Why is it so hard for carmakers to get the little things right? Most of these guys have been building cars for over a century. Yet they put the pedals in the wrong place, or give their machine numb steering, or equip the interior with less style than a Day’s Inn. One reason: compromise. Manufacturer X could offer you perfect pedal placement, or share pedals between five models and save you a grand. Another case in point, who doesn’t want a convertible? Put another way, who the Hell wants a convertible? With the MX-5 Miata Power Hartop, Mazda has removed compromise from that particular equation.
Drivers in the know have always seen past the Miata’s mini-suppository shape and focused on its brilliant driving dynamics. No more. The “refreshed” MX-5 is now one of the best looking vehicles on the road, especially from the front. Finally, someone’s built a Japanese car that’s proud to be Japanese. The Miata shows the world an angry, fishy, warrior face, and I love it. I like the MX-5’s profile as well, with its elegant fenders, meaty arches and athletic-looking ten-spoke wheels. The back is [still] pure pabulum, but at least it’s massaged and sculpted pabulum that’s been fitted with business class twin-pipes.
Like the sharp front end, the new hard roof is a homerun. The origami-tastic top looks like something an autocrosser might bolt onto their track day sled. (You half expect to see a roll cage welded under it.) At a stroke, the hardtop casts off the aesthetic aspersions thrown at previous Miatas; the lid makes the car look serious. And it’s easy to operate too. Release a simple latch, press a button and read this sentence twice. It takes just twelve seconds to fold and stow the top, which is four seconds faster than a Mercedes SL550. Even better, all that mechanical slickness adds just 77 pounds to the car’s weight. And wind noise isn’t an issue until you crack 75mph.
The interior belies the Miata’s sub-25k sticker. Snobs will moan that Mazda uses plastic where they could have used wood, or that the leather does not come from pampered, sushi-sucking cows penned in by rubber band fences. Ignore them. At this price-point, the MX-5 sports one of the classiest interiors extant. Press the double-cool air vent buttons and you will believe. The steering wheel, clutch pickup, pedal and shifter placement are all ideally positioned, despite the car’s Lilliputian proportions. Normally, I detest steering wheels buttons, but Mazda has arranged them perfectly for tweakers who know the value of keeping their eyes on the road.
Like Mazda’s Speed6, the MX-5 has two personas. Leave the traction control on and you can take any turn at any speed and live to tell the tale. Of course, crappy pavement and a strong right foot send the little yellow idiot light blinking faster than a timing gun, but that’s half the fun. In that case, DSC stands for “Don’t Sweat Charlie.” Put the e-nanny to bed and the Miata transforms. Oversteer clocks in at the press of the throttle; only pilots familiar with the phrase, “when in spin, both feet in” need apply. Turning off the computer makes the Miata go from fantastically fun to an open invitation at Hoonatics Anonymous. Caning the wee beastie on the fabled Angeles Crest Highway, I aged the Michelin Pilots 2,000 miles in 30. The desperate squeal from the rubber coupled with the buzzsaw of the motor’s 7,000rpm redline was pistonhead paradise. While I could keep up with the motorcycles in the bends…
Sadly and predictably, the MX-5’s a little… slow. The relatively high-revving 2.0-liter I4 manages just 170hp @ 6700 rpm. Worse still, you only get access to 140lbs. feet of torque @ 5000rpm. Even when pitted against 2575 pounds of car, it’s not enough twist for a watered down Tom Collins. (Call me overly American, but I can’t abide losing to big, fat Yank-tanks at stop lights.) Equally troubling, cruising at 80mph, the Miata’s engine spins at 4000rpm in sixth gear, burning plenty of premium petrol. Future MazdaSpeed versions will no doubt slap on a turbo to fix the power gap, but Honda squeezes way more juice out of a normally aspirated 2.0-liter mill. Mazda’s mechanical minions should follow suit.
By keeping the price below $25k, the MX-5 sacrifices raw grunt. Besides luggage and ass-space, that’s it for compromise. It’s by no means a deal breaker. Combine the Miata’s legendary handling with the relative convenience and security (and coolness) of a hardtop drop top, and it’s clear that little Mazda has succeeded where no other automaker has bothered to go. Yet. The introduction of the first generation Miata back in 1989 was an automotive high water mark. The MX-5 Hardtop is déjà vu all over again.