Mountain Wheels: A quarter-century of summer in the Mazda MX-5
February 9, 2014
2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club
With power-retractable hard top
Powertrain: 167-HP 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission
EPA mpg figures: 24 combined; 21 city, 28 highway
I aim today's profile mostly at those non-snow-belt folks who've come to enjoy the mountains — and a little bit at those longing for the ever-so-brief summer driving far ahead.
It's been quite the ride for the truly venerable Mazda MX-5 Miata, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. As one of the most beloved convertibles of all time, and the most common low-budget racing machine in the United States, the most amazing thing is how close to its roots the car has stayed over the years.
And even with a fancy new Club edition sporting beautiful wheels and some groovy aero effects — plus the option of a very slick power-retractable hard top — the MX-5 (which I will refer to, colloquially, as the Miata, forever) is still not much more than a tightly wound, two-seat roadster with a very snug cockpit and an austere-sounding 167 horsepower under the hood.
That, of course, is the point. Miata devotees love the car's bare-bones arrangement and its lightweight setup. And, the absolutely legendary handling, allowing even the most dunderheaded of drivers to master the basics of race-inspired steering on their every outing.
You've seen the videos of people dropping V8 engines into their Miatas, a charming but largely unnecessary gesture given the rock-solid nature of the DOHC, 16-valve four-cylinder under the hood. With the six-speed manual, Miata is surprisingly fast off the line — not Corvette fast, mind you — but still able to noisily and ecstatically roar into action, an effect that's even more impressive with the roof down.
Almost a million Miatas have been sold since the car's debut in 1989; considering that the first edition offered just 140 HP, the current model seems like an AC Cobra by comparison.
The third-generation MX-5 has been given the occasional tweak since its own debut in 2005, but most of the core attributes remain; the new Club version — a nod to the car's popularity as a weekend racer — does offer more than a few aesthetic twists to bring things up to date. Those include the super-dark 17-inch wheels, black outside mirrors and headlamp bezels, plus a blackened front air dam and rear diffuser. There's also some red contrast stitching on the seats and extra graphics on the flanks.
The Club option's mechanics also provide that sixth gear to get absolutely every ounce out of that 7,200 RPM redline (a five-speed manual is the standard on other cars), sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks, shock tower braces and a limited-slip differential.
That all adds up to an especially vital, roadsterish experience, as the petite, low-to-the-ground machine roars along like a fully modernized MG or Triumph. Given that the car still weighs just about 2,600 pounds, even with the electrically operated hard top, your ability to joyfully sweep through corners at surprisingly high rates of speed is made all the more potent. It begs to be drifted, and will respond in kind.
That top also works fast enough to drop it at a stop light and take advantage of the weather – like that one warm day in Breck in July. With the roof down, it remains one of the best new-school, old-school experiences you can get, aimed at straight-ahead motoring pleasure.
If you thought the car would mellow with age, like its drivers, guess again. The cockpit is still about the tightest fit of anything this side of an older Lotus, making longer road trips a bit of an endurance test. The seats are rigid, the center console and its sliding beverage holder covers are still hard as rocks, and your overall adjustments pretty limited, unless you're five feet tall.
It's one car where you absolutely get what you pay for, part of the appeal for some 25 years. It's not a snow car. But you can always dream of warmer climes.
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