I’ll come right out and say it: It’s my parents’ fault. You see, my mom’s just a couple of inches over five feet tall and my dad’s only a bit taller than she is. But for some reason they passed genes to me resulting in me growing to 6′3″. It makes for interesting family portraits but when it comes to cars, it sucks. I grew up riding with my knees shoved in the dashboard of whatever bench-seat-equipped sedan they happened to own at the time. And now I’m given a Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring to review. Genetics is a bitch.
Mazda deserves credit for not messing with the genetics of their diminutive roadster. From its inception it’s been true to its original design. While it’s gotten slightly larger over the years—mainly to accommodate safety regulations—it remains the modern-day incarnation of the classic two-seat roadster.
One thing they have messed with, though, is the name. While it’s always been sold as the MX-5 elsewhere, it was introduced in the US as the Miata and that’s the name most people know it by. When I told friends I was driving an “MX-5” they had no clue what I was talking about. When I added “Miata” the light went on immediately. Miata has great brand recognition and why Mazda doesn’t leave it alone is beyond me.
A makeover for 2009 freshened the looks while still leaving it one of the most recognizable cars on the road. However the most questionable part of the facelift is the face. Mazda made the grill bigger and it now looks like one of the talking cars from the Chevron commercials. With a smiley grill and dimpled driving lights, “cute” is the only adjective that can be used to describe its countenance. And it does nothing to dispel the misconception that it’s a “chick car.”
Inside, as you’d expect in a car with a 91.7 inch wheelbase, things are kind of tight. The controls on the well-laid-out instrument panel are all within easy reach. Hell, everything in there is within easy reach. The Grand Touring trim level adds lots of toys like heated seats, cruise control and automatic air conditioning that are nice to have but don’t add anything to the fun factor.
Even though it’s . . . um . . . cozy for someone my size, the seats are quite comfortable (once they’re adjusted to their lowest and rearmost positions). The only real problem: trying to get my size 14EEE feet working the pedals correctly. Once I finally figured the proper two-step to keep my right foot off the gas and brake at the same time I was good to go.
I spent most of my time in Miata with the top down. Thankfully the weather cooperated because the one time I drove it with the top up I had severe MG-B flashbacks. I had to slouch to see through the windshield (as opposed to looking over it when the top was down). At least dropping the top was no problem—the Miata’s soft top has to be the best ever designed. It goes down with a flick of the wrist and can be erected without leaving the driver’s seat.
And top down driving is what this car is all about. Twist the key (even with the “smart key” there’s a key-like protuberance to twist) and the 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata is more eager to play than a Lab puppy with a new tennis ball. There’s no need to turn on the radio; the 167hp, 2.0L DOHC four provides the best soundtrack you could ever want.
Grab the shifter and you discover one reason to spring for the Touring or Grand Touring trim levels: they’re the only ones with a six-speed transmission. The shifter snicks through the gears with Germanic precision. You find yourself taking the long way around even for the short trip to the local Stop ’n Rob, just for the aural delights of the exhaust note and the haptic satisfaction from rowing the shifter.
And then, when the road gets curvy, you’ll find the $500 you dropped on the suspension package was money well spent. The Bilstein shocks and sport suspension tuning give you the sensation you’re in the world’s largest slot car without beating you to death in the process. It may not be the fastest car on the highway but that doesn’t matter. It’s one of those rare cars that’s fun to drive, regardless of how fast you’re going.
The MX-5 Miata was the first car I’ve driven in a long time that had me grinning every time I drove it (although the grin faded a bit as I extricated myself from it). If you’re looking for an antidote for automotive ennui, look no further. That is, if you have the genes for the job.