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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 Mon, Oct 12, 2009

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

ROADSTER NIRVANA By Roy Nakano When Mazda introduced the first Miata MX-5 Miata back in 1989, it was already close to roadster perfection: near 50-50 weight distribution, power delivery perfectly matched to the capabilities of the drive train, suspension, wheels and tires, bullet-proof reliability. And most importantly, it had a fun factor far exceeding the price of the car. Even when the car is going slow, it's loads of fun in the corners, maneuvering around potholes and darting in-and-out of traffic with ease. With the advent of each new generation of Miata MX-5s, Mazda just kept getting closer and closer to perfection. Even when you thought the Miata was already perfectly balanced as a roadster, Mazda found a way to make it even better. For the current version, it's no exception. The third generation MX-5, introduced in late 2005 as a 2006 model, was a substantial step up for the sports car. Every component on the car was either all new or extensively revised. A new 16-valve, 2.0-liter MZR I-4 engine was introduced, producing 170 horsepower and 140 lb.-ft. of torque, coupled to either a five-speed or a six-speed manual transmission or 166-horsepower with the optional six-speed automatic transmission, while the five-speed manual model achieved the same fuel economy as the first 1990 Miata.

The third generation Miata also produced a change in the suspension for the first time. A front wishbone/rear multilink suspension was used beginning with the 2006 MX-5 to increase ride quality and handling. Technologies like traction control and stability control were also added. In 2007, Mazda offered, for a new Power Retractable Hard Top model. Opening and closing cycles last only 12 seconds, making it the fastest power-operated retractable hard top in the U.S. , and the only retractable hardtop on the market that doesn't compromise trunk space (the top goes behind the front seats). Additionally, the Hard Top added only 77 pounds to the total weight of the car. With this most recent iteration (which we'll call Generation 3.5), Mazda brings forth a number of significant changes. On manual transmission models, the MZR 2.0-liter engine's redline has been bumped up 500 rpm, to 7200. Making this higher redline possible are a new forged steel crankshaft, forged steel connecting rods with floating wrist pins, revised pistons with stronger wrist pin bosses, stiffer valve springs, and an engine oil cooler. The original 1.6-liter 1990 model was tuned to mimic the sound of dual-carbureted sports cars of the '60s. While the 1990 Miata did just that, it drew in hot underhood air from behind the radiator. Today's engine draws in cool air from the nose of the car for better efficiency, but a lightweight plastic composite intake manifold has been designed to transmit certain frequencies that match the classic sports car sound profile, while suppressing less enjoyable sounds. For Generation 3.5, 6-speed manual models also get an Induction Sound Enhancer (ISE). Made up of a series of tuned pipes and a passive resonance membrane, the ISE delivers the engine's natural induction sound to the cowl, just ahead of the windshield, so pleasing engine sounds can be delivered at a comfortable volume without resorting to simply being loud.

The new MX-5's 6-speed also delivers a better shift feel, thanks to a new carbon coating on the 1st through 4th gear synchros and larger diameter synchros on 3rd and 4th gear. 6th gear is slightly taller (0.787:1 vs. 0.832:1) for improved fuel economy and more relaxed highway cruising. The engine's output on paper increases only slightly (now making 167 hp at 7000 rpm, up from 166 hp at 6700 rpm). Mazda also improved the handling for Generation 3.5. The front suspension still consists of lightweight forged aluminum double wishbones, but the outer ball joints have been repositioned slightly to lower the front roll center about an inch. Damping has also been re-tuned on both the standard suspension and the Bilstein-equipped suspension package. The optional traction control and stability control systems have also been re-tuned to be less intrusive during sporty driving. As a result, the 2009 MX-5 reacts more precisely to driver commands, with more linear responses, better balanced front and rear roll, and better yaw response. The MX-5's exterior design retains the iconic feel of the earlier generation MX-5 Miatas. The body is shaped to make the cockpit the widest portion of the car, delivering a roomier design that still expresses the compact look of a lightweight sports car. Head and tail lamps are mounted inboard to reinforce the sense of compactness that is so central to the car's design philosophy. Joining this modern shape are tail lamps and rearview mirrors that suggest the elliptical shapes of the first-generation MX-5 Miata. For Gen 3.5, the MX-5 gets a happy face akin to the rest of the current Mazda line, with re-shaped headlamps, a larger, five-point grille and highly-sculpted triangular front fog lamp bezels. The new design is functional as well. The bulge below the front fog lamps, the wider air deflectors ahead of the front tires, the redesigned side sills, the reshaped lower corners of the rear bumper and even the taillights all are said to contribute to a lower coefficient of drag. Changes to the interior for 2009 seem to be focused on the areas the driver touches most. The seat shape has been refined for better lower-body comfort. The center console has been redesigned for more flexible storage and, and better comfort, with a padded armrest now residing behind the shifter. Even the bottle holders in the doors were changed, evidently with driver comfort in mind. Also new for Gen 3.5, the MX-5 adds standard features including an auxiliary-audio input jack and a CD player with MP3/WMA playback capability. The quality of craftsmanship in the MX-5 gives it a look and feel well beyond its price. From the details of bright-trimmed gauges to the "dark silver" finish on the dash, the MX-5 feels and looks more expensive than before.

Does this mean that the MX-5 has reached roadster nirvana? The truth of the matter is, the MX-5 had already reached nirvana many moons ago. Sports car aficionados, what we get today goes beyond nirvana. It has a fun-to-drive quality that is rarely equaled in other cars. Many faster and higher performing cars require putting the accelerator pedal to the metal to bring out the adrenalin. Not so with the MX5. In the pursuit of driving enjoyment, the MX5 Miata remains one of the best-kept secrets. SUMMARY JUDGMENT Mazda has further perfected the perfect sports car roadster For more information about Mazda products, go to

SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata Price Base: $26,350 As tested: $29,170 (Suspension Package 1SP, Premium Package 2PR) Engine: 2.0L DOHC 16-valve 4-cylinder with VVT (MZR) Horsepower: 167 @ 7000 rpm Torque: 140 @ 5000 rpm EPA-estimated miles per gallon (city/highway): 21/28 Transmission: Six-speed manual (optional 6-speed automatic with available sequential-shifting manumatic mode on all models except Sport) Drive configuration: Rear-wheel drive Brakes Front: Power-assisted ventilated 11.4-inch disc brakes Rear: Power-assisted solid 11-inch solid disc brakes Suspension Front: Independent double wishbone with stabilizer bar Rear: Independent multi-link with stabilizer bar


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