By on November 21, 2012

Back when I reviewed the Scion FR-S, I wrapped up by saying I’d want to check out the latest Miata before I passed judgment on the bang-per-buck value of the Subuyopet. So, I called up the PR flacks at Mazda: “Hey, remember how I didn’t totally trash the CX-5 I wrote about in July? Yeah, so now the entire Toyo Cork Kogyo organization owes me, which means I need a Daimyo Class ticket on the next flight to Tokyo, a BLACK TUNED MX-5 waiting for me, and an honor guard of eight dekatoras to escort me as I cruise around looking for an Autozam AZ-1 to ship back to Denver.” Disappointingly, what I got was a US-market MX-5 Club Sport dropped off at a shuttle lot at George Bush International in Houston, to which I’d flown Misery Class in order to judge at the fifth annual Gator-O-Rama 24 Hours of LeMons. I spent three days with a True Red ’13 Miata, mostly shuttling between my hotel in Angleton, Texas, and the race at MSR Houston.
You figure, hey, weekend at a race track with a Miata— get ready for a bunch of racy-sounding gibberish about “turn-in” and “performance at the limit.” Trail braking. Not this time; this track was crowded with stuff like ’73 Dodge Coronets and 560SEC Benzes bashing into each other, no place for a nice uncaged press car with 90 miles on the clock. Anyway, you can sum up the Miata’s track performance— as determined by racers who, unlike me, actually know how to get around a road course in a hurry— for the last 23 model years in five words: at home on the track. Now that we’ve got that established, this review is going to focus on the real-worldliness of this little red devil.
When I arrived at MSR, I took the Miata around the pits to do a little bit of “pre-sweating” of cheaters, and to pose the car with its Mazda racing brethren. Here it is flanked by the whiskey-still-equipped RX-7 and collapsed-barn find RX-2 of Team Sensory Assault.
The Miata hasn’t bloated much during the last couple of decades, as can be seen in this portrait of the ’13 parked next to the ’91 of Team Nucking Futs. The first-year Miata (in 1990) had a curb weight of 2,105 pounds; the 2013 manual-transmission version weighs 2,480 pounds. By the standards of Model Bloat, that’s impressive.
To be honest, I felt a little uncomfortable showing up at this track in a red Miata. The 24 Hours of LeMons Supreme Court has been hard on Texas Miatas over the years, destroying a couple in the (now discontinued) People’s Curse and generally making life difficult for the Spec Miata guys who attempt to bring their Texan brand of Mazda-bashing behavior to LeMons racing.
As it turned out, just about everybody who has anything to do with road racing— even those Mazda racers I’ve busted for cheaty-ass Racing Beat suspension parts at past races— loves the sight of a new Miata.
However, being around car freaks and racers makes one forget that the Miata has a much different image in the eyes of ordinary Americans, particularly those in edge-city suburban areas full of mouth-breathing Internet Tough Guys in Tapout shirts. Never mind that the Miata will obliterate 95% of testosterone-pumped cars in a real race— what matters is that the Miata falls somewhere on the machismo spectrum between fern bars and Hello Kitty when it comes to its image among non-car expert types.
Not that I’ve ever given much of a damn about that sort of thing, but the perceived manliness (or lack thereof) of this car became an issue while driving it on the rural highways south of Houston. Never in my life have I experienced so much hyper-aggressive tailgating, angry gestures, brake checks, and general highway assholery than in the three days of driving a red Miata with manufacturer plates on Texas roads. Did some joker put an Obama sticker on this thing? I wondered after my first white-knuckle drive to the track with one SUV grille after another looming in the rear-view. Apparently the sight of a little red sports car simply enrages Texas exurbanite males, in a way that all the rental Aveos and Corollas I’ve driven on the same roads never has.
This image problem reminds me of the one faced by certain dog owners. This is my dog, Jackson. He is 70 pounds of solid muscle, bred from a long line of water retrievers, fast, tough, and fearless (he’s also sort of a knucklehead, but we won’t go there).
Jackson is also a Standard Poodle, a breed that image-conscious American males cannot own if they feel even slightly insecure about their own masculinity. Decades of horrible haircutting jobs on no-doubt-mortified show poodles by those scary dog-show types (or, even worse, the mad-genetic-scientist abomination of the miniature poodle) have done to the breed’s image what decades of boring 24-year-old dental hygienists have done to the Miata’s image.
Which isn’t to say that driving the Miata Club for several days didn’t turn me gayer than Rob Halford right away. Fortunately, we had the Leather Daddy cap from the Macho Man penalty handy, so I could dress appropriately.
Now, if you’re going to go shopping for Tom of Finland prints in your Miata and it’s raining— as it was just about the entire time I had the car— you’re going to want a convertible top that doesn’t leak.
Soft-top convertibles almost always leak, at least a little bit, it’s a big hassle to raise and lower them, and they let in a lot of wind noise when the top is up. This is not the case with the ’13 Miata; it takes about four seconds and very little effort to operate the top by hand while sitting in the driver’s seat. It never leaked a drop, regardless of how wild the storms got, and the top remained unperturbed by high winds while cruising at 80 MPH.
