Miata still sets a high bar for sports car market
When it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Mazda’s designers and brain trust have shown great wisdom to follow that axiom with the Miata sports car.
For 25 years now the MX-5 Miata has made its mark by NOT changing much. There have been tiny body styling tweaks and interior tucks and thankfully the horsepower grew from 116 originally to 167 today. But Miata has remained true to its original design and purpose, being a lightweight, superb handling sports car with enough pep to put a perpetual smile on a driver’s face.
Soon Mazda will unveil a new Miata, and we’ll hope the designers still don’t break what isn’t broken. But for now we can relish in the fun and modest price tag the current model embodies.
Two years have passed since I last drove a Miata and reading back over that review I couldn’t find anything I’d disagree with from the most current drive. Here’s my latest synopsis.
The “true red” test car was the mid-level Club model with a black power hardtop. That means it’s a convertible, but the hardtop keeps it quieter inside than the standard cloth top. Naturally you pay more, but Miata is still a value-minded roadster. The base Sport model with soft top lists at $24,515 with delivery and the tested Club with hardtop was $29,460, with delivery. Moving up to the Grand Touring hardtop pushes the sticker to $31,345.
This model comes with black cloth sport seats with red stitching, the power top that takes all of 10 seconds to raise or lower, and it rides on 17-inch tires, while the Sport uses 16-inchers.
Miata weighs in at just 2,593 lbs. and its 2.0-liter I4 with variable valve timing creates 167 horses and a 140 torque rating. Couple it with the slickest and shortest shifting 6-speed manual out there and it will sprint away from stoplights like a rabbit following a firecracker outburst. It’s peppy, spunky, fun. I repeatedly left big V8 powered sport-utes and V6 powered sport sedans way behind as I zipped away from stoplights, puzzled looks filling those drivers’ faces. Fun, bordering on funny!
Handling is aces. Turn the small leather-wrapped wheel and the Miata turns into a corner as crisply as a $50 grand German luxury sport coupe. But the Miata is so light it feels like a high-end go-kart, so more entertaining. You can toss it around, put it where you want it. I’ve had a Miata on Road America’s race course and there isn’t much that’s more fun for shear driving pleasure. No wonder there are so many Miata clubs that go racing on weekends.
Braking is fine from four-wheel discs, and there’s traction and stability control. Plus the ride is well controlled, not nearly as bumpy as you’d expect in a car with just a 91-inch wheelbase. Miata rides smoother than many small and compact cars, even some newer sport coupes. It feels light on its wheels and the double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension are perfectly tuned for the car. This model adds Bilstein shocks with a sport-tuned suspension. That helps too.
But the coolest part, the most exciting aspect, is the convertible top. Oh sure, it’s fun to unlatch the roof and power it down so quickly, and it’s nice that it tucks neatly under a hard tonneau cover. But I loved just sitting in traffic with the roof down, or clipping along a suburban or rural road. It’s relaxing, something motorcycle riders might appreciate. Stuck in a stopped-train induced traffic jam in Brookfield I let the sun beat down on me and listened to the birds sing and the wind blow the sound of the forlorn train horn my way. I wasn’t going anywhere fast, but I didn’t care.
To buy any convertible you’ve got to like being outdoors, and sun, but you won’t find more than a couple drop-tops in this price range. Nor will they be this cute.
I’m a shorter guy, so I feel real comfortable in the Miata. But taller riders had no complaints, one being surprised at how far back the seats would slide. Naturally the cloth sport seats are manual to keep weight down, but they’re easy to adjust with a pump to raise the driver’s seat. I like the seats’ supportive shape too. The seatback’s side bolsters are particularly good.
Miata’s dash remains simple and easy to see with five round main gauges in front of the driver. The car’s thick leather-wrapped steering wheel will tilt, but does not telescope. I applaud the simplicity, but a telescope feature would be welcome.
Radio and climate control knobs are simple with wide buttons and moderately sized knobs for the radio and three large knobs for the climate system. I like these because the controls are easy to use while driving, keeping with the Miata designers’ philosophy of this being a driver’s car.
Overhead the hard plastic sun visors are pretty useless because they will not flip to the side, but then this is a convertible, so one presumes you like sun. Be forewarned too that the gas release lever is oddly placed, in a plastic storage area behind and between the front seats. Odd, and awkward to get at!
Wind protection is excellent though, the Miata featuring small fixed side vent windows and a wind deflector behind the seats. But even without using it the wind buffeting the interior is minor. I wore a baseball cap and never felt it was about to blow off, even at highway speeds.
In back is a fairly deep trunk for a sports car. Mazda claims 5.3 cubic feet of space and the roof does not intrude into the trunk when lowered. Two small soft-sided bags will fit fine here.
Gas usage is modest too, with an EPA rating of 21 miles per gallon city and 28 mpg highway. I got 30.6 in about 70% highway driving, and note that premium unleaded is preferred. I note here too that on one commute I did a LOT of sitting and stopping and starting in that big train backup.
Maybe the new Miata will be even better, but after 25 years it’s about perfect the way it is. Sports car lovers still have a lot to covet with any Miata model, from its gentle curves to its power hardtop to handling that could make a BMW blush!
FAST Stats: 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club w/power hardtop
Hits: Cute, sporty roadster with power hard convertible top. Lightweight, easy and responsive steering, zippy acceleration, superb short gear shift throws and decent ride for sports car. Trunk will hold two soft sided bags and interior is plain and seats comfortable. Modest price.
Misses: Sun visors are pretty useless and gas filler cap release awkwardly located.
Made in: Hiroshima, Japan
Engine: 2.0-liter VVT I4, 167 hp
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Wheelbase: 91.7 in.
Length: 157.3 in.
Cargo: 5.3 cu.ft.
MPG: 21/28 (EPA)
MPG: 30.6 (tested)
Base Price: $28,665
Dealer’s Price: $27,885 (includes delivery)
Major Options: None
Test vehicle: $29,460
Sources: Mazda, http://www.kbb.com