FORMING A MORE PERFECT ROADSTER
2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Wed, Jul 2, 2014
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the Mazda MX-5 Miata (introduced in 1989 as a 1990 model year vehicle). The car that continues to hold a unique place in the American automotive market. For the past quarter century, Mazda has been evolving the Miata in order to form a more perfect roadster. Sean Spear takes a look at the latest version of the car that defied comparison—both in 1989 and 2014.
IT JUST KEEPS ON GOING AND GOING...
Story and photographs by Sean Spear
Cars that fit the classic definition of roadster have had a rocky going in America. Lightweight, open-top vehicles with just two seats are by their nature impractical. They are often left in the garage if the driver needs to bring along more than one person and/or one suitcase, or simply at the slightest hint of rain. Some people see them as the expression of the driver’s self-centered attitude, with no care for other potential passengers, or the need to make a Home Depot run. So sorry, but that’s for people with attachments. Roadsters are just for pure fun. No wonder they have thrived, died, thrived again, died again, and thrived yet again over the last 100 years. They are that one old boyfriend or girlfriend that you couldn’t understand why you rode the break-up/make-up roller coaster with for so many years. You knew it didn’t really make any sense, but there was just something about them.
When the Miata was first introduced at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1989, roadsters were virtually dead in America, again. Gone were the pre-WWII Auburn Boattails and Chrysler Imperials, as well as the post-war 1950s-1970s Triumphs and MGs. The Alfa Romero Spider was the only true representative at the time, but it too was dying a slow death and would be gone from American showrooms within a few more years. There was no real pre-unveiling marketing blitz for the Miata, Mazda just simply developed and introduced it. The looks and word of mouth did the rest. Near-luxury imitators like the BMW Z3 and Mercedes SLK, as well as the Toyota MR2, Honda S2000, and even the American Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky soon followed. Yet none had the success of the little inexpensive Mazda. In 2014 as it was in 1989, there really is no direct competition.
For a car that has sold nearly a million units, it still takes quite a bit of heckling. From the 'hairdresser’s car’ to 'boy racer’, the car has its share of unflattering opinions. Its ‘Beso Me Mucho’ front end doesn’t help. Yet, the wide range of insults is actually the flipside of its appeal. Once driven, you quickly discover how accessible the car is. A firm yet comfortable ride, good acceleration, and phenomenal handling come together seamlessly. The driving experience inflates your confidence in the car’s ability to handle the boulevard or the track. Coupled with a very useable trunk and only those creature comforts you truly need, and this car makes you realize why you see them during your weekday commute. This actually is a daily driver.
What You Find
With ten different trim combinations, there is literally a Miata for almost any preference. Things start off with the entry–level 5-speed Sport, priced at $23,720. The mid-level Club trim package adds a 6-speed manual along with racing-supportive features like a shock tower brace, front and rear diffusers, 17-inch tires, and Bilstein shocks. The packages top-out with the Grand Touring level, which adds refinements like automatic climate control, heated seats with 5-level variable heat settings, and a 6-disc Bose® audio system. Both the Club and Grand Touring trim-levels offer the choice of a manual cloth top or retractable hard top, with the hard top versions getting even more features like sport-tuned suspension, more leather, and halogen front lamps. All offer the same 2.0L DOHC 16-Valve I4, putting out just 167 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque (and even nine less horsepower when matted to the automatic transmission). That may seem paltry, but then you have to recall your high school physics and the concept of the power-to-weight ratio. Weighing in at as little as 2,480 lbs, the Miata’s 1:14.85 ratio is not bad. By contrast, the Mercedes SLK 250, the Miata’s nearest price competitor (at nearly $20K MORE), has a ratio of nearly two more pounds per horse. So even though the SLK has nearly 40 more horses, it is a tenth of a second slower than the Miata’s 0-60mph time of 6.7 seconds.
What You See
Approaching the Miata, you quickly get a sense for how small it is. Yet, its proportions are normal appearing, not truncated as in some other roadsters. The fact that the Miata has a full rear end translates to a useable 5.3 cubic feet of trunk space with the top down; very practical. Our tester was the 6-speed automatic Grand Touring model PRHT (Power Retractable Hard Top). The top also appeared proportional, giving the car a ‘normal’ coupe-like appearance when the top was up. Dual exhaust and fog lamps provide an added touch of raciness to the car. The open-wide look of the front grill, a carryover from the second generation Miata, still gives the car an almost comical appearance. But again, some aficionados believe it gives the Miata a less-serious persona.