The HVAC system is unusually powerful for a Japanese car (Detroit always wins in this category, because Detroit automakers test their climate-control systems in places like Death Valley and Bemidji). This came in handy when I got soaked by rain during the performance of my LeMons Supreme Court duties; the Miata’s heater was able to dry out socks fairly quickly (because the car’s engine was kept running for hours at a time during repeated sock-drying cycles, I was not able to get personally verified fuel-economy figures for it… but I did manage to avoid catching a case of Houston Jungle Rot).
The Miata Club is the sporty version, with six-speed transmission (the base Miata Sport makes do with five), 17″ wheels, and a bunch of snazzy trim bits. For this, you pay $26,705 MSRP instead of the Sport’s $23,720.
The engine in all the manual-transmission ’13 Miatas is the same 167-horse DOHC 2-liter unit, and if British Leyland had been able to come up with anything even half this good, we’d all still be driving MGBs. 167 horsepower feels like plenty of power in this car, though I did get my doors blown off in a drag race with the rental Malibu driven by the rest of the LeMons HQ crew.
The 4.10 rear-axle gear ratio and 0.79:1 sixth gear means that the Miata’s engine is spinning pretty frantically during highway cruising, and I’m assuming that’s one of the main reasons for the not-so-great-for-a-2,400-pound-car fuel economy (claimed 21 city/28 highway). Steeper gears would mean an intolerable reduction in fun, so the fuel-economy penalty is worth paying.
The climate and sound-system controls use simple knobs and buttons. Everything here makes sense, though I can’t help wishing (once again) that the science-fiction aesthetic of 1980s Japanese car interiors would make a comeback.
The Miata is reasonably civilized on rough pavement and long highway drives, a bit less punitive— but also a bit less grippy— than I found the FR-S to be. The word that always comes up in Miata reviews, stretching back to the era of Operation Desert Storm, is “fun,” and it remains impossible to avoid this word when writing about the MX-5. As 11,498 before me have also written, this car manages to combine the joys of an old-timey Italian or British open sports car with the ability to use the thing as totally functional daily transportation.
My quick-and-dirty gauge for judging the level of corner-cutting build-quality shortcuts is a glance under the hood at the electrical connectors. The MX-5 uses pretty decent ones, though one of these days I’ll need to get a press car while I’m not working at a LeMons race, so I can have the time to pull a door panel and look at the stuff that always fails first.
There was one mosquito-in-my-ear irritation that I’d have to remedy, were I to buy this car. See the oil-pressure gauge dead in the center of the instrument cluster, where your eyes are going to be drawn every time you glance down? It’s actually an idiot light, i.e. it registers an “everything is OK” reading when the pressure switch is happy. The “idiot gauge” is quite common these days, if disappointing in a car that’s likely to get thrashed on a race track at some point in its career (racers usually don’t notice gauges other than the tach in the heat of battle, anyway, which is why LeMons racers tend to install gigantic oil-pressure idiot lights), but what really drives me nuts about this one is that it’s not a binary OK/PANIC idiot gauge. No, it’s a ternary OK/OK/PANIC gauge, with engine speed determining which of two readings the gauge will display. So, if I buy a new Miata— which I’m now dangerously tempted to do— I’m going to pull out the gauge cluster, disassemble it, replace the offending gauge with the guts from a normal analog gauge, and add the appropriate sender. Otherwise, the sight of the ternary idiot gauge would offend my geek sensibilities every time I drove the car.
What else? The sound system doesn’t pack enough bass for those of us who appreciate 21st-century levels of boom, but the aftermarket can solve that problem easily enough. Other than the image problem and resulting disapproval from dudes with anxieties about their own Perceived Testicular Heft (henceforth referred to as PTH), the who-gives-a-damn fuel-economy penalty from the nervous rear gear, and a couple of minor annoyances so small I feel petty just mentioning them, this car has nothing but pluses. In fact, it’s the only car I’ve ever reviewed that I could see myself buying new (I felt that way about another Mazda… until I took it to the gas station), though I’d probably save the three grand and get the 5-speed Sport. Used 6-speed transmissions and 17″ wheels are readily available for reasonable prices, any time you feel the need to upgrade.
So, the MX-5 Miata Club is slower on the road course and at the dragstrip than is the similarly priced FR-S, but it’s easier to drive like a hoon and not die, Mazda has put decades of work into making it hold up to track abuse, the aftermarket will provide every imaginable performance upgrade for the next century, and it’s just an all-around better-balanced package. If you must have space for more groceries and/or can’t stand the idea of living with a convertible, the FR-S makes slightly more sense.

