Not only has the two-seat Mazda MX-5 Miata sports car been a significant part of the Japanese-brand automaker’s stable for more than two decades, but the driving experience has changed remarkably little during that period.
Some cars manage to overstay their welcome within a couple of years. Others hang on for decades, continuing to entice enthusiastic fans.
Only three generations of the Mazda Miata have been offered since the sports car’s debut as an early 1990 model, powered by a 116-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Redesigning took place for 1999, and again for 2006, when the official model name changed from Miata to MX-5. Except for the gaping-mouth grille up front, and a few modified curves, the current model exhibits a close relationship to its ancestors.
For 2013, a sporty Club trim level has replaced the prior Touring edition. The MX-5 also comes in base, Sport, and luxurious Grand Touring trim.
Club models get a sport suspension, 17-inch wheels, and limited-slip differential (with manual shift). Output from the 2.0-liter engine is 167 horsepower with manual shift, or 158 hp with automatic.
Our test-drive of a Club model with a hardtop (rather than the familiar cloth top) demonstrates that at least among moderately-priced models, the MX-5 falls closer than nearly any car on the market to past sports cars.
Noise and vibration were always part of the sports-car experience of the past, and Mazda MX-5 buyers today cannot expect a quiet, genteel ride in the 2013 model. Neither can they expect an easy-to-drive automobile. Piloting a Miata/MX-5 demands attention and effort – not just to get the most out of the relatively small engine, but to maneuver the two-seater at all.
Snug quarters? Absolutely. A bouncy ride much of the time? Definitely. In exchange, owners get hard-to-beat handling like sports cars of old, benefitting from powertrain improvements that don’t compromise the basic experience. An MX-5 can be spirited, but typically feels as if it’s working, not loafing along.
Enthusiasts enjoy a high-spirited drive, but steering and shifting take significant effort. Thus, this two-seater is not for the puny or lazy, or for the uninterested or inattentive.
Getting inside isn’t that hard for the reasonably agile. Headroom is so-so, elbow room for the driver nearly nonexistent on the left. Leg space is snug. Excellent, though unlit, big white-on-black speedometer and tachometer position the zero at the bottom.
Fuel economy ranks as good, though not great. Sport models get an EPA estimate of 22 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway. All others, whether equipped with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, gets the same highway figure but manage only 21 mpg in city use.
During our test-drive of the red roadster, a middle-aged neighbor wondered if the car was good for “picking up chicks.” No comment on that attribute.