Widens the Smiles as Miata eats up the Miles
By Jim Bray
Well, is my face red. Again.
Not with embarrassment, this time, however. A few weeks ago my face was red
after driving the Toyota Prius, embarrassed
that I had prejudged the car as a sop to the enviro-weenies, when in fact it’s
a pretty terrific vehicle in its own right. Old prejudices die hard.
Now my face is red for a much happier reason: a week spent under the hot summer
sun behind the wheel of Mazda’s turbocharged Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata. I
spent so much time roaring around the back roads with the roof down that I
ended up being broiled medium well, which for a guy who doesn’t go outdoors
except to drive cars, is quite something. And, other than the sunburn, I loved
every minute of it!
The Mazdaspeed Miata takes everything that makes the basic Miata wonderful
and ups the ante to move the little critter from being a great fun car to being
a great and fast fun car.
Wow! Even without the Mazdaspeed treatment, the Miata hearkens back to the
best of the two seat open-top roadsters of days gone by, bringing them into
the 21st century with up-to-date design and manufacturing, and the kind of
reliability of which the three MGB’s I owned in my life could only dream.
have to admit, though, that at this stage in my life I’d probably never
own a Miata to use as primary transportation like I did with my B’s when
I was in my 20’s. That said, however, the Miata in general and the Mazdaspeed
version in particular just may be the ideal toy for those who want the joy
of classic open-top motoring without either being left on the side of the road
(as my MGB’s did regularly) or having to go farther up market to such
vehicles as the Honda S2000, Porsche Boxster or BMW Z4.
It brings to mind the old cliché that this could be the most fun you
can have with your clothes on – except that you could easily drive the
Mazda naked, though I certainly wouldn’t want to experience that sunburn!
The engine is the standard 1.8 litre four cylinder Miata engine, but with
the “Tim the Toolman Taylor Treatment” (MORE POWER!) that adds
a turbocharger and intercooler to bring the nets to 178 horses @ 6000 rpm and
166 lb-ft of torque @ 4500 rpm, compared to the “garden variety” Miata’s
142 horsepower @ 7000 rpm and 125 lb.-ft. @ 5000 rpm.
you really, really feel it, especially as the tachometer passes 4000 rpm and
the Mazdaspeed leaps ahead as if an afterburner has just kicked in.
The engine is mated to a short throw, slick shifting 6-speed manual transmission
that seems geared for a spirited ride. You’ll probably find yourself
driving through the city in a gear higher than you’d expect with a 5-speed,
to lower the revs and increase your gas mileage – assuming you care about
I had a little trouble getting used to finding sixth gear (and finding fifth
again afterward), but once you’re used to their locations it becomes
pretty intuitive, though I managed to screw it up once in a while even until
the awful time came when I had to take the car back to be pried from my warm,
You don’t really drive this car; it’s almost as if you wear it
like a suit, it fits you that well. And the car’s small size, low center
of gravity and fine quality running gear contribute to a car that handles so
well it’s almost as if your brain is hard wired into the steering wheel
and gas pedal.
Contributing to that superb handling is an independent suspension that uses
double wishbones, unequal-length control arms, coil springs, and anti-roll
bars front and rear. It feels like racing car stuff and is tuned for sporty
driving (well, duh!), which also means that you’ll feel every irregularity
in the asphalt, but not jarringly so – it’s more as if the car
features “catlike reflexes”. Steering is rack and pinion with speed
sensitive variable power assist and it’s so quick you can pull out from
behind some oaf and be out in the next lane with little more than a flick of
are no audio, etc. controls on the steering wheel, but the car is so small
you can reach everything easily anyway, so it’s not much of a loss – and
it does contribute to the “pure sports car” feel.
Stopping the Mazdaspeed MX-5 are four wheel disc brakes with ABS, and they
work just fine, offering confidence-inspiring stopping power.
Of course it doesn’t hurt that those brakes operate on a lovely set
of 17 inch alloy wheels wearing ultra low profile, 205/40 series tires. The
tires are so thin one person who was admiring the car (a common pastime when
you’re out in public with the Mazdaspeed) told me they’d gone flat,
but of course they hadn’t.
I took the car on a day trip that turned into a two day trip (because we couldn’t
bear for it to end!) into the Rocky Mountains, the ideal place for the Miata.
Not only was the combination of long straights and tight twisties a lovely
place to test the car’s mettle (which it passed with flying colours,
handling curves with ease while the turbo handled slow pokes with aplomb),
but there’s nothing quite like viewing the spectacular mountain scenery
with the top down and nature’s glory surrounding you on all sides.
If I weren’t sure that Mazda would have hunted me down for not bringing
their little prize back, I just might have kept going…
Visibility, not surprisingly, is substantially reduced with the roof up; shoulder
checking to the left is particularly difficult.
And be careful about the front air dam when you’re parking!
Miata has gone upmarket since its introduction, including the addition of
conveniences and toys such as power windows and mirrors, a heated glass rear
window and an AM/FM/CD stereo, the latter of which performs surprisingly well
with the top down thanks to “top up”
and “top down” settings. It also sounds very good, though the speakers
mounted behind the seats are kind of blocked by the seat backs.
Mazda has put a wind blocker behind the Miata’s seats, which is where
the rear speakers are mounted, and this helps contribute to quite acceptable
noise levels with the top down. You may have to raise your voice, but you can
still talk even while zipping along at speeds that would carry a heavy fine.
The seats are very comfortable; you can drive all day and arrive, well, maybe
not fresh, but not worn out. The worst thing about the Miata’s interior
isn’t really about the interior: it’s a bit of a chore to get out
of the car, not only because you never want to leave it, but because you’re
so low to the ground and the car is so small you almost wish for a crane to
lift you out.
Safety features include air bags, a child seat anchor and 3 point safety belts
wth pretensioners and force limiters.
You also get keyless entry, a couple of centre console-mounted cupholders
that get in the way of your elbow (due to the car’s small size and the
fact that they needed to put the cupholders somewhere), and projector type
low beam headlights.
is the last year for this version of the Miata, and the new for 2006 incarnation
will apparently not offer a Mazdaspeed version, at least initially. From what
I’ve read and seen of the new model, it should be a worthy successor,
though it’ll be interesting to see how anyone, let alone Mazda, can make
this lovely and spunky little rocket any more fun than it already is.
Naturally, I’m willing to give it a try, though!
The 2004 Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata starts at about $34,495 Canadian, or $26,340
US. That seems a little dear for what’s basically a toy, but on the other
hand it’s more affordable than any other open top roadster I know of,
and you get a lot of smiles for your dollars.