Sports cars come and (usually) go.
Not because they aren’t appealing or even because they’re impractical. Historically, they mostly have left the stage shortly after they took a bow because they cost too much or weren’t that reliable, or some combination of both.
However fun a car may be, it’s no fun if the thing’s so expensive you can’t afford to drive it — or if it’s in the shop half as often as it’s on the road.
Mazda’s Miata has never suffered from either problem, and that’s at least part of the reason why it’s still in the showroom for going on 35 years now.
What It Is
Everyone knows the Miata — probably because it seems as though everyone has one or knows someone who has one. Everyone sees them because Mazda has made more than a million of them since 1989.
That’s a huge number for a sports car.
To put it into perspective, Toyota only sold about 28,000 MR2 Spyders (soft-tops), which were only sold for a few years back in the early 2000s. Pontiac (RIP) did a little better, finding 64,000 buyers for its Solstice roadster, which isn’t made anymore either.
Leaving the Miata, which as of now has no direct rivals because there isn’t another two-seat roadster on the market for anything close to $28,050 (the base price of a brand-new Miata Sport) equipped with all the essentials.
Most particularly, a six-speed manual transmission.
A Club trim, which gets firmer suspension calibrations, a limited-slip rear differential, shock tower bracing, more aggressive (17-inch) wheels and a number of luxury upgrades, including heated seats, gray contrast interior stitching and a nine-speaker Bose premium audio system, stickers for $31,550.
The Club can also be ordered with a Recaro sport seat/Brembo brake/BBS wheel package.
A top-of-the-line Grand Touring model with leather upholstery, automatic climate control and adaptive headlights, and all of the Club’s performance enhancements, lists for $33,050 with the standard six-speed manual transmission.
What’s New for 2023
No major changes to the Miata this year other than the availability of a new exterior color, Zircon Sand, and a new Terracotta Napa leather option for the Grand Touring.
Fun you can afford to drive.
Reliable, so you can drive it every day.
Retro in that it’s brand-new but largely free of new-car annoyances such as engine stop-start “technology.” It even still has a manual pull-up emergency brake. Analog gauges, too.
What’s Not So Good
It’s not for you if you like to drink coffee while you drive.
Soft-top offers an easy way in — for thieves.
Glove box is hard to reach and doesn’t hold much.
Under The Hood
All Miatas are powered by the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which is not hidden under a generic plastic cover because it is something worth looking at.
It makes 181 horsepower at 7,000 RPM and 151 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 RPM.
By the numbers, it’s not as powerful an engine as the new (larger, this year) 2.4-liter, 228-horsepower engine that comes standard in the just-updated 2023 Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ twins. But the Miata makes up for that by being a much lighter car than either of those two.
It weighs just 2,341 pounds vs. 2,811 pounds for the GR86/BRZ twins — a difference of 470 pounds.
This explains why there’s very little difference between the Miata’s zero to 60 time (5.6 seconds) and the twins’ (5.4 seconds). It’s a difference you cannot tell without a stopwatch.
There is one very noticeable difference, however.
The Miata drinks much less gas. With the standard manual six-speed transmission, the flyweight Miata rates 25 mpg city, 34 mpg highway vs. a startlingly consumptive 20 mpg city, 27 mpg highway for the BRZ and GR86.
On The Road
To drive a Miata is to remember what it is like to drive.
You must rev the engine to extract its power — to 7,000 RPM if you want all the power it makes. And you must shift. That may sound like work, but rest assured, it is fun. The Miata’s shift-action is part of what makes it so, and that you control it. And then there is the engine itself, which loves to be revved.
Some engines sound unhappy when pressed. The Miata’s sounds ecstatic. Other sounds accompany you as you enjoy driving this car, none of them artificial. Mechanical sounds — the engine, the gearbox, the exhaust.
It involves you in an experience of movement that is as close to riding a motorcycle as you’ll find on four wheels.
At The Curb
The Miata is, of course, a small car. It’s part of the point of the thing.
It’s surprising, in fact, how much bigger cars like the Toyota GR86 and Soobie BRZ are, relative to the Miata they try to emulate. The former two are 167.9 inches long vs. 154.1 inches for the Miata. That is a difference of nearly a foot in length, which is no small thing for cars this size.
And yet, the room inside — at least up front — is about the same.
The Miata actually has more front-seat legroom (43.1 inches) than the twins (41.5 inches) and slightly more headroom for the driver and front-seat passenger (37.4 inches vs. 37 inches for the twins).
But the twins do have something the Miata doesn’t: back seats and, hypothetically, the ability to carry more than one passenger.
One of the few things not to like about this car is the hard-to-reach (and hard to find) 12-volt power point, which is secreted on the passenger side footwell in a place that is impossible for the driver to see (or reach) without stopping, getting out and moving over to the passenger side to find it. But at least it is still there, and that matters a lot because most radar detectors plug into 12-volt sockets, not USB ports.
And driving a Miata without a radar detector is kind of like taking your sister to the prom.
The Bottom Line
Res ipsa loquitur, as they say in Latin, which means: It speaks for itself.
For going on 35 years now.
Eric’s latest book, “Doomed: Good Cars Gone Wrong!” will be available soon. To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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