Despite the low curb height of the car (just under 50 inches), the body contortions needed to enter the Miata are not as dramatic as expected. The trick to getting into most roadsters, both old and new, is to make the steering wheel your best friend. Put your right foot in, grab the wheel and use it to both pull and hold yourself up as you slide in. Think of it as a controlled fall into the car. So, slipping into the driver’s seat, the Miata provides you with great all around visibility. The steering wheel is small and thick, but you still have adequate instrument pod visibility beyond it. Buttons and their labeling look a little dated in design, and the LCD radio information display is positively ancient, but at least the controls are logically placed. Still, at not much cost Mazda could stand to add a textured surface here and a faux chrome trim piece there.
A curiosity was our tester’s keyless entry remote and ignition combination. Like many newer vehicles, just having the remote on your body allows you to unlock the doors using the soft buttons on the exterior door handles. Once inside however, rather than a start-stop button, Mazda still has you turn the ignition to start the car. Only, you don’t use the remote key; instead turning a detachable plastic knob that covers the traditional ignition cylinder. The plastic knob strikes me as one of those very-easy-to-lose pieces. If you wish to use the valet key, you can slide off both the electronic remote portion of the key fob and the plastic knob and insert the metal valet key into the traditional ignition. Except you can still grab the ignition cylinder and start the car without either the plastic knob OR the valet key. Go figure.
What You Feel
Despite its diminutive power stats, the Miata’s two-liter engine loves to pour on the power when asked. Throttle inputs are immediately obeyed and make full use of all available six gears. Switching to manual mode and using the paddle-shifters allows you to unleash your racer persona. Upshifts are perhaps a split second off-pace, but downshifts are sublime. Cornering is where the Miata really shines, with point-and-shoot steering and a pliant suspension set-up. Ride is slightly firm as expected, but never jarring. Most importantly, the Miata remains extraordinarily level through even the hardest of turns, and the well-bolstered seats keep you firmly positioned to operate all controls consistently through your maneuvers. Braking is also easily modulated and with very minimal fade. But frankly, the Miata makes you never want to stop moving.
What You Get
Some cars present you with some pros and some cons to driving them, like a two-sided coin. Then there’s the Miata, which is more akin to a six-sided dice. The elements that made it a hit from Day One are still present 25 years later. The handling, relative utility and comfort still shine through here. But this third-generation 2014 model is really starting to show its age. Yes, you can’t beat this roadster’s $24K value, but even some $17K econo-boxes have some better logical features. Is it too much to ask for a Bose System to have the speakers placed where you can hear them? Or for a 2-liter engine only pushing 2,500 pounds to at least squeeze out 30+ mpg? Plus that ignition key…I’m just saying. And these issues are on the $32K+ tester model. Perhaps the upcoming redesign will address some of this. Incidentally, Mazda anticipates rolling out that new fourth gen model in September simultaneously on three continents. More info on the North American event (to be held at Laguna Seca up in Monterey) can be found at miatasatmazdaraceway.com.
In the end, it is clear that a potential owner needs to individually decide whether the very strong and numerous positives outweigh some of the sacrifices that Mazda has permitted in the Miata in order to maintain its price-point. It is still by far the most accessible classically-defined roadster on the market. It is a 1960s style inexpensive and undeniably fun runabout in a sea of 1930s style luxury also-rans. So this 25-year old concoction still manages to work its magic. The Miata’s power to attract wide-ranges of drivers just keeps going.
For more information about Mazda products, go to mazdausa.com
SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PRHT (Automatic) Price: $23,720.00 (base) $32,735.00 (as tested, including $795.00 destination charges) EPA fuel economy ratings: 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway Engine Type: Normally aspirated 2.0 liter four-in-liie Horsepower: 167 @ 7000 rpm Torque: 140 pound-feet @ 5000 rpm Drive Configuration: Rear-wheel drive Transmission: 6-speed automatic with Adaptive Shift Logic and paddle shifters Steering: Power-assisted rack and pinion Suspension Front: Independent double wishbone with stabilizer bar Rear: Independent multi-link with stabilizer bar Brakes Front: Power-assisted ventilated 11.4-inch disc brakes Rear: Power-assisted solid 11-inch solid disc brakes Dimensions Length: 157.3 inches Overall Width: 67.7 inches Overall Height: 49.0 inches Ground Clearance: 4.6 inches Curb weight: 2,480 pounds Performance 0-60 mph: 6.7 seconds Top Speed: 127 mph