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68 Comments on “Review: 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club...”

  • avatar

    Too bad about the Houston area. It’s always a shame when negative stereotypes are reinforced. Reminds me of the Top Gear American road trip through parts of the south.

    Nice review though. You always have a fresh angle on a given car.

    • 0 avatar
      Don Mynack

      I think you might just be might too sensitive about the tailgating. I get tailgated here (Houston) constantly – half the time it’s some mom blabbering away on cell phone and not even noticing me. I think tailgating might be taught in driver’s ed here.

    • 0 avatar

      No that is just all of TX, was there three months ago after being gone a year. Tail gate like mad no matter what you are in. Trust me, I know. I got rear ended trying to make a protected left in Austin in the Pug. Pug 1 Tahoe 0. But then north Denver is no better, got rear ended there by a 60 year old preacher in a 09 Accordian while taking off for a just turned green.

      I think it is the me me hurry up now now me me thing and then Twitter. :P

      As far as the new MX-5. I have sat in one, and thought it was nice. But did not like being a passenger in it. I would rather drive the 1990 one I had that ride passenger in any Miata. Fit and finish is decidedly better than the 08 my Boss had.

  • avatar

    Very nice article. Too many Frank Bacons try to sound like hot shoe drivers when writing about the MX-5. Your article gets to the important bits, how is it as a lifestyle support vehicle.

    They’re still doing the idiot guage? Lame. Perhaps it’s a crafty undocumented feature so the car cannot be considered perfect.

    I do find the red with black trim to be quite handsome. Said in a completely straight, not wanting to be close to your tail way.

    • 0 avatar

      Same type of idiot gauge in Porsches too. The temperature gauge is made by GoldilocksCo. Cold/JustRight/Hot are the three temperature zones. Apparently, they got tired of guys bringing their cars in to be checked under warranty because the gauge reading fluctuated 5-10 degrees.

  • avatar

    Hi. I enjoy your writing,a little nuts, always insightful. I too, drive a “chick car” as a daily driver. ‘ 97 vintage, 100 miles per day, and it always puts a goofy grin on my face. 260K not a problem to speak of. I’d buy another in a heartbeat!

  • avatar

    I get some of those pricks in pickups & 4x4s bearing down on me in my RX-7 all the time too. Oh, the South.

