Sports cars come – and (usually) go.
Not because they aren’t appealing – or even because they’re impractical. Mostly – historically – they 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 much fun a car may be, it’s not much 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.
Fix it Again, Tony!
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 34 years now.
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.
Going back farther, there were MGs and Alfas and Triumphs, too. All lots of fun. None of them stuck around for long.
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.
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 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.
The next-closest thing – in price – is a Toyota GR86 (and its cousin, the Subaru BRZ). They both cost about the same to start ($28,400 for the GR86, $28,595 for the BRZ) and they’re similarly laid out, in terms of being rear-drive and coming standard with manual transmissions. But the GR86 and BRZ are only available as hardtops while the Miata comes standard with a soft-top.
After that, there are roadsters such as the BMW Z4 and Toyota Supra (same thing sold under a different label) which are both very fun cars too. But the Supra stickers for $49,040 to start and the Z4 for $52,800 – almost as much as two Miatas.
That leaves not much of anything else.
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 Terra Cotta 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 – to thieves.
“Glovebox” is hard to reach – and doesn’t hold much.
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 ft.-lbs. 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 lbs. vs. 2,811 for the GR86/BRZ twins – a difference of 470 lbs.
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 city/34 highway – vs. a startlingly consumptive 20 city, 27 highway for the BRZ and GR86.
A V8-powered Mustang GT (15 city, 24 highway) is only slightly thirstier.
Subaru engines (the Toyota and BRZ have the same Subaru-sourced flat four boxer engine) are notoriously thirsty for their size; it’s why other new Subarus all come standard with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic, to try to make up for some of that. But a manual is a must in a car such as this – even though the twins are available with an automatic (a conventional six speed).
Even with its available automatic, the twins only manage slightly better mileage: 21 city, 30 highway. And to get it, you have to give up the manual – which is like giving up the alcohol in your beer.
Speaking of automatics . . .
Mazda also offers one with the Miata but it comes at a cost, too. In the first place, it’s not available with the base Sport or the Club trims. It keeps things straight, so to speak.
You must buy the most-expensive Grand Touring trim in order to buy the automatic – and doing so deletes all of the Club trim’s performance upgrades.
On the upside, you get slightly better gas mileage: 26 city, 35 highway.
Every Miata is – of course – rear-wheel-drive and (bless you, Mazda) you can turn the traction control entirely off whenever you feel the urge to break traction. Also, there is no ASS – automatic engine stop/start “technology” with the manual-equipped Miata. The engine stays on until you shut it off.
And the Miata’s engine is not direct injected. Just port fuel-injected. This means no worries about DI-induced valve-crudding down the road and in any case a simpler and so less-likely-to-have-problems engine.
On The Road
To drive a Miata is to remember what it is like to drive.
You do that. Literally. The car is there to do what you ask of it.
But it won’t do it if you don’t.
And that is just the point.
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 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.
With the upside of being able to throw a roof over your head when the rain bursts forth. And you can do that, literally – whenever you like. The Miata’s soft-top is a manual soft-top, so no motors to beg leave of that are controlled by programming written with a nod to whatever the lawyers said was actionable (and not). Thus, you do not have to stop to lower – or raise – the top. Though it’s a good idea, probably, to slow to a near stop before trying to raise the top.
Else it might act like a drag chute.
But the point here is how easy it is to just undo the catch at the top of the windshield and toss the top back.
Mazda makes some other points, too. As via the hilariously useless cup holders that are clearly designed to discourage coffee-sipping while driving. Because why would you do that when you have a car like this to drive?
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 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.
But, the twins do have something the Miata doesn’t.
Back seats and – hypothetically – the ability to carry more than one passenger. However, the twins’ backseats are – how shall we say? – confining. Just 29.9 inches of legroom – and almost four inches less headroom (33.5 inches) than you’ve got up front. There’s also the difficulty of getting in – and out – which cannot be done unless the driver/front seat passenger get out first.
But, the twins can carry something in the back. Also a bit more in the trunk. They have 6.3 cubic feet of space back there vs. 4.6 for the Miata. But the Miata can carry more in a pinch – because you can lower the top. I needed to get some seven foot trim boards for a project and was able to get them home, using the Miata. I would have had to use my truck if I’d had either of the twins to test drive this week – because you can’t lower the top and that greatly limits what you can cart home in them.
There is also visibility to consider. It is superb – in the Miata – with the roof down because you can see everything, because nothing is obstructed by structure. Visibility ahead of you is just fine in the twins. But less so to the sides – and a lot less so to the rear.
One of the few things not to like about this car is the hard-to-reach (and hard to find) 12V 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 12V 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. By which is meant: It speaks for itself.
For going on 35 years now.
. . .
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