2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand TouringPosted on September 3rd, 2014
Sports car for the real world
By Nina Russin
The Mazda Miata is not a particularly practical car for buyers with active lifestyles. It’s very small, even for a two-seater and has a cargo area that on a good day will hold a dachshund. Visibility in dense traffic is atrocious, not because of the car itself but rather the fact that every other vehicle on the road is taller. Although fuel economy is quite good, the fuel tank is rather small so driving range isn’t great.
Despite that, I doubt any athlete who gets behind the wheel of a Miata will have a bad word to say about it. Why? Because the Miata is one of the most athletic cars on the market, and also one of the most affordable true sports cars. With its peppy two-liter engine and close-ratio six-speed manual gearbox, the Miata is stupidly fun to drive. It is the Paul Tergat of the automotive world.
When Mazda chief designer, Tom Matano, and his team developed the original MX-5 a quarter century ago, their inspiration was the classic British sports cars of the 1960s. The Miata was to capture the spirit of those cars but in a more affordable and dare I say more reliable package. They nailed it.
Although the audience for MGBs and Triumph Spitfires has waned a bit in the ensuing years, enthusiasm for the Miata has not. As long as there are people who love to drive, there will be those who have a passion for the Miata.
True to its heritage
Over the years, Mazda product planners have refined the original formula for the MX-5, but they did not reinvent the wheel. Because of that, the Miata is a modern classic, with one of the biggest enthusiast communities on the planet.
Mazda has produced close to 900,000 Miatas since the car’s introduction. The Miata has become a staple of the SCCA club racer, and despite its small size, is streetable enough to function as its owner’s only car.
The 2014 model is basically a carry-over from the refreshed 2013 car. The two-liter engine develops 167 horsepower and 140 foot-pounds of torque: plenty for a car with a curb weight under 2500 pounds. The clutch has a light enough pedal that driving in traffic is not much of an issue. The short-throw shift lever is delightfully crisp.
The engine is mounted midship to give the car a front-to-rear weight balance that is close to 50/50. A four-wheel independent suspension consists of a compact double wishbone setup in front and multilink in back. A standard strut tower brace keeps the chassis rigid in the corners.
Upscale grades such as the Grand Touring model tested are available with a retractable hardtop in lieu of the soft top.
Base price for the Grand Touring model is $29,450 excluding the $795 delivery charge. Options on the test car include a limited slip rear differential, xenon headlamps and satellite radio, bringing the final MSRP to $32,285.
Test drive in Arizona
For my 150-mile test drive, I split the time between stop-and-go traffic on area freeways and the Bush Highway: a two-lane rural road northeast of Phoenix. On the roads around town, the MX-5 was a peppy, capable performer. The biggest problem in traffic is forward visibility because of the car’s low stance. I was rarely able to see a traffic light, so I waited until the car in front of me started moving.
Because the Miata is a small car in a big car world, maneuverability is critical. Fortunately, steering feedback is exceptionally good, making it easy for a driver to do a quick lane change if he needs to get away from an inattentive driver.
The high-revving engine and exhaust have rather loud notes, but that is as a sports car should be. Ditto for the wheels and tires.
The suspension is extremely well engineered: firm enough to keep the chassis flat but not at all uncomfortable for the driver and passenger. Four-wheel disc brakes stop the Miata in firm, linear fashion.
On the two-lane Bush Highway, the Miata’s performance was absolutely magic. I can’t think of a better choice for a winding, two-lane thoroughfare. While many sports cars are fun to drive fast, the Miata is fun to drive at any speed. Even at 40 miles-per-hour, it’s possible to wind up the engine and prance through the corners.
With the outside temperature a balmy 110 degrees, I was unable to put the top down which was a shame because I’m sure the open-air experience is even better than with the top in place. Having said that, visibility to the sides was surprisingly good. I had no problems monitoring traffic in adjacent lanes on the highway.
The Miata interior harkens back to the classic sports cars. Designers were smart to keep flourishes to a minimum, given the limited space. A three-spoke steering wheel and bolstered seats are both functional and attractive. A digital radio display is rather hard to read in bright sunlight, but it wouldn’t prevent me from purchasing the car.
A locking storage bin between the seats secures valuables. The trunk is extremely small. It will hold some groceries and a couple of small duffel bags, but not much more.
The Mazda Miata comes with front and side airbags, antilock brakes, stability control and tire pressure monitoring.
Mazda produces the MX-5 Miata at its Hiroshima, Japan assembly plant.
Like: A true sports car with near perfect front-to-rear weight balance, a peppy engine and delightfully crisp manual transmission.
Dislike: Lack of trunk space.
Model: MX-5 Miata Grand Touring
Base price: $29,450
As tested: $32,285
Horsepower: 167 Hp @ 7000 rpm
Torque: 140 lbs.-ft. @ 5000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 21/28 mpg city/highway
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