    Anyway, my (better driver than me) mom is looking to buy a new car this year and her main requirement is “red convertible”. I keep trying to steer her towards this one (well, the five speed). We’ll see how it goes.

    • 0 avatar

      get this a lot (and oddly enough soccer Grandma’s and young girls on mobiles driving suburbans and SUV’s.) fixed it for the most part by getting the brightest headlights on the market, adjusting my mirrors to face strait back, and angled my low beams as high as I could get them without blinding regular cars.

      I adjusted my rear views so I can barely see the body of my car when I move my head toward the mirror a little, then anyone in a large vehicle tends to get blinded by their own headlights if they are within 10-15 feet of my rear bumper. Discovered this by accident one day just because this is the proper adjustment for my height and, well, it very effectively happened.

      second, when I have one of those annoying “I’m gonna go 60 in the left hand lane in a 75 and theirs nothing you can do to get around me because I am keeping pace with the only other car on the road” people. I sigh and shake my head then:
      I politely flash my brights twice to indicate my desire to pass, followed by them looking around trying to figure out where that light came from and shortly thereafter wondering what I am doing. After 10 seconds, I turn my brights on and leave them on. They then move over to the far left of the lane to keep my brights out of their drivers side rear view followed by a movement into the left lane to keep my brights out of their passenger side rear view.

      works, though I have not had to do this for the last six months. seems 85 is the new 60.

      now if I can only find a polite way to deal with the drivers in TX that have started driving with their brights on constantly. I believe they are LA plates but I’m always too snow blind by they time they pass me to tell.

  • avatar

    Such a great car, I’m also dangerously close to buying one after I finish some house projects.
    On an amazing trip to Germany this summer, I had the chance to drive and/or ride in a ’92 500E, ’92 500SL, 930 911 Carrera 2, and took a 996 911 X50 Turbo on the nurburgring.

    We went out to dinner one night in a bright red 5-spd NC MX-5, maybe 20km through winding 100km/h country roads on a warm, sunny evening. That car put a smile on my face that none of the others could, easily overshadowing the ring lap, and had me grinning for hours. Given that aftermarket parts are so cheap and abundant, the car is reliable and easy to work on, I can’t think of a better “fun” car to own.

  • avatar

    What would it take for Mazda to make a MX-5 coupe (and not some limited edition, not for the U.S. edition)? I mean, even Porsche makes a Boxster coupe (aka Cayman.) I guess the next MX-5 and RX-7 are supposed to share a platform, so that might move us a little closer to something like that.

    • 0 avatar

      If Mazda made a Miata with a hard top and a hatch large enough to squeeze in a partly disassembled bicycle, they would immediately open up their market to the vast regions of non-convertible climates AND make the FRS completely irrelevant.

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        Why not the power hardtop Miata? It doesn’t compromise trunk space, so what’s the point of building a hardtop as well?

      • 0 avatar

        I think the PRHT is still a little short on trunk space even with the top up. Something along the lines of the Z3 coupe would be cool.

        I think we all realize that this will not happen. Mazda needs to partner with Fiat just to continue the miata; so they probably aren’t planning low-volume miata spin offs with their available resources.

      • 0 avatar

        There are many buyers who just don’t want a convertible of any kind, but who would appreciate a fun, reliable RWD car with some semblance of daily utility (and the lightness and lower insurance rates of a hard top hatch).

      • 0 avatar

        A non-convertible would also be a good bit cheaper than the PRHT. I would consider one for a weekend toy if it existed.

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        @burgersandbeer, the “even with the top up” part is irrelevant. The hard top has its own compartment separate from the trunk. It’s the same compartment the soft top goes into on the soft top models. It’s a nice design.

        But I guess I can see that in a Miata Cayman, the trunk could be be bigger because it would include the space that either top would use. But in general, the Miata is a pretty space efficient car and I don’t think you’d get as much extra trunk space as you are expecting from the Cayman treatment.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m not sure I’d call that a miata. It sounds more like an RX-8. Of course the RX-8 has the issue that the wenkel engine is completely impractical in terms of fuel efficiency/city driving dynamics. It’s probably sacrilegious, but taking the RX-8’s body (with some styling updates) and throwing in a turboed I4 (which admittedly will add about 100 pounds to the engine/disrupt the weight balance) would still result in a pretty fun car, with great fuel economy/emissions.

