It was this reporter’s birthday, and one of the last weeks of warm sun and late days–the kind of week that just begs for a fun car. Perhaps it was kismet that the all-new Miata–the newest version of the car that practically *invented* fun–was in our driveway. Perhaps it was the pleading emails we sent to Mazda. Whatever, we were grateful–and here’s why…
Balance, in a word. Mazda’s little roadster has always had it, in spades. A balance between power and comfort, style and function, ride and handling–and between front and back, with a perfect 50/50 weight distribution.(A note on the name game: in a perplexing move, Mazda had decided to rename this car just “MX-5,” which is what’s it’s always been called elsewhere in the world, although public outcry forced them to retain the “Miata” moniker in some advertising and so on. Still, “MX-5” is all you’ll see on the car and the paperwork, and theoretically, we’ll all grow to accept that alphanumeric mumbo-jumbo–it goes better with the Mazda3 and Mazda6 and RX-8 and so on–to the point where they can safely abandon “Miata” altogether. Good luck, I say.)
Take the exterior design. The styling says ‘sports car,’ surely, but not to the extreme. The rims, for instance–the 17″ turbine design is certainly sporting, but there’s just enough sidewall to keep your bones from rattling. The lines themselves are clearly evolutionary from the previous models, although the MX-5 has gained a couple inches in most dimensions, and a hundred or so pounds. The basic oval shape, and the classic oval grille remain, so purists should be appeased. In fact, the new MX-5 might be the best-looking of all the baby roadster class–which the Miata itself spawned.
There’s balance inside as well. With only 50 cubic feet of passenger space, quarters are clearly close–yet there’s a dose of luxury as well; perhaps more than ever before. The leather seats are suitable bolstered, but the hides themselves are high-quality and supple. Audio controls on the steering wheel (redundant though they may seem in a car where the stereo itself is mere inches from the wheel) are another high-end touch. There are even four cupholders, so two-fisted drinkers can rest easy (okay, we don’t get it either).
And then there’s that top. It’s not a power unit–this is a $21-27,000 car–but there’s a single latch and you don’t have to leave your seat to raise or lower it. It’s also one of the new, clean Z-fold designs, where no tonneau cover is needed. Once the top is up, the several layers and interior liner create a tight seal against wind, rain and noise, and give the car a cozy, if dark, ambience. Luxurious, yet practical–and efficient.
Okay, okay–enough about the features. Just like we were, you’re probably aching to get behind the wheel–and you won’t be disappointed. There’s a reason the Miata is the benchmark for cars as snooty as the Mercedes-Benz SLK and BMW’s Z3/4–and still is. First of all, there’s that sweet little four-cylinder. With 170 horses on tap, and a 6700-rpm redline, you might think it’d be high-strung, but it isn’t. Instead, this new 2-liter (.2 more than the outgoing car; and 28 more horsepower) is a paragon of smoothness and silky power delivery. The new dual exhaust system adds both power and a more menacing exhaust note. Sixty mph comes up in a scant 6.6 seconds–not Porsche territory, but plenty quick for an affordable ragtop. And it feels fast, too.
The powertrain isn’t the big story here, though. Neither is the ultra-precise six-speed stick-shift, with the standard setting shifter that feels like a hydraulic machine. Instead, it’s the other mechanical bits that really get our juices flowing. The chassis is stiffer than many hardtops in recent memory. The suspension setup is just about perfect as well–the front is a unequal-length control arm layout; in back there’s a multilink design derived from the awesome RX-8. The rack-and-pinion steering setup provides steering that’s truly telepathic, too–or you can just steer with your right foot; one of our favorite Miata traits. Put it all together, and you get a Miata that feels like an oversize go-kart–slicker than just about anything else on wheels. It corners on a dime, without protest from the tires–and practically begs for more.
It’s easy to see why the Miata has been a favorite of enthusiasts all over. This new MX-5 simply takes everything we’ve loved about it to another level, without adding anything extraneous. Having finished our week-long test of this well-balanced sporty roadster, we think it’d be best balancing out that family SUV in our own garage…