It’s easy to forget there are still cars that are about driving rather than transportation. Cars that make the trip more appealing than the destination.
Such a car is the Mazda Miata. It makes you want to go for a drive even when you don’t need to, and it makes you want to not get where you’re going before you absolutely have to be there.
What It Is
The Miata is an unusual Mazda. It is the only two-door, soft-top, rear-wheel drive and manual transmission-equipped car Mazda still sells. It is also the most affordable roadster you can buy.
Prices start at $26,830 for the base Sport trim, which comes standard with a manual-folding soft-top as well as a six-speed manual transmission.
A six-speed automatic is available optionally.
Club versions, which sticker for $30,290 to start, add a shock tower brace, limited slip differential and Bilstein shock absorbers to enhance the car’s already nimble handling. Also included are heated seats and an upgraded nine-speaker Bose audio system. This is three more speakers than come standard in the Sport trim.
Top-of-the-line Grand Touring trims — which sticker for $31,770 to start — get an upgraded, more insulated soft-top, automatic climate control, leather seating surfaces, heated outside mirrors and automatic headlights, among other amenities upgrades.
The key to the Miata’s success is not messing with what makes it successful. The current Miata is basically the same Miata with no significant changes made since the 2016 model year, which is when just a few minor changes were made. But nothing that altered the Miata-ness of the car, which has been largely the same car since its 1989 introduction.
This year, you can get white leather seat covers.
It’s a true sports car that almost anyone can afford to buy — and to drive.
It’s “connected” in the old-school sense. Everything this car does is controlled by you — from the manual soft-top to the manual changing of the gears.
It’s as reliable as a Corolla — as fun as a Corvette.
What’s Not So Good
You have to pony up for the Club to get the Bilstein shocks and shock tower brace.
Touch screen, mouse controller for the stereo detracts from the otherwise exemplary simplicity of this car’s functionality.
Wear cargo pants, so you’ll have pockets to keep your stuff in.
Under The Hood
All Miatas come with the same 2.0-liter, DOHC four-cylinder engine, which comes with a 181 horsepower rating. The peak is made at 7,000 RPM and the engine is willing (and allowed) to rev considerable past that. This is an engine that was designed to be worked — and do its best work behind the standard six-speed manual transmission, which makes revving it not just easy but a pleasure.
You can opt for a six-speed automatic, but very few Miata buyers do so. An automatic Miata is kind of like going for a swim while wearing pants.
It can be done — but why would you do it?
On The Road
If you want to remember what it was like to enjoy driving again, take a drive in this car. It does not “assist” you — with anything. It is up to you to shift the gears and to keep the car in its lane. There is no tug on the steering wheel to countermand your steering inputs (as happens in cars equipped with Lane Keep Assist if you dare to change lanes or turn off the road without signaling first). The engine stays on until you turn it off. There is no automatic start-stop “technology.”
There is only you and the car.
At The Curb
You don’t so much as drive the Miata as wear it. This being part of the connectedness of this car. You and it merge into one. The passenger is an afterthought — as evidenced by the hilarious insert-here cupholder that dangles off the right side of the car’s center console into the passenger’s space. You can take someone along for the ride, but this car is fundamentally an intimate date for two.
That’s you and it.
Further evidence of this intention is the 4.9-cubic foot trunk, which means you’ll probably need the passenger seat for your stuff. Still, the trunk is more usable than the specifications suggest.
Nothing is perfect in this world, and the Miata is not the exception. The one thing that mars the car’s otherwise Zen is Mazda’s Multi-Media Interface, which involves multi-step processes to do things, such as change the radio station, that could be more easily done in one step, as by turning a knob.
The Bottom Line
This car harkens back to a better, vanished time. When cars were fun because we connected with them instead of being connected to impersonal, peremptory technology. If you want to remember what it is was like — and snatch back a piece of it — this is the car that’ll bring back those memories.
And it’ll help you make some new ones, too.
View the Mazda Miata this week.
Eric’s new book, “Doomed: Good Cars Gone Wrong” will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
View the Mazda Miata this week.