This car is a blast to drive, although a little more power wouldn’t hurt.
DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: My dirty little secret?
I like the Mazda MX-5 Miata better than the Porsche Boxster.
No, it doesn’t pivot in turns on a perfect axis like the Porsche. The cockpit of the MX-5 isn’t as elegant as that of the Boxster, or a BMW Z4. And Mazda won’t take your $400 and give you a key fob painted to match your car. But for the kind of driver–and consumer–I am, this 2013 Mazda MX-5 Club edition is a near-perfect fit.
As much fun as 600 hp supercars are for the weekend, the reality for most of us is that we’re unable to tap a fraction of the performance of even a V6 Honda Accord on a regular basis. Hence references you may have heard to the fun of “driving a slow car fast.” A peek in my garage, where you’ll find an old Triumph and a malaise-era Porsche 911 will show I’m a big fan of the spirit behind that adage.
The Miata remains the modern interpretation of cars like my TR, along with all the other low, rough-riding import go-karts of the ’50s-’70s which were — face it — really slow cars by today’s standards. No, the MX-5 isn’t a Fiat 850, but with just 140 lb-ft of torque the driver has to work to get the most out of the car even at sane, legal speeds. That is as it should be, especially with the Miata’s shifter, which is of the oh-so-rare “steel shaft connected directly to gears” type, the anticipation of which makes it a little easier to get out of bed in the morning.
The kicker is that this fantastic little roadster costs fully half what an equivalent Boxster would run. Ditch the power retractable hard top (which, incidentally, kept our Miata dry and quiet in a ferocious rainstorm, though some rain gutters would be appreciated) and you could spend less than $25k to have the time of your life.
You don’t have to worry about stone chips and detritus messing up your premium $850 metallic paint upgrade. You can park between two other cars with a clear conscience. Hell, you can even see the engine should you feel like taking a peek around.
Sure, there are more capable cars. But fun for the dollar is still a huge criterion for me, and the Mazda MX-5 remains at the top of that particular new-car heap. Buy a can of Krylon if you need a painted key.
Want a new frill-less car that doubles as a solid daily driver and a track go-getter?
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: I had a great weekend zoom-zooming around in the Miata, which is a really good car.
You’re not going to be blown away by the interior; Scion/Subaru did a much better job creating an upmarket feel with the expensive-seeming FR-S/BRZ cabin treatment. The MX-5 presents Spartan Mazda functionality trimmed in synthetic-feeling cloth and hard plastic surfaces.
As usual, Mazda seems to dump its money into suspension engineering rather than a state-of-the-art cabin. The result is a platform that lets you feel the road beneath the car without becoming bone-jarring, even on rough roads.
Work your way through the gears — something you need to get the hang of if you want to get anywhere fast in the 167 hp roadster — and you’ll find the transmission fairly crisp and clutch surprisingly forgiving.
“Forgiving” is a word I’d say applies to the car overall, though. Disable the traction control and stability control (I think — whatever you disable by holding down the traction control button for a few seconds) and take a turn a bit too quickly in second gear and you can feel the rear end getting a bit loose. But it’s all so predictable that it becomes a learning experience rather than a prelude to a panic attack.
Throughout the weekend all of my passengers commented on how fast it felt like we were driving, despite a scrupulous — well, mostly scrupulous — adherence to posted speed limits. They had to ride with me one at a time, of course — to the MX-5’s credit, it doesn’t even pretend to include a useable back seat.
We often moan about increasingly stringent fuel economy standards, pro-pedestrian legislation that stifles designers’ best efforts and occupant safety regulations that threaten to turn our vehicles into rolling caverns stuffed with airbags. And everything’s getting more expensive to boot.
You sort of forget about all of that in the MX-5 (and the BRZ/FR-S pair, too; I don’t want to forget about them). It’s noisy and quick and communicative and it feels like a great deal at under $30k.
What more do you want from a new car?
This car offers bang for your buck fun for under $30 grand, while the soft top is even cheaper.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: What the heck is the Mazda MX-5 Miata Club? Is it just a Miata with gunmetal wheels, club badges, specific graphics and black-painted mirrors, head lamps, bezels and roof and red interior stitching? Well, that’s certainly part of the package. Or maybe it’s some wonderful sandwich which I have yet to try? No, but really, the Club replaces the Touring model to represent the middle version of the MX-5 range between the base Sport model and plusher, range-topping Grand Touring trim.
In addition to the aforementioned features above, the Club gets a rear diffuser, front strut tower brace and upgrades to the six-speed manual transmission (it’s available with the automatic, too). Club cars equipped with the stick also come standard with the suspension package that adds stiffer suspension setup with Bilstein shock absorbers and a limited-slip differential.
I actually didn’t drive this car on regular streets, but instead just flung it around GingerMan Raceway, which I’ve been doing a lot lately. We’ve had 600-plus hp cars around that 2.14-mile track, but I’m going to have to say that the Miata is one of the more fun vehicles to lap in. As Andy said, it’s a prime example of slow car that’s fun to drive fast. Crazy power? No. A balanced, communicative and lightweight chassis? Yes. Crisp and quick-witted steering? Uh huh. There’s little wonder why people often use Miatas as a basis to build affordable track cars.
As I said, it’s not massively powerful with 167 hp, but the little four-cylinder is eager to rev and rev you must because peak power happens at 7,000 rpm. The manual is pleasing to use with crisp shifts performed at the flick of the wrist. Pedal placement is spot-on for me for rev-matching and the clutch is lightly weighted and easy to operate. Like in the majority of cases, some more poke under the hood would help, but is it absolutely necessary? No, because raw straight line speed isn’t what the MX-5 is about.
Steering is communicative with right-now response to inputs that made putting the car wherever you want on track simple. The one little gripe I’ve had about this current generation of MX-5 is the roll stiffness of the suspension. Even with the firmer sport suspension, there is a lot of initial roll before the car sets up. So you jump on the brakes in the braking zone (the brakes are strong with a firm pedal by the way), turn in and there’s a surprising amount of roll. Through higher speed kinks like turn four, it feels floaty and isn’t the most confidence inspiring. I’m sure the give in the suspension is there for on-road comfort, which is understandable. A lot of people buying MX-5s are going to do some performance driving with it, but even more are getting them for top-down Sunday drives around town.
I will say that once the car sets up through corners it does stick, but it just feels weird. Being rear-wheel drive there is enough power to help the back end around with the throttle, which is always fun. But the first thing I would do if I bought this car is definitely get some firmer springs and dampers, which would give up some ride comfort on road, but I would be willing to make that sacrifice for better on-track performance.
While my timed lap was far from the quickest that we’ve put down, it was admittedly a lot of fun. I’m comfortable ringing the living daylights out of the MX-5 and it felt like I was getting the majority of its potential out of it, which probably isn’t true because it would take a pro driver to do that, but it felt like it. The MX-5 excels at making the person behind the steering wheel feel involved and pivotal to the driving process. That’s rare nowadays in a world filled with cars that are becoming more reliant on electronic handling aids and interiors that are now cluttered with more luxury and technology features that insulates the driver from, well, driving.
So if you’re looking for a new car without a bunch of frills and excels at the task of driving, there may be no better choice available today then the MX-5.
If you don’t mind something used, may I also suggest a Honda S2000, Lotus Elise or Exige or a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX?