Mountain Wheels: Long live the Miata, Mazda’s long-running roadster classic |

Mountain Wheels: Long live the Miata, Mazda’s long-running roadster classic

Mazda’s MX-5 Miata remains the classic summertime sports car, offering affordable adventure for two.
Photo from Mazda

This summer, Mazda announced the release of the 100th anniversary special edition of the Mazda MX-5 Miata. For my Summit County friends who have Miatas that actually seem like they’ve been joyfully operative for 100 years, you’ll understand the joke here. It’s really a tribute to the carmaker’s history, though the Miata itself has become the top-selling two-seater sports car in the world over its own four generations and a 30-plus-year life.

I had a relaxing week exploring the world in a 2020 Grand Touring RF edition of the MX-5/Miata — let’s just call it Miata to keep things simple — and it was an interesting opportunity to see how true the car remains to its ultra-basic, light and fun-to-drive roots. At its super-simplest, the current Miata starts at $26,580, while the upscale model I drove reached $35,645, with an additional nappa leather package.

After blowing my own socks off with the two-seater McLaren 570S Spider, I wondered exactly how different a form-fitting, two-door roadster also featuring a mechanically retractable fastback roof (hence the RF name) might be, especially since it cost about 18% of the McLaren’s overall price.

Well, apples to oranges, sure, but you’d be surprised how much fun you’re going to have with a modern Miata, even if it seems on paper like the car’s standard 181-horsepower, 2.0-liter Skyactiv-G engine might not do the trick. It does, in droves.

Driving the Miata is kind of like heading back to the days of the classic 1960s and ’70s British drop-top roadsters, except the Miata will start (and even stop) every time you ask it to do so and, if you treat them well, reliably allow you to rack up mileage equivalent to a one-way trip to the moon.

I headed out Labor Day weekend in my dark silver (“polymetal gray”) Baby Shark-looking machine, destination the curvy back roads west of Loveland and Fort Collins. I immediately powered back the roof — which quickly retracts underneath the Batman cowls, like the McLaren — and then discovered that everyone else in the Front Range had also hit the road at the same time. It was also 100 degrees. Yowza.

With a smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission, the cruising is easy, and fun, and I got enough air conditioning to avoid melting, though my iPhone almost dissolved into liquid silicon in the midday sun. Interior space and amenities remain at a Miata-styled minimum, and other than some click-in cupholders, I had to reach back to a small cubby between the seats for the only real space big enough for the phone, the insurance envelope and maybe a pack of gum.

If you’re big and bulky, Miata may not be your first choice for a vehicle. My 6-foot-plus delivery guy just barely fit his head into the car with the roof up. While you do have quite a bit of back-and-forth movement in the seat bottom, it’s definitely tight inside and solid. The top of the doors is a glossy piece of hard plastic, so be careful when getting the farmer’s tan.

The genius of this setup, of course, is that you are committed to pure driving, with no lazy, detached armchair-styled separation from you and the road, as you’ll find in a big SUV. In Miata, you really see, feel and occasionally smell the world as you go by. (I stumbled into the smoke plume from the early weeks of the Cameron Peak Fire and then had to drive with the roof up and the air conditioner on recirculate as I headed back from Cheyenne the next day, which does make for an admittedly claustrophobic experience.)

The performance remains commensurate with Miata’s heritage: speedy but not insane acceleration, hilariously vivid rear-wheel-drive cornering and the ability to do mountain curves as they were meant to be done.

There’s a reason Miatas remain one of the most popular entry-level race cars in the world, as they handle impressively, even with that modest horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. A racing enthusiast I know is stepping back from his perennially broken Corvette and entering an almost stock Miata in a series next year, with slight modifications pushing the car to just 200 horsepower and 200 pound-feet of torque, as that’s all the car really needs.

Last year, I even got a Miata equipped with snow tires, slightly after snow season, and I imagine that’s yet another level of adventure available to High County drivers.

Andy Stonehouse, Summit Daily News
Andy Stonehouse

Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at

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