    • 0 avatar

      They won’t, because it wouldn’t be an MX-5. It would be something else. The Miata was conceived from the beginning to be a convertible. It is part of what makes a Miata a Miata. If you want a Miata coupe, you don’t want a Miata. You want a RWD 4cyl coupe. Yes, I am well aware many people throw a hardtop on the Miata and never use the vert. Many people also put plastic ballsacks on trucks. I don’t know why people are obsessed with trying to make a car something it is not.

    • 0 avatar

      Every time I look at 3 GT I wonder what it would take to graft the roof from the B pillars back and the body from the Cs back onto a Miata.

      Think a lower priced, more reliable, Clown Shoe.

  • avatar

    The only argument against a new NC is a used NC. Since they’ve been out since ’06 (’07 if you don’t want to buy a first year), there are some great deals.

  • avatar
    Japanese Buick

    As the owner of a ’12 model (with the hardtop) I agree with most of this review. One thing that was touched on that needs further discussion is how woefully behind the timed the a/v tech is. The Bose stereo is awful. The satellite receiver doesn’t display ANY info beyond station number. The Bluetooth phone is only available on the highest end models and no BT music streaming is available at any price point (a problem I solved with this: plugged into the AUX jack). Yeah I know aftermarket can fix that but I really don’t want to do surgery on the dash of a new car. However I put up with those flaws because, well, the review explains it.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      IMHO a stereo and a bluetooth phone are just background noises :)

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        As the owner of a Z3 roadster, I was going to say: you don’t buy cars like this for the stereo! The only time you’re going to hear it is when you’re stuck in traffic . . . and this is not a “stuck in traffic” kind of car.

    • 0 avatar

      This car, like most in the class, don’t have those modern day amenities. If you really need it you can add it after the fact like the sound deadening that went a long way in my Saturn Sky.

      • 0 avatar
        el scotto

        Uh, no the Miata and the Z3/4 come with stereos. The Sky/Solstice were another example of GM being clueless. Whadda ya mean people want to drive with the top down and use the trunk at the same time? If they had sound deadening most owners would tear it out at the first opportunity.

    • 0 avatar

      I have the 2007 model with Satellite. I can’t believe they haven’t upgraded the display on the radio yet. FYI if you want more info about the station/artist/song, press down on the second switch from the left. I actually let Sirius relapse because it’s gotten so bad/vanilla since the merger and I’m not driving as much. With my radio you can pick between sat and an accessory, and I may switch to an iPhone controller or aux-in. I happen to think the sound quality of the base radio was decent in 2007. Try putting a CD in.

      As far as the car goes–100,000 miles and just a few problems. Need a thermostat, having an issue with the VVT at startup, had a battery blow up and another one that’s acting a little weird. Overall though I’d rate the ownership experience as excellent. Still puts a smile on my face. Wish it was a bit younger, but I plan on keeping it for a long time (at least until the ND is in its second year.) I prefer it to the RX-8 because of the good gas mileage.

  • avatar

    My British and Italian convertibles are eminently daily-driverable – they are now old enough that the assembly defects from the initial production have all been fixed! The Italian one has a top that is just as good as the Miatas too. The British one, well, that top just stays down – it’s for emergencies only. I do like Miatas though, I would probably own one if I could fit in it.

    We really should just let Texas secceed. Spent three miserable weeks in Dallas and Ft. Worth this past summer, I see no reason at all to go back.

  • avatar

    Not limited to Texas, I’m afraid. I had a red 1990 and parked it in the Yankee Stadium garage for a game a few years back. Local radio station Z-100 was handing out bumper stickers that night.

    When I returned to my car after covering the game (radio reporter), I found some of those bumper stickers stuck to the trunk lid of my car outlining the letters “FAG.” It’s a testament to Mazda paint that they peeled off with no damage.

