Going Topless in a Fair-weather Friend
by Jim Bray
Any car that's this much fun must somehow be bad.
But Mazda's MX-5 Miata sure feels good!
The Miata has been around for over a decade, and has almost single-handedly
re-carved the niche made famous by those honored British sports cars of decades
past. Except the Miata has the advantage that it not only gets you where you're
going, IT GETS YOU BACK AGAIN!
What a concept! I've owned three MGB's and loved them very much, though since
I'm not mechanically minded I ended up on the side of the road with a dead "B" so
many times that I finally gave up on such junk. My last
"B," bought brand new, was by far the worst and turned me off British
cars for years. I've never owned a Miata, unfortunately, because when it was
introduced the kids had come along and the Miata wasn't practical for our lives.
And that's the last time I'll use the word "practical" when referring
to the Miata.
Now in its second generation, the MX-5 Miata blesses its lucky owners with
all of the great things about such small, two seat roadsters, without the English
angst, and for that we should be grateful. Since Miata's introduction we've
seen a resurgence of interest in this type of car, from the head-to-head competition
of the Toyota MR2-Spyder to the upmarket BMW Z-3, Honda S2000, Mercedes Benz
SLK, Porsche Boxster, etc.
As more proof that I have the greatest job in the world, I spent a week with
a brand new, fully loaded Miata and it's going to take a few weeks for the
smile to fade from my face. The weather was fantastic and the open road beckoned,
so Miata and I followed.
To discover whether the Miata really is the absolute gas it appears to be,
my wife and I embarked on a topless tour (well, the Miata's top was down) of
the twisty mountain roads in my area, of which there are many fine ones.
Since the Miata is such a tiny and light delight, its 1.8 liter four banger's
142 horsepower and 125 pounds feet of torque provide plenty of propulsion;
the little critter (mine came in a gorgeous "midnight blue"
color and had a chrome roll bar installed) positively leaps forward, and it
loves to be wound up through all six of the manual transmission's gears with
deliciously short throws of the shifter.
Handling is great! The car is very low to the ground (be careful of the front
air dam when parking!) and has a short wheelbase, so it feels as if it's on
rails. The suspension is double wishbone all around, the brakes are four wheel
discs with optional ABS, the steering is rack and pinion, and the 16 inch wheels
are classy. It all adds up to a motoring treat and we had a ball.
Miata has gone upmarket since its introduction, including the addition of
toys like power windows and an AM/FM/CD stereo, the latter of which performs
surprisingly well with the top down.
Drawbacks? The biggest is Miata's $21,000 plus price tag (depending on options
- my tester would top out around $25,000), which moves it up from the "basic
personal sports car" category it redefined. Still, it's far cheaper than
the BMW, Mercedes, et al and quite comparable to the Toyota.
I had trouble getting used to sixth gear (and getting it back out again was
a challenge), but if I'd had a few more days with the Miata (are you reading
this, Mazda?) I'm confident that "the nut behind the wheel" would
have gotten its act together.
The roll bar is wonderful, but it prevented me from reclining the seat as
far back as I'd like. This was only a minor irritation, though, and I'd rather
have the roll bar than not have it.
Gas mileage is okay. This is a four cylinder engine, of course, and so it's
fairly economical unless you insist on tromping the gas to the floor at every
opportunity. My mileage suffered accordingly, and I didn't care.
Visibility, not surprisingly, is substantially reduced with the roof up; shoulder
checking to the left is particularly difficult.
These minor drawbacks aside, if you have the bucks and a yen for a really
head-turning treat, the Miata might be just what the doctor ordered.