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Happy Birthday, Mazda Miata: The Little Car That Did

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

 

We get a few months of great weather here in the Northwest so when it’s not raining, car enthusiasts love to go topless. Not the naked bike ride type of topless, but in their roadster. There is nothing quite like rolling down a great road with your favorite song blasting away in a convertible.

There are a host of ragtops that can boast more horsepower or more panache but there isn’t a more recognizable and iconic convertible than the Mazda Miata. The cute little car that has outlasted all of its competitors is, believe it or not, celebrating its 25th anniversary.

A fun, affordable sports car

The two-seater was first shown at the Chicago Auto Show in 1989 along with another classic that didn’t last as long, the Acura NSX. The Miata, which according to Mazda means reward or prize in Old High German, has maintained its heritage all these years and hasn’t ever tried to be more than what it was originally designed to be - a fun, affordable sports car. 

Back at its inception, there were three initial Miata designs from the US and Tokyo, before Mazda settled on the final version. Once the design was in place, Mazda held consumer clinics to gauge perceived value and sales capability. Mazda’s goal was to charge at least $8,800 to justify the project. Consumers were ready to pay a lot more, though, estimating the price at $20,000. In the end, the starting price was set at $13,800. In the first year, Mazda sold nearly 36,000 in the United States but could have easily doubled that with more production.

Downsides

Sure, it has its downsides. The Miata has never been particularly quick with head turning 0-60 or horsepower numbers. But, it has stayed consistent with its quality and styling features.

In 2007, a power retractable top was available with just an added 70 pounds to its svelte frame, and was worth the additional $1,000-$1,500 in cost. Through the years, Mazda has offered the Miata with its signature Special Edition version and these are still sought out as collectors’ vehicles. They all had special paint and added trim features that buyers welcomed, even with the added cost. The cute little car “that did” has spawned Miata clubs throughout the world and is a favorite on the SCCA racing scene. 

Photo credit: Jake Plumley on Flickr. (Image cropped)

For 2015, Mazda is offering another Special Edition; this one is the 25th Anniversary version that is loaded with everything including premium suspension packages, unique 17-inch wheels and upgraded leather upholstery. The base level convertible is now presented with a folding soft cloth top rather than the less attractive vinyl version. 

The Miata, now called the MX-5, has one basic mission that is still in evidence in the 2015 model, and that’s to be a fun driver's car. It still has great road feel and with its light weight is still quick and agile in the turns. It has certainly outlasted all its rivals through the years, including the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky, Honda S2000 or the Toyota MR2.

All were decent offerings, but lacked the overall appeal of the Miata. 

The new roadster comes in four trim levels and ranges in price from $24,500 up to the low $30,000 range.

So what’s the catch? The 2.0 liter FOUR cylinder generates 167 horsepower and is the only engine option. Add to that the fact that the 22 city/28 highway isn’t jaw-dropping mileage for such a small car. The base level car also still lacks some of the features car buyers have come to expect as standard, including satellite radio and Bluetooth. 

Cute little car

It should come as no surprise that the Miata’s biggest attribute is also is biggest liability.

It’s a cute little car that handles great but the main word in that description is little. It you’re tall, the getting in isn’t too bad but the getting out is a bit of a chore. Also, don’t plan on going anywhere for more than an overnight, as the trunk is tiny. For Northwest drivers, you have to be committed to putting the top down with the heater on in November when it’s a beautiful 40 degrees; otherwise you’re looking at eight to nine months of driving around with the top up. 

These minor quibbles aside, the Miata is still a great option, and has no real competitors in its class. If you’re looking for a fun, economical sports car, the Miata checks off all the boxes and then some. 

 

Brad Boyer is owner of Carcierge, a car concierge company providing expert assistance on anything car-related. He also co-hosts Test Miles on 101.1 FM KXL on Sundays, and is a founding member of the Northwest Auto Press Association. You can email him your car-related questions at [email protected] 

 

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