    I’m not gay, but I have noticed that the gay community seems to have a collective good taste in cars. And the morons who did this? They clearly don’t have good taste in anything.

    • 0 avatar

      As a gay man I can say I don’t care much for the miata…although I have automatic disqualification because II am ssearch of another 88 Fiero GT to call my own. I cansay as a community but a majority of my friends have migrated from miata to chrysler 200, a4 cabrios or vw Jettas as the accessory of choice. If it were my money, I’d be more tempted to see if Alfa Romeo comes to states or say screw it and buy a mustang

  • avatar

    Love those Murilee reviews; they are a huge escape from the usual dreck. I always think that manufacturers deserve credit just for giving you a car.

    I’m surprised the Miata got so much negative attention on the road, even in Texas.

    • 0 avatar

      People have huge predjudices wherever you go. When I lived in crowded neighborhood in Toronto, a guy who lived accross the street was giving me crap for driving a “big stupid insecurity device”, a 4×4 Suburban in the city.

      I suspect a lot of commenters on this site would be thinking the same thing. It goes both ways.

  • avatar

    What I don’t understand is why, with the 6 speed, don’t they make five fun forward gears and then have a 6th highway cruising with a big over drive ratio.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a car like that a long time ago – some sort of British Leyland badge-engineered hack job, I don’t even remember what it was called (Austin Princess, maybe). Three low forward speeds, a huge gap, and a tall fourth. You had to spin up to about 45mph in third, and then shove it into 4th, which made the car lurch and feel like it was going to stall.

      Once you were in 4th, you could pretty much forget about accelerating, it built up speed with all the urgency of an asthmatic slug. If you needed to pass a milk truck or something on the motorway, downshifting to 3rd was another leap across the chasm.

      At some point, I ended up spinning it into a hedgerow near Lakenheath, and the owner of the car wasn’t too upset to be rid of it.

  • avatar


    I guess I would like a little advice as to why this car, or any cheep(er) sports car as compared to a small hatch…such as the Mazda3?
    I have never driven this little car but seem drawn to it. Except I need a little room for stuff.
    You advise the FR-S IF room for some stuff is required. I just don’t like its dumb fastback look. Its like saying its fast…but isn’t. Looks like a Honda with a fart pipe car for racer dreamers…

    Is this sports car faster and more fun than a Mazda3 or Focus…or any more fun to drive small hatch?

    • 0 avatar

      I daily-drove a Miata for years. Winter and summer (I live in Canada)

      If you go into it saying “I don’t ever need room for anything but my spectacles, testicles, watch and wallet,” then you can always make a Miata work, even when you DO need to load it down.

      But if you go into it with one eye on a Mazda3 or Focus, a Miata is probably not for you. The Miata is small enough that a bulky winter coat presents a storage problem.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      Full disclosure I’m a Miata fanboy. Scads more fun to drive than a Mazda 3 or a Focus; I dunno about a smoking, whaling, tire spinning drag race between the three of them. Stuff? If it’s your DD/commuting beast how much stuff do you take to work and need room for? 50$ worth of groceries in the trunk? Yes. A 100$ worth of groceries? Not so much. Splurge on a used one; if it doesn’t work sell it. Easily.

      • 0 avatar
        Japanese Buick

        The key to loading a Miata is to realize that the passenger seat is an extension of the cargo area. Assuming you’ll be by yourself when you make those grocery/Home Depot/etc runs, of course.

    • 0 avatar

      The FRS can get to 60 in about 7 seconds – back in the day there were blown v8s with traction bars straining for that dream. The idea of speed has shifted.

  • avatar

    I had a guy in a jacked up pickup screaming at me and my “little faggot car” (a Fiat 500c) the other day. And this is in Santa Monica. I like the slogan Fiat is using now, and it works for Miatas too. “Compensating for a large penis”

    • 0 avatar

      Too funny. I had a white on black first gen Miata that I loved. Now my wife has a caribbean blue on beige 2001 that I love to drive, and around here, attracts more than a few jacked-up pick-up tail gaters. Makes me laugh. The Miata is such a fantastic car.

