and nobody complained, but now they can only have at least 20″ rims or they “don’t look right” despite the fact it’s the same basic shape.

        • 0 avatar

          I can’t drop my MKT below 17″ wheels. I’d love to for the winter, but I guess 5000 pound station wagons with baleen need big brakes.

          • 0 avatar

            It’s usually the wheel offset and spoke design that’s the problem when clearance is an issue on the sides, not the height of the rim.

            The calipers themselves are usually only around 2″ in height.

            A car manufacturer can easily make a high performance braking system with under 17″ rims.

            It’s almost exclusively about cosmetics why they use extra large rims.

  • avatar

    That picture looks like the undercarriage of my old NA Miata. As has been pointed out the ride can only be so good on that little wheelbase. My NB improved considerably by removing the 17 inch rims and putting on some 15 inch lighter weight rims and I always felt like it handled better to boot but I never tracked that car. If you want a GT, then the best bet is probably a different car. 14k will park any number of them in your driveway. I am hoping something around that number will put an early 928 in mine. Since you said you don’t care about power, maybe you should stay in the Mazda fold and get an RX-8 but then again, I don’t mind wrenching and I want an SVX one day too so take that for what its worth.

  • avatar

    You have the damnedest collection of cars I have ever seen. Two orphan Ford products in two days. Add the bizarre Sierra and I worry for your sanity.

  • avatar

    My B-I-L lives in the northeast (Boston) and drove a 2008 Miata every day for 4-1/2 years. New additions to the family caused him to replace it with a 4-door commuter, and he was astounded when his mechanic put it on the lift and showed him the extent of under body rust. He was going to sell it privately for more money but ended up trading it in instead. I hope Mazda has done a better job of rust proofing the 2010s to handle the toxic stuff they put on the roads in the northeast. Otherwise, take Sajeev’s advice and get a GT.

  • avatar

    You have some other choices. Move somewhere warm that has smooth roads. Or learn to drive the car in a way that minimizes the shocks; I’m talking about going to SkipBarberSchool.

    You can drive a Miata over crap roads in a way that is all glide and control, if you learn to drive the mass. Ask me how I know; former ’96 Miata owner and SkipBarber Advanced Car Control course graduate.

  • avatar
    Joe Btfsplk

    My ’99 Miata has the benefit of suspension upgrades and a 16″ wheel tire package. Driving the same route over and over has the advantage that you know where the bad patches are and can brake and/or steer your way around them, using the cars nimbleness to it’s advantage. In the northern climates, a Miata is a warm weather car…so some very nice low mileage examples can be found for a very reasonable price.

    In short, when you drive your Miata, BECOME your Miata.

  • avatar

    Former NA Miata owner here and inveterate suspension modifier. While the Miata is not going to get to Mercedes CL levels of smoothness, it absolutely can be made to ride in a fairly supple way.

    1) Chassis stiffening (not stiffer springs) is the right first place to start; this allows the suspension to manage the collision of the wheel with the frame without so much spring rate. Also, in Miatas a lot of the perceived ride problems are actually the noise and secondary vibration of the (relatively floppy) body structure. Make the body less floppy and it will subjectively feel better even though you’ve actually effectively dialed up your spring rates. For the same reasons, consider putting on the removable hardtop.

    2) Lightweight wheels in the smallest diameter possible is the next step. Getting the unsprung weight low will, by itself, help the ride. Again – the physics of this is a collision between the wheel and chassis that is mediated by the intervening spring and shock. The less mass colliding up into the wheelwell, the less motion is transmitted into the chassis. The taller sidewall of a 15″ wheel will also add additional suppleness, and frequently will help ultimate grip on bumpy roads as an added benefit.

    3) Go through and replace the bushings, and also check the bushings that attach the body to the powerplant frame (PPF). Even though the car is low mileage, these rubber parts age with time – and even more so in the Northeast where they see salt and temperature extremes.

    4) Get good adjustable shocks, set them to soft (in both jounce and rebound if they’re dual-adjustables), and dial them up from there if you don’t have enough control of wheel motion. The better the shock, the lower the internal friction and the more consistently they will damp across the length of their stroke. KYBs and Tokicos worked well on my ’96. The Bilsteins from the R package / Sport package are really bad for ride quality.

    Voila! Achievement of better ride quality in your Miata. I guarantee that a well set-up Miata will give your back and tush more mercy than a taxi-quality Panther platform car with worn shocks and bushings.

    • 0 avatar

      1) is a very valid point. Even on the crap roads I drive, if I turn up the stereo or wear ear plugs (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it on a 7 hour highway stint with the top down or talked to people who’ve done mileage on motorcycles), the ride seems very reasonable for a 15 year-old convertible with twice the factory rate springs and modest lowering. The rattling and cowl shake are what get to you.

    • 0 avatar

      In addition to the above, take a look at Fat Cat Motorsports: their raison d’etre is improving suspension compliance and performance on Miatas, starting with more progressive bump stops and going up to more thoroughgoing solutions. Sheikh, the owner, was on here briefly in the late Bertel era. I have not tried their products, I don’t even own a Miata (I merely feel unrequited lust for the NA), so caveat emptor. That said, what Fat Cat Motorsports say they do sounds like some of what the doctor ordered. I’ve bookmarked this article for baconator’s lucid and thorough response should I ever buy the object of my affections, so thank you!

  • avatar

    Am I alone in finding these “Piston Slap” pieces almost totally unreadable and incomprehensible??

  • avatar

    You can get custom springs made extra stiff for race cars.
    Why not softer springs for GT cars? I’m sure the sales guy would look at you funny but a sale is a sale.

    • 0 avatar

      Miatas don’t need softer-than-stock springs. As it is, with their short travel and relaxed rates, they spend a lot of time on the bumpstops, aggravating the ride. The road to happiness is stiffer springs to keep it off the ‘stops, and groovily-valved shocks to keep things supple and controlled.

    • 0 avatar

      JuniperBug beat me to it, but typically they don’t make softer springs because more often than not it’s the dampers and not the springs that have problems.

      I’ve never found a car with springs too stiff- my (much-lighter-than-an-NC-chassis) 240SX was running 450lbs/in front and 325lbs/in rear and with off-the-shelf double-adjustable Konis it was more comfortable on the street than my wife’s stock Z4 3.0Si.

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