By Jonathan Micocci – GRAND Magazine Car Reviewer AKA – Grandpere
I should probably have recused myself when asked to review the Mazda Miata MX5. After all, I’m massively biased in favor of cars that are fun to drive at the expense of utility. So biased in fact, my favorite ride is a single seat race car that serves no useful purpose whatsoever.
Of course I accepted the challenge because I love fun cars more than journalistic objectivity and besides, I wanted to know how this third generation Miata stacks up against earlier models.
Mazda rolled out the Miata in 1989 as a niche vehicle, a pure sports car in the tradition of the British and Italian roadsters many of us grew up lusting after if not owning. In fact, 1st Generation Miata styling was an unsubtle forgery of the Lotus Elan, but unlike the Elan, it could reliably be started up and driven. Handling was razor sharp and enthusiasts flocked to the dealer.
So after 24 years, had the company compromised as most have? Was this beautiful little skateboard morphing into a pudgy luxo GT with a pudgy luxo sticker price? The car is not cheap but I can report that it has remained true.
Our copy was the Club version which has performance trim, bigger wheels and a striking color scheme; mid-life-crisis-red bodywork with black accents. Curb weight has experienced some inflation, from 2,150 lbs in 1989 to 2,500, but that’s still lean by current standards and likely those gains were invested in crash protection.
The 2.0L four up front puts 167 hp through a six speed close ratio manual – really close ratio…five gears might be ok – and through a limited slip differential out back. Combine this with ultra-quick perfectly weighted steering and braking that is both powerful and easily modulated….you have a tremendously engaging driving experience. Plenty of power for fun but not so much as to distract from the go-kart handling.
Comfort and Convenience? Enough for the purpose. This is a driver’s car and gadgetry is not a priority. It’s a bit noisy at speed with the top up but in seconds you can drop the top and be in glorious open air. It’s probably still noisy but you can’t hear it over the wind. Drive down the coast like this on a bright sunny day and you will envy nobody nowhere. Note; this joy is reserved for a maximum of two people who travel light. Most cars can be stuffed with stuff almost indefinitely if needed. Not this one.
True story; I’m turning the Miata north on 1-95 a couple of miles from the Daytona Speedway, reflecting on some exciting moments there and thinking about what a fun little race car the MX-5 would be, only to look over and spot a race-prepped Miata on an open trailer going south! Somebody with the right idea.
This car is so popular as a club racer because the stock machine is a doll to start with. Mazda has stayed true to the vision and been rewarded by the market, creating the best-selling roadster of all time. For a driving enthusiast, it’s all good news.