  • avatar

    You devoted less words to describing how the car rode and how the steering felt than you did to your poodle. When you’re writing a car review, I don’t care about your poodle (even though I have a Shiba and a mutt), I do care about how the car felt.

    How well is it damped? Does it feel like the rebound was jacked up, as most OE manufacturers do on the “Sport” suspensions, or does it feel well-controlled without the typical harshness? If it hits a bump mid-corner, does it pogo or unsettle the car?

    Can I trim the car with the throttle? Does the steering communicate properly or does it lacking some feel? Does the Sport suspension reduce roll noticeably?

    Am I asking too much?

    • 0 avatar

      Yes…You are.

      There have been hundreds of articles written over the past 20 years about this car. This isn’t one of those articles. Try google if you want to get the lowdown….it really works well.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    The word “iconic” is overused, but this car deserves the label. Let’s recall that in the distant past (e.g. the 1960s and before) Japanese manufacturers were dismissed incapable of anything original and having a talent limited to making cheap (and often inferior) copies of existing products, usually made in Germany or the United States.

    The first generation Miata did, indeed, look like a Japanese copy of an early 1970s Lotus Elan (both of which had disappearing headlights). But, it was hardly an inferior car. Mazda distilled the best elements of the classic British roadster of the 1960s — light weight, nimbleness, an intimate cockpit — added reliability that the originals never had and updated it to the 1990s with a fuel-injected, DOHC engine, decent brakes, an IRS that wouldn’t spin you into the weeds if you lost your nerve in a corner and better all ’round fit and finish.

    To Mazda’s great credit, it has adhered to the original concept and not succumbed to the size, power and price bloat which has infected so many other sports cars (we’re looking at you, Porsche). In the day, no one ever dreamed that any “sports car” would seriously challenge a Detroit muscle car to a drag race . . . but today we have “sports cars” that achieve insane levels of delta-vee, even by the standards of 1960s muscle cars. The element of the original “sports cars” was the twisting two-lane, in which the sports car would leave the muscle car in a ditch after the first or second hard corner, when the muscle car’s brakes were overheated and its driver tried to make the turn going fast.

    I have to say, Murilee, necessity is what it is, but Houston is the last place to appreciate the virtues of the Miata, given that the place is flat as your dining room table and all of the roads are laid out on a grid in straight lines, perpendicular to each other. The only curves you’re likely to have taken at faster than a walk are freeway on and off-ramps.

    You should have snuk away to the Texas Hill Country west of Austin . . . that would have been fun, in every respect.

  • avatar

    Dope review, Murliee!

    • 0 avatar

      I second that! Murilee’s comments are right on the money.

      I also know first-hand what a great fun car the current-generation NC Miata is. My 2008 Touring soft-top started out as a daily driver on a 2-year lease, but I loved it so much that I bought it post-lease. It’s still around as my weekend / autocross / occasional track day ride, and expect it to for many more years to come…

  • avatar

    MM this is a fantastic review. My brother usually borrows my car when he needs one, and in his first few weeks of driving, he said to me in a fairly upset tone “people don’t respect this car”. It wasn’t just the “chick car” slurs his friends tossed at it, but the fact that people didn’t let him in while changing lanes, cut him off, tailgated etc. I’ve noticed it too, nowhere near as bad as you mention, but it’s an unfortunate fact of Miata ownership.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny, I can’t say I notice this. Maybe it’s because I live in Montreal, and no one lets anyone change lanes regardless of what they’re driving. Or maybe it’s my youngish age, slightly dropped suspension and the fact that I’m usually revving above 4,000 RPM that put me into the “idiot tuner” classification and people are afraid of the next stupid move I might make.

  • avatar
    bobby b

    “Did some joker put an Obama sticker on this thing? I wondered after my first white-knuckle drive to the track with one SUV grille after another looming in the rear-view.”
    – – –

    The thought that passed through the mind of several SUV drivers down in Texas that day:

    “Nice little car, but why can’t this da-mass drive faster?”

