Million-seller Going Strong
Twenty-five years ago, I piloted my first Mazda Miata sports car–and fell for it immediately. I grew up riding in my father’s Austin-Healey roadster, so cruising in a little open-top two-seater brought back happy memories.
The Miata, now known as the MX-5, was designed to include the driver as a participant, not to isolate him or her from the experience. Twenty-eight years down the road, Mazda still sells a little sports car that’s much like the original, although the inaugural model’s simplicity and technology have moved forward with each generation.
I first tested one of the latest generation cars nearly two years ago. With its sharply defined “Kodo” styling, it looked meaner than the sweet little original, but in truth, it’s not much different in size or proportions.
The Latest Model
I’ve just had a turn with the new-for 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF model, which features a power folding hardtop, the only one in a car in this price range. Press a button and, in 13 seconds, a rear panel lifts, the top rises and drops in, and the panel covers it. Despite this magic, there’s still a little trunk space!
If you want nothing but sky above the tops of the door panels, opt for the traditional cloth top, because the RF (Retractable Fastback) retains its side pillars. And even though the original cloth top folds down easily—from the driver’s seat—the totally automatic experience of the RF is easy to get used to.
The interior of the latest MX-5 evokes the general proportions of the original Miata, but today’s car designs are much more complex. My car’s black interior was businesslike, not cute, with the tachometer in the center of the three-gauge instrument panel and everything arrayed where a driver would want to find it. Naturally, there’s a center screen, permanently popped up on the dash, so you can have the electronic display for navigation, entertainment and vehicle configuration that we expect these days.
The Power Below
Today’s MX-5 uses a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder that puts out 155 horsepower and 148 pounds-feet of torque, which is fine for a 2,300-pound little car. The original, if I’m not mistaken, had 115 horsepower, but likely weighed short of a ton. The experience remains immediate and accessible, though, and open air above you makes everything feel more exciting.
Part of the charm of an MX-5/Miata is in shifting your own gears with the available manual six-speed. However, my test car came with the automatic. I understand that many buyers today don’t even know how to drive a manual, and I can’t complain about this automatic, but if I were signing the paperwork, I’d order the famously exquisite do-it-yourself lever.
Numbers are good, partly because of Mazda’s Skyactiv program. In brief, this is the company’s way of honing every aspect of their cars to perfection. This means removing extra weight—a gram at a time—and making changes to the mechanical pieces that promote efficiency. This new car gets 26 city/35 highway/29 combined per the EPA. I averaged 31.3 mpg myself. That’d definitely better than the old cars. Green scores are 6 for Smog and 7 for Greenhouse Gas, likely because of the small scale of the car—and those Skyactiv efficiencies.
Pick from three models—Sport, Club, and Grand Touring. The Sport is closest to the original, with cloth seats, 16-inch alloy wheels and fewer gizmos. The Grand Touring
adds leather seats and much more. There is a special Launch Edition of the RF, limited to 1,000, that includes the Machine Gray Metallic paint that’s was optional on my test car ($300), Auburn Nappa leather seats and a hand-painted black top.
My car came to $34,960, with the optional paint. The Sport with cloth top and manual transmission starts at $25,750. Both prices include shipping. Considering that the 1992 model I tested was priced at about $15,000, the car remains remarkably affordable.
Although climbing in and out of a low little sports car is more of a challenge now than it was 25 years ago, the little thing makes an efficient commuter. With the hard top in place, wind and road noise are reduced, so it’s quieter on the freeway. Of course, you’ll be looking out at the alloy wheels of the SUVs in the next lane, but with modern tech like blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and lane departure warning, not to mention various airbags, you’re likely to get to your destination in one piece.
Of course, taking your car out on a sunny weekend remains where the 2017 Mazda MX-5 RF continues to shine brightly. At this price, you could tuck a basic Sport model in your garage for entertainment purposes only (and commute in an electric car during the week).
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