A six-speed manual makes this the most pleasurable of do-it-yourself experiences
What is it?
Mazda's modern antiquity, the MX-5 Miata. Now in production for over 30 years through multiple generations, the Miata is a distilled sports car experience, focusing on removing the things that don't matter. What doesn't matter in a sports car? Weight, and needless creature comforts. Even with an electrically folding hardtop convertible/targa top, this Miata is light at around 2,500 pounds. It's also rather tiny in physical size, being dwarfed by Toyota Camrys. Lotus themselves called the original MX-5 as inspired by the Lotus Elan, and it continually and dutifully combines the greatest hits of those classic, beloved roadsters for the ever-modern era.
Quite a lot - there really isn't a whole lot that the Miata doesn't do superbly, given reasonable expectations. But, the point of this car and what it was designed to do - oh it does it all so well. Sink into the narrow cabin and you're greeted by lovely seats as fitted on this Grand Touring model that grip your shoulders like an over-endearing grandmother, but in a good way (there are Recaros you can get optionally on Miatas, but these are still brilliant). The controls are right where you expect and would want them to be, with your hands falling onto the steering wheel and shifter naturally. Pedals are placed well, too, and allow for precise movements and easy heel-toeing. Select first with a satisfying notch (the clutch is easy enough for a first-time manual driver to modulate), give a few revs, and away you go.
The two-liter four-cylinder is geared shortly to give it some needed grunt from the small displacement engine and it doesn't even sound bad as far as little blenders like these typically go, emitting an aggressive and even pleasing rasp. It also doesn't shake the car to bits like an unbalanced washing machine like other four-cylinders can do, being relatively smooth.
But, who are we kidding, mash your foot down and the revs climb quickly and convincingly with a strong midrange and a decently strong top-end, running it all the way out to 7,000 RPM. Clutch in, move the shifter into second (there's a little bit of resistance here in the 1-2 shift, so it doesn't like to be totally rushed), and you're back on the gas. 2-3 is beautiful and you can be quite aggressive with shift speeds and still be smooth here, banging gears with grace. Corner coming? Squeeze the composed Brembo brakes, go clutch in and blip the throttle with your heal and go back down to second and you're back off. It's easy in the Miata. But, that doesn't mean it isn't fun; It's incredibly fun! For a car so easy to drive and drive quickly, it remains fun because of how right it all feels.
Miatas are not drag-racers, though, living for the bends. But, it's still fun to row through the gears and utilize all 181 horsepower all the time, and for those that care, it will do 0-60 MPH in six seconds flat. Anyways, as you would hope and expect, Mazda's MX-5, even with that added bulk from the roof, is an absolute joy in the bends where it belongs. Steering has great weighting and, even if it's a little light on feedback, it's pin-point precision allows huge confidence. I like the softened suspension on the MX-5 for the road because how it encourages the driver to really feel and lean on the chassis and modest tires. This also bequeaths the roadster with approachable limits, and in a most encouraging method and practice. Yeah, grip isn't huge as a result, but there's such sweet balance and communication from the front and rear working in harmony that it makes for such a blast on public roads. This is a car that you don't have to go a million miles an hour to get something out of like you would in even a new base Porsche 911. In slow and tight second-gear corners, if you turn-in aggressively and get aggressive with your right foot, you can even indulge in smooth and impressive-looking oversteer. And the way the rear comes back to grip so naturally without any hint of wanting to do a tank-slapper is immensely fun and repeatable.
Oh, and driving like a pissed-off teenager who stole their parent's car for a decent chunk of the time, I still averaged an amazing 32 MPG. That's the average. Wow. Fun, and it saves gas! I expected to hit thirty, but not over 30 without even remotely trying.
Well, a fantastic sports car it may be, but it doesn't make for a fantastic 'car' if that makes sense. The interior is of a nice quality, as all Mazdas are, but it's cramped and with basically no storage space. The cubby behind you is impossibly awkward to get to for example. Even with soft suspension, the ride is still choppy and firm, likely owing to its short 91" wheelbase. Furthermore, with the suspension, it's too soft to drive on track as it sits. You could, but if you're pushing it, and it's so approachable and encouraging remember, you're gonna want some added stiffness to avoid wallowing around like a drunk baby woolly mammoth. I would recommend a thick anti-roll bar upgrade personally and/or some coilovers for track junkies, though hopefully that wouldn't ruin the ride quality on the street. And, even though the roof is not a soft-top like normal Miatas, it's still far from quiet when on the freeway. Yes it's highly impractical as a normal, everyday car, but gosh is it fun.
So, another important bit is the price. Unfortunately, it's $35,770. That's not a small amount, especially considering the new BRZ and GR86 twins cost the same and offer more power, more usability and space, and are also regarded as some of the most fun new cars on sale today. But, neither are convertibles. And if you really want to get to some facts and figures, what other true convertible/roadster can one buy for the same price? None. BMW's Z4 would be the next one up, but that's more of a GT car and starts at a whopping $15,000 more than this loaded MX-5. Porsche's own 718 Boxster starts at nearly $30,000 more. So, if you're wanting a real 2-seat convertible, your options are limited, and it even makes the Miata look like a bargain. Do I think it's too expensive for what it is? Yes, but what other options are there for a real convertible sports car? That was a rhetorical question by the way...