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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Is the Mazda Miata Still the Answer? We Find Out: First Drive



n 1989, Mazda brought out the MX-5 Miata to reignite
 the roadster market once dominated by British brands like MG and Triumph. It was a tough task, no doubt, but Mazda’s Miata carried the torch. Fast forward 26 years, and the Miata still remains one of the sole representatives from the lightweight convertible segment you can buy today.
Problem is, the Mazda MX-5 Miata has always had a bad reputation of being a “chick car.” Non-car-folk think the Miata is driven by hair-dressers, beauty consultants, and pharmaceutical reps the world over.

But for 99% of the enthusiast community, the MX-5 Miata is the answer to life itself—the remedy we’ve always been searching for. And now, Mazda has graced us with its latest iteration. It’s got an all-new chassis, a new engine, and a completely new body. It’s about as good as good can get, so Mazda claims. But we had to find out for ourselves.


For the Love of Driving

Let’s start from the beginning; of course, the Miata is a great little sports car. I drove both the GT and the Club Editions, and both are wonderful. They are extremely nimble, and feel amazing while bombing through the canyons with the top down, listening to the wind and rocks rush past my head. It’s a magnificent feeling.

I did have a bit of an issue, though, with body roll. It’s a Miata calling card, but one I’d rather have done without. Unlike more planted cars (read: Scion FR-S), the Miata feels too rolly-polly in the corners. According to Mazda engineers, that body roll is to give the car a more “visceral” feeling in the corners. Sounds like laziness to me, but it does allow for some play when you take it on a track.


Unlike the Scion FR-S, power was never an issue. Even with the measly 155 horsepower 4-cylinder engine, it never seems to get in the way or become dangerous when jumping on the freeway. The power comes on at a lower RPM and maintains a better torque curve.

For the first time in my life, my 6’4″, 235 pound frame was able to fit comfortably in it. I couldn’t say the same about previous generations. You can thank the mesh seats for that, which makes the seatback and bottom even thinner. Designing a car like the Miata is a game of inches.

Mazda MX-5 Interior New

Design and Dash

One area where the Mazda engineers could work on is how the dash is oriented. The new dash comes down into the foot well entirely too much, so if you are of the larger variety, your legs will definitely be pressed up against it. It’s padded, but it will get old after only a few hours driving in it.

The rest of the cabin is laid out so that you feel like you’re in a fighter jet. All the switches and buttons are angled towards the driver, and Mazda said they took inspiration from an F-22 Raptors cabin layout. That design language is easily seen in the car.

One piece that I did continually have an issue with, though, was the infotainment screen, which seemed like an afterthought. Sometimes it’s a touch screen, other times, you are forced to use the rotary dial, which is just a little too far back in the center console. You really have to contort to reach that little volume knob by the base of hand brake.


The Verdict

There’s no denying that the new Mazda Miata is definitely a fun car. But does it live up to the hype? It depends what car you are stacking it up against. Take the FR-S, for example.
I owned an FR-S, and currently own a Volkswagen Golf R.

While the new Miata is definitely lighter, and pretty nimble too, the FR-S would still be my vehicle of choice. That FR-S is a hardcore sports coupe through and through, the Miata isn’t.

The Miata bridges the gap between enthusiast car and Sunday cruiser. If you prefer a more dialed-in driving experience, the Miata Club is a must, and even then, some more hardcore drivers might feel the need to throw on even stiffer shocks.

Truth be told, it’s never going to be an FR-S, or an M4, or anything else for that matter. It’s a Miata, body roll and all. We would like it to be stiffer and more dialed in from the factory, but the Miata was made to be fun for both the enthusiast and the casual convertible lover. It’s part of its DNA—and helps keep the sales numbers up, and price down. If you want a more hardcore Miata, the aftermarket is here to help…or just wait for the 124 Abarth.

Mazda MX-5 Front

Horsepower: 155
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Price (base): $24,895
Smaller but more spacious
Sticky tires that grip the road
It truly is a pure sports car
Too much body roll
Infotainment seems like and afterthought
Dash needs to be thinned out