Lifestyle

Miata still fun

A cloudless late autumn sky, 19 degrees C and a red Mazda MX-5 two-seater—does it get better?

I have driven a MX-5 every year since the first one bowed in 1989 and it still provides tons of driving enjoyment, as it did the very first time I got behind the wheel.

I can honestly say no car has attracted the attention that little Miata did when it first came out. People would just walk up and gaze at it. Kids would give the thumbs up and I will always remember world-renown automotive artist Ken Dallison saying, “that is a proper sportscar”.

Like the Porsche 911, the Mazda got it right the first time. In fact, besides dropping the name Miata in favour of MX-5, little has changed over the past 23 years.

There is still a small-displacement inline four-cylinder engine mounted longitudinally with rear-drive. When it debuted, the engine was a 116 hp, 1.6-litre. Then it was bumped up to 1.8-litres in 2000 with 140 hp. Today it is 2.0-litres and 167 hp.

Imagine, just 400 cc in more than two decades and this, coupled with the low weight, still gives the MX-5 enough power to have fun but not enough to get yourself in trouble.

And that’s the beauty of it. You can toss it around, enjoy the proverbial wind in your hair all for under 30 grand.

Which brings me to another thing that surprisingly has not changed over the years and that’s the price.

Tested here is a box-stock base GX model with five-speed manual transmission priced at $29,145.

I tested the same car in the year 2000 with the five-speed and it was priced at $27,145. And when you consider the 2013 MX-5 comes standard with expensive items such as traction control, stability control plus front and side airbags, the price comes out just about even.

Now you can add a lot. The GX is the only model with the five-speed manual. The GS and GT have a six-speed manual or an optional six-speed automatic with paddle shifters but that, in my opinion, defeats the purpose.

If you go higher up the Miata feeding chain, there is an optional metal folding top. It is not all that much heavier than the cloth top but, again, it turns the car into a boulevardier.

But the cloth top of the current car has evolved.

Originally, I could sit in the driver’s seat, reach back, and yank the top up with one hand in true sportscar style.

Now it has glass rear window, not vinyl. The glass rear window has an electric defogger which is far better than the plastic one that would go opaque and tear over time.

But it weighs more so you have to get out and hoist it up into place secured by a hefty central latch.

There is a trunk with 150 litres of cargo volume. You could shoehorn two golf bags if you took the clubs out first, but two-three overnight bags is more like it.

Actually I prefer the five-speed. Over the years and after a lot of Miatas in between, I found the third-fourth gear shift on the six-speed sometimes hard to find the correct slot, particularly on the down shift.

On the down side, as sweet as the five-speed is, the engine is turning over at 3,000 rpm at 100 km/h. In the flow of expressway traffic (120 km/h) it is up around 3,700 rpm. Ergo, if you do a lot of high speed cruising, the six-speed is the way to go.

Even with the five-speed, it still does 0-100 km/h in 8.8 seconds with a top speed of 205 km/h, which is plenty.

After 605.2 km over and through some of the best two-lane highways in the country, I think I’d still stay with the five-speed.

On most of the highways I travelled, the speed limit was 80 km/h so passing is just a snick down into fourth and you’re by.

The overriding sensation of the 2012 MX-5 is its lightness—not just on the controls but the whole car. Part of this is due to the engine being as far back as the engineers could place it. Couple that to the drive being just behind your behind, the mass is well in the centre of the four wheels.

This translates to the nexus of the mass being just about between the seats, letting the driver get maximum directional stability by feeling he/she is at the fulcrum of any turn.

Not only does this make you feel in full control but, with the top down eliminating any blind spots, the little MX-5 just screams “let’s enjoy ourselves”.

Which is exactly what I did. Mindful that it was a perfect fall day and the provincial police were out in force, just rolling along taking in the sights, colours and sounds of that surprisingly quiet 2.0-litre engine made for a memorable day.

I have to confess I love walking up to the MX-5 with the top down and just plunking myself down fighter pilot style.

The steering wheel was and remains perfectly placed with all the information you need contained in the tight instrument package directly in the line of sight.

It is the kind of car you feel a connection with—something impossible with a CUV or hybrid.

As this is being written, Mazda is working in concert with Alfa-Romeo on a new small sportscar probably to replace the MX-5.

Will it be better?

In terms of the latest technology and engineering, undoubtedly.

But will it have the same ability to inspire the emotions?

I wonder.

Mazda MX-0 2012

Body Style: compact roadster

Drive Method: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive

Engine: 2.0-litre, 16-valve, DOHC four-cylinder (167 hp and 140 lb/ft of torque)

Fuel Economy: (Premium recommended) 7.1/9.2L/100 km

Cargo: 150 litres

Tow Rating: Not recommended

Price: $29,145, as tested, $30,400 including optional ($1,195) air conditioning

Website: www.mazda.ca.

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