Mazda MX-5 Miata - the thrill of motoring lives on

Mazda refused to tinker with the Mazda MX-5 Miata coming into 2011. Miata returns the same as it was in 2010. That is, it returns the same fun-to-drive and reasonably priced two-seater that has wowed drivers since 1989. Sure there have been styling and mechanical changes in the ensuing two decades, but Miata's spirit and mission have not wavered. Designed to channel post-World War II British roadsters, Miata has stubbornly held, and continues to hold, true to that purpose.

Over the years Miata has grown an inch or two in each direction and gained a few pounds, but essentially the size of the packaging has increased only marginally over its three generations. Engine size and output have increased from the original 1.6-liter four-cylinder pumping out 115 horsepower to today's 2-liter four-banger delivering 167 horsepower. Prices sans destination charge in 1989 began at $13,800. Today the opening bid for the entry-level Miata Sport is $23,110.

Today's Miata buyer has more decisions to make in the showroom than in 1989. There are two additional models beyond the aforementioned Sport: Touring and Grand Touring. The standard transmission in the Sport is a five-speed manual; the upper trim levels use a six-speed manual. An optional six-speed driver-shiftable automatic tranny is available for $2,260 on the Sport and $1,100 on the top two trims. The extra cost for the automatic on the Sport version includes some other features like remote keyless entry, power door locks and cruise control, standard on other models, but not on the Sport. If you choose one of the top two trim levels, you can also swap out the soft top for a power retractable hard top (PRHT) for another $1,100. My test Miata was the $29,300 Grand Touring PRHT.

Moving up the trim-level ladder doesn't affect the engine. You get the same oomph regardless of the bottom-line. Although the horsepower might, at first blush, seem less than needed for spirited driving, the Miata's 167 ponies are more than sufficient to induce a few grins. Reaching 60 miles per hour from a standstill takes about seven seconds. The six-speed manual transmission in my test Miata featured short throws and fluid shifting. Operating with little effort, the clutch won't wear you out even in stop-and-go traffic. Regardless of the transmission in the top two trims, Miata rates an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway. The five-speed manual on the Sport achieves 1 mpg more in city driving.

The real fun in driving a Miata, however, is derived from its precision handling and not so much its acceleration. This is a car engineered to be tossed around turns. Its four-wheel independent suspension, consisting of a double-wishbone arrangement in front and a multi-link setup in the rear, is taut in its tuning. Spot-on steering and sticky performance tires also contribute to Miata's athleticism. Pound for pound and dollar for dollar, Miata is about as much fun as you can have behind the wheel.
While Sport editions get 16-inch alloy wheels, the other trim levels ride on 17-inch aluminum alloy ones. Antilock disc brakes are standard on every Miata, as is electronic brakeforce distribution. Stability control and traction control are only offered on the Grand Touring trim and then as one feature of a $1,650 package that also includes Bluetooth cellphone connectivity, Xenon headlamps, satellite radio capability and the Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry System.

At its low price, the PRHT is a steal. Needing only to throw one latch at the center top of the windshield, the driver lowers the top in about 30 seconds with the push of a button. When raised, the top does a flawless job of defending against noise and weather. When in its raised state, the hard top also makes for a better looking package.
The well-bolstered seats are firm and comfortable. Easy to find and simple to use, the switches and controls are neatly arranged. There are a few compartments and cubbies for storing smaller items.

Every Miata comes with air conditioning, height-adjustable driver's seat, power windows and mirrors, four airbags, and a six-speaker audio system with CD player and auxiliary input jack. Stepping up to Touring adds power door locks, remote keyless entry, steering-wheel-mounted redundant audio controls, trip computer, six-disc CD changer and cruise control. At the top of the heap, the Grand Touring increases standard content with leather seating, automatic climate control, heated seats and a seven-speaker Bose sound system.

My test Miata also had the $500 Suspension Package. This included a sport-tuned suspension, limited-slip differential and Bilstein shocks.
I remember how smitten I was with Miata when I first drove it more than 20 years ago. The love affair has not ended. It remains one of my favorite cars. Although I don't pop out of it with the same alacrity I did two decades ago, the driving experience makes the gymnastics of climbing in and out of it well worth the effort.
It still corners like a bobsled and accelerates with enough zeal to paste a goofy smile on the kisser of all but the most jaded enthusiast. Only the lack of utility resulting from its smallish 5.3 cubic feet of trunk space prevents it from being a go-anywhere, do-anything vehicle; however on longer trips, a couple willing to pack light, could make do. After all, the thrill of motoring cross-country, wind in your hair, would be well worth the chore of washing out a few things in the motel room sink.

by Russ Heaps - MyCarData