On the Road Review: Mazda MX-5 Miata Club Model

This fourth generation Miata is a very important car for driving enthusiasts. This two-seat roadster is smaller, lighter, less powerful, but faster in every measurement than the preceding model. This Miata marks a commitment to the Zoom-Zoom driving philosophy of Mazda, yet it really is a commitment to all that is holy about driving in an age when automakers are falling all over themselves to embrace self-driving autobot computers.

Mazda has built over 1 million Miatas for worldwide consumption since its 1989 debut. Deemed an unlikely successor to the vaunted (junk) British roadsters of the 1960s, the purity of the Miata dictates that this diminutive sports car is now the template, the paradigm, the yardstick by which all small two-seaters must be measured.

Just contemplate the pressure of building the Miata, a personal niche product among a plethora of steel boxes, confining sedans and gargantuan pickup trucks that all generate more income. Honda gave up on its small sports car, Toyota too, so you can count on one-hand, more or less, all of the small two-seat sports car makers left. Chevy’s Corvette dominates U.S. sales, yet more than half of those thunderous sports cars are coupes. While Porsche makes lots of roadsters, their pricing is not for the faint of heart.

To flesh out Miata production (create more profit, justify the model’s mere existence), Mazda is expanding the Miata on two fronts. By this time next year, there should be a fixed roof model that if you stretch your imagination will mimic a Porsche Cayman — literally known as the best-handling car sold. Plus, Mazda has teamed up with FCA, yes, the guys that build Hellcat Challenger’s, Ram pickups, and Ferrari’s, to create the “all-new” Fiat 124 Spider, which is essentially a Miata with a new skin, an Italian face, and for the sake of buyers, none of the Fix-it-again-Tony engineering lapses that plagued the original Spider. FCA needs more strong-selling small cars, badly, but a halo vehicle never hurts an automakers reputation.

The current Miata comes in three flavors; base convertibles start at just under $25,000, our sample Club edition begins at $28,600, while the top Grand Touring lists for slightly over $30,000 before options and destination fee.

All three share the same powertrain; a revised 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder engine with 155 hp and 148 pound/feet of peak torque running through a six-speed stick shift or a six-speed automatic. The sportier-oriented Club model only comes with the manual gearbox, but do not hesitate to enjoy the delightful shifting action of this click-click shifter or of the light clutch that is now aided by hill-holder action on any grades.

Row that gearbox and the tiny Miata generates impressive acceleration, in effect creating forward thrust that exceeds your expectations given the drop in horsepower rating — 12 hp less than last year. Indeed, since many new 2.0-liter engines, seemingly the template size for modern power in the day of supercharged and turbocharged small engines, produce upward of 250-315 hp the Miata’s output seems, well, modest. However, one spirited drive will convince you that the Miata has enough power to entertain, twist the tires and tickle the nerve-endings on the base of your spine all at once.

Club edition adds several aerodynamic aids meant to increase grip and track performance. There is the expected front splitter protruding from the lower fascia, a delicate curb-feeler that should not be used as such, plus diffuser panels at the rear and a non-body colored air-deflector on the trunk lid. Tiny “ears” skirt out from the rear wheelwells, too, all to make the Miata more slippery while hugging high-speed corners.

Club adds a stiffer suspension using Bilstein shocks, larger brakes, plus stickier rubber. Our deep red sample carried the optional 17-inch BBS wheels and Brembo brake caliper package ($3,400 including other features). In total, the car works very well on the street. Handling remains a virtue that is unlike any other car — nimble, cat-like maneuvers are the norm, with steering agility and responsiveness that makes other sports cars feel heavy, almost numb.

And, thirsty. The Miata’s retuned four-cylinder returned 34-plus MPG during its visit — better than the EPA highway estimate (27/34/30 mpg).

Of course, this much power and efficiency is possible due to the car’s low weight —just over 2,300 pounds, almost 200 pounds less than the last Miata. Moreover, once inside, you get a greater sense of where much of the weight-saving comes from. Painted metal and plastic trim looks sporting, but the surfaces are hard and seemingly lack any sound insulation — anywhere. With the Miata’s soft-top in place, this car is a very loud highway companion. Freeway trips take on a droning nature that urges you to take the next available exit and either slow down or lower the top, because the open-air experience is actually quieter. Wind-flow and cabin air levels — always a Miata strong suit — remain.

And that top; it is simply the best convertible top, bar none. Elegant in its simplicity, the Miata’s top goes down, or up, with one hand in two seconds. Click the release, throw the top back, click it down behind you and you are done. No motors to wait for (or fail) no additional weight and no aggravation — just immediate top-down motoring. It is the pure essence of a two-seat convertible.

While Mazda has added a new “screen” atop the center dash, trying to be Germanic, only top Touring models get the full navigation system; lesser models get a display panel that tells you your longitude, latitude, and elevation as if that will find you a hotel or a gas station when in need. Keep the smartphone handy, although there is no place to keep it in the new Miata — the console bin barely holds the keyfob for the keyless ignition, there is no glove box, the door pockets have gone missing, and the cupholders are now removable pockets that clang around the interior as they lack a storage home when not in use. The Miata also lacks a rear-camera, the steering wheel only tilts and the auxiliary power socket is so far up under the passenger footwell side of the cabin, some buyers will never even know they have one.

Gripes aside, Miata buyers know they are not getting a Corolla. This is a driver’s car, with the singular purpose of making you feel good about being out on your favorite road. With the top properly stored, the Miata’s personality is plainly evident and all feels right about driving. There is no computer brain trying to control your lane changes, no automatic braking going on, no laser cruise control, no pedestrian detection, no surround-view camera. There is you and your driving machine; you use your senses to enjoy the engineering pieces provided to maximize the role of operating a motor vehicle.

Zoom-Zoom, indeed.


Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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