Mazda’s MX-5 Miata –
BUILD YOUR OWN*
*While, of course, you still can…
If you read the reporting and listen to the pundits, an electrified future is closer than an Ivanka Trump or Chelsea Clinton presidency. While still holding less than 4% of this country’s new car market, the EV – whether battery-only, plug-in hybrid or conventional hybrid – is the hot topic among the automotive media, the political class and mainstream journalism. And even among motorheads, the topic is compelling; it’s a sea change, if you will, now that we’re fully into the industry’s second century of mass production and consumption.
All of this reporting, talk and pontification of electrification brings me back to ‘electrifying’, the machines that recharge your batteries, not theirs. And few bring more juice in a tight, compact package than Mazda’s MX-5 Miata, a small, minimalist roadster evoking a simpler, more elemental time. And given that it’s simple, and remains powered by a conventional – and not incidentally, hugely entertaining – powertrain, its days are probably numbered. In short, there’s a lot to like here, and if you like it also, perhaps you should get off your ass and buy one.
The MX-5 (its official moniker) Miata – which is what most of us still call it – hasn’t changed much since its intro for the 1990 model year. Now in its fourth iteration, the 2-door convertible was all-new for the 2016 model year, and has remained relatively untouched in its subsequent five years. Horsepower has gotten a bump, now sitting at 181 (at a bike-like 7,000 rpm) and boasting 151 lb-ft of torque. I’d still hope for 2.0 normally-aspirated liters delivering 200 horsepower, but then, you know what they say about hope. When propelling its 2345 pounds, which is but 150 more than the car weighed at its 1990 debut, those 181 horses are all you need to affix a smile permanently to your modest mug.
Unlike the previous three generations, all of which recalled the Lotus Elan in their sheetmetal (if not in their overall dimensions), this 4th-gen is defined by a more original profile and aggressively shaped compound curves. It’s a look easy to like, although I still find the MX-5’s track too narrow and its ride height too high. Both issues can be fixed in the aftermarket, and if buying one I’d budget around $2,500 to do just that.
Inside, Mazda draws a cabin absolutely perfect for two average adults, if – of course – you’re using a non-American template. This ain’t the footprint for the McDonald’s drive-thru; park you car and walk, as you’ll need the steps. The interior width seems, from this 5’6” perspective, the most confining, although if I was taller (IF) I might also have issues with headroom. But you see some big guys enjoying their Miatas…presumably, they send their billfolds ahead…or keep ‘em in the trunk.
I’ve considered a Miata purchase any number of times, although really didn’t have the perceived need until recently. Then, in the spring of 2019, I pivoted to a used 911, thinking it would be a car – with its 2+2 configuration – I could enjoy with both my then 6-year old grandson and slightly older wife. The grandson has bought in, but my wife still likes her Grand Cherokee a lot – and the 911 considerably less. So for solo touring I could have bought the new Miata for roughly $20K less than the ’08 Porsche, or if buying an ’08 Miata, roughly $40K less. That $40K difference, notably, would have also secured a new Grand Cherokee!
If I were shopping today, the mid-level Club trim supplies a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein dampers, a limited-slip differential and front shock tower brace. And I’d hope, in what is probably the last model to feature this simplistic spec, Mazda might pay tribute to the great sports cars of the past. Whether recreating the almost brutish persona of a competition MGB, or recalling the lithe silhouette of Italy’s Siata, both could be done within the Miata’s envelope. Find a wheel/tire combo (steelies? wires?) that provides more sidewall, and a ride height which brings the Miata closer to the ground. Strip the interior to the barest essentials, select a color palette speaking to the ‘50s and ‘60s, give it a real 200 hp and sell it for under $30K. And then watch the order books fill!
Mazda could do it, we – meaning traditional enthusiasts and the many young attendees at any Cars ‘n Coffee – could buy it, and the world would be a happier place…in the shadow of an electrified future.