  • avatar

    Too bad the Asians can’t do this with their sedans eh? Distill old world charm & drive-ability into a modern, reliable wonder. Kudoos to Mazda.

  • avatar

    I always find it funny that my red manual steering, hand crank windows, manual top, manual transmission, no upholders, and equipped with a suspension that will let me make my passenger sick on the right road 90 Miata is a “chick car” while a heated leather seat Dodge truck with an automatic transmission and a heated cupholder to keep your starbuck’s latte warm is what a real man drives. I have no beef with big trucks as my other ride is a BOF 4×4, but many a Miata is out getting thrashed at a track on any given weekend while those same trucks are busy making beer runs to watch NASCAR races on TV.

  • avatar

    Is the 6 speed any good on these? I had a Mazdaspeed MX5 equipped with a 6 speed and it was the same story…more of a close ratio option than a highway overdrive. Add to that the gears not being particularly well matched to the turbocharged motor and the fact that it just didn’t feel as good as the 5 speed in my 90 and there is a reason I still have the 90 and the Mazdaspeed is long gone. I’d love to have that motor and the Torsen LSD in my 90 though, that would be the perfect Miata. With the intake opened up on the Mazdaspeed though and the suspension that thing had though it was a blast. I didn’t know the NC was so close on weight either. Most of the hard core first gen Miata guys se the NC as a bit of a pig…seems to be more bias than fact in this case especially given how much roomier the cabin of the NC looks.

  • avatar

    I don’t get the “24 year old dental hygienist” comment; my wife started driving her NA at age 40 and has been the youngest person I see driving a Miata of any kind. Mostly they seem to be men with beards in their 50’s or women of the same age. I guess these people know a good car!

  • avatar

    Never has a real race car had such an unfortunate chick car stigma as the Miata.

    Which is unfortunate, since it’s real fun around a track.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    “Did some joker put an Obama sticker on this thing?”

    Hehe, Houston (and Dallas, and Austin, and San Antonio, and southern Texas) went to Obama.

    Sorry the natives didn’t respect that speck-o-car you had there.

  • avatar

    I completely agree with the description of how people treat you in a red Miata. I’ve had three, two blue and one red. I’ve never experienced worse behavior among other drivers than with the red Miata.

  • avatar
    Flying Dutchman

    I live in Houston, and since 2011 I owe a 2008 MX-5. I bought the car pre-owned because I liked the color (a rare ice blue), otherwise I would probably have opted for a five or six speed manual. Having said that, the six speed auto is easy to get used to – it is extremely responsive.

    I have not experienced much tailgating here in Houston, but then I am new to TX. Just bad driving, but nothing abusive. The car is very popular with my female colleagues (or is it me?), but quite frankly I don’t give much about whether the car’s image is girly, curly, gay or straight.

    This car is for people who like responsive driving and do not want to invest a fortunate. I use it for commuting and for the odd long distance (solo) traveling trip; for weekend trips with two persons I think the limited size of the boot is a challenge. The seats are excellent, also on long trips. I am 6′ 1″ (1.85 cm), which is probably the limit: the cockpit will probably be a squeeze for taller drivers.

    I am puzzled by the 22-28 mpg factory mileage ratings: for commuting I get about 27-29 mpg, on long distances I easily do 30+ mpg.

    Sounds system is OK, though I do switch it off when I am on the highway or doing speed: I like to drive the car topless (I only put up the top when it is raining), so no need for additional background noise. And as mentioned before, for enjoying this car you don’t need a sound system.

    If there is one word of caution then it is the wheels/tires. I have a high spec MX-5, with hard suspension setting and low profile tires. The roads in Houston are absolutely punishing, with put holes in concrete roads that have not seen any maintenance for the last 40 years. I recently had to replace two alloy rims because they were dented – must have hit a put hole. But I guess this is not MX-5 specific: could happen to any car with low-profile tires on alloy wheels.

    My next car will probably be a MX-5. Though I think I will be opting for a manual, and wait until 2014 for the new sub 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs) edition.

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