The Mazda Miata has gotten a bad rap. For those who understand what true handling is all about, the Mazda MX-5 Miata has been lauded as one of the purest expressions of enthusiast driving available on the road today. It is the culmination of everything learned in the realms of handling dynamics, drop-top motoring, and what it means to make a true driver happy.
For everyone else? It’s just a “chick car.”
Sure, it has a ‘friendly,’ unthreatening appearance, but that stereotype is merely a smokescreen. Much the way that South Park is a cerebral, politically messaged show, you just have to get past the talking poo.
For 2012, Mazda has made it a little easier for MX-5 proponents like myself to defend the Miata’s manliness.The Special Edition (MSRP $31,225) that we drove was a cut above the usually range-topping GrandTouring trim (MSRP $28,950 w/hardtop). It set itself apart from the rest of the MX-5 lineup (base MSRP $23,470) with gunmetal black 17-inch alloy wheels, and matching retractable power hardtop. Mechanically, it gets Bilstein shocks and a limited-slip differential.
If you are one of those selfconscious souls who would like a fun-to-drive car, but don’t think the standard Miata is macho enough, the black wheels and black top conspire to give the Special Edition some badass cred. It looks like it would be right at home on the racetrack.That’s even before you get behind the wheel.
Taller folks, like myself, will be very pleased to find that they actually fit in the MX-5.The Miata was originally unveiled to the world in 1989, and channeled classic British and Italian roadsters. I would not dare attempt to fit my 6’3”frame into those tiny drop-tops, yet its interesting to see how the tables have turned. Alfa Romeo and parent company Fiat are planning a return to the sports car game in the US, and they are sharing a platform with the next-generation Miata for their return.
In motorsport, simplicity is key. That philosophy has translated to the interior of the Miata.Too often, modern carmakers try to dazzle the consumer with a futuristic, yet impractical interior. The Miata has a traditional layout, meaning you knowwhere everything is and you don’t have to take your eyes off the road.
Mazda has known better than to mess with the winning formula of the Miata, instead perfecting the art of the roadster through the years. Most other cars have three tiers of climate control blowers, (legs, shoulders, and defrost) the Miata has a fourth set in between the floor and shoulder-level blowers. With the top down, this fourth set does a nice job of cooling.
All of these features are mere side dishes to the main course, which is the superlative handling. It is a compromise of perfect 50/50 weight distribution, and an engine that is just powerful enough to get you to the speeds where the double-wishbone front and mulitlink rear suspension can come out to play.
The 167 horsepower developed from the 2.0-liter inline 4 is not much.The 158-horsepower is even less, yet points to the crux of the lesson; this car will teach any horsepower- lover to respect the importance of handling.You have to work the transmission, using what power you have to get the car to a place where it can attack corners, and attack it does.
The Miata does not have the clampeddown stiff suspension that you will find in some hardcore performance machines.There is some body roll in the rear, while the front is firmly planted. It has elements of those classic roadsters when the back end leans through the apex of a turn, and you still feel supremely confident and in control.
Though the 4-cylinder is not very powerful, the torque comes alive at 5,000 rpms, while the max horsepower is delivered at 7,000 rpms.That means you get that little bit of grunt to squeeze you out of one turn and slingshot to approach the next turn.That need to execute every turn as a preparation for the next maneuver is why this car makes good drivers out of its owners.
It’s such a fun car that I get a little worked up when someone calls the Miata a chick car. Most who subscribe to this notion certainly have no idea what it’s like to drive one. It is against those who are ignorant to the ways of well sorted handling that I defend the MX- 5.The Miata is not a car for these plebeian masses. Mazda is not the car company for sheep, those who adorn the rear window of their family hauler with stick-figure avatars of everyone in the family, including the dog and the goldfish.
When you’re in a Miata, those initiated in the ways of the“S”curve have no interest in such things, they just embrace the next turn.