As an old saying goes, it's more fun to drive a slow car fast, than a fast car slow. I'm not sure who coined the phrase, but in a day of twin turbo sports cars and muscle cars that can reach felony-like speeds in a matter of seconds, those words have never sounded better. Although fast cars are great, there's something wonderful about a car built for the fun of driving above all else. The 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata is one of those cars.
Of course Mazda has been doing this for over 20 years of now. For three and a half generations, the Miata, MX-5, or Roadster depending on where you live, has been one of the world's favorite sports cars. Since the first Miata launched in 1990 with a 116hp 1.6 liter, the car has grown in both size and complexity – but never enough to detract from the driving the experience. Having owned a few older Miatas, I was anxious to drive the latest version of the roadster.
Built on the third generation NC chassis, the MX-5 received a significant facelift for the 2009 model year. Changes included new exterior styling, revised suspension, and a 500rpm increase in the engine's redline (now 7,500rpm), among other things. The twin cam 2.0 MZR engine under the hood is rated at only 167 horsepower, but the car's low curb weight and aggressive gearing help get the most out of every pony.
Compared to modern performance cars, the MX-5 will be in the rear of the pack in acceleration numbers, but I never once felt like the car needed more horsepower. Although Mazda is clearly capable of giving the car more power, it would almost be wrong to have a "fast" MX-5 available off the showroom floor, and the car's perfect balance would certainly suffer. Another benefit of the car's modest powerplant are the EPA numbers, 21 MPG city, and 28 on the highway.
The 2009 facelift is most evident on the nose of the car, which now wears Mazda's signature grinning front fascia. A lot of people that saw the car said it looks more like a mini-RX8 convertible than a Miata. The combination of the Miata's styling and its Competition Yellow coloring caused the car to get a lot of attention as I drove it on the streets of Los Angeles. This included a few waves from owners of older Miatas I passed on the road.
Although unmistakably a Miata, features like the buff fenders and dual exhaust tips add a bit of testosterone to the little roadster. You aren't going to see Porsche and Corvette owners trembling at stoplights, but the car does have significantly more road presence than before.
I think my favorite of the 2009 changes is the tail lights. The simple design brings back memories of the original NA6 Miata's tail lamps, and they are a big improvement over the dated chrome tails on the '06-'08 MX-5's.
As with all past Miatas, the interior is laid out wonderfully, with everything in arm's reach, and simplistic styling. My test car was the Grand Touring version, with nearly every option in the book, save for the power retractable hard top. Equipment includes the 6-speed manual transmission, leather interior, HID headlights, DSC with traction control, and the suspension package with includes Bilstein shocks and a limited slip differential. MSRP with all the options came in at $29,310.00.
Of course if you don't need options like a leather interior with heated seats, you can get the basic Sport model for around 23,500. I have to admit though, there's something nice about driving top down on a cool fall night with the seat warmers on!
Even though the MX-5 is larger than past models, it is still a very small car. You'll probably be below the trunk line of a new Camry at stoplights, and SUV's will tower over you on the highway. When driving a car like this, you have to be extra alert that other motorists see you on the road. Luckily with small size, comes impressive maneuverability…
Being over six feet tall, a lot of people though I was crazy for owning an NA Miata, and I admit those cars are a tight fit for me. I couldn't take much more than an hour behind the wheel of the one without needing a stretch break. The New MX-5 on the other hand, is a much more comfortable car – even for us tall folks. Although the footwell is a little on the narrow side, I found plenty of room under the steering wheel for my long legs. You won't mistake the cockpit for a Lincoln, but I never once felt cramped in the car – even after a long road trip to central California, including a lot of time in LA rush hour traffic.
The only real negatives I found with the car are drawbacks of any two seat roadster – room for only one passenger, not much cargo space, highway noise, and a big blind spot with the top up. A bit of a moot point really, as anyone in the market for a car like this will be well aware of those issues.
Once you drop the top (something you can do pretty much all year long here in SoCal), and experience the precise gear changes of the transmission and response of the chassis all those negatives leave your mind. Another change made for 2009 was the addition of an "Induction Sound Enhancer", which gives the MX-5 a classic four cylinder growl as it revs up. Again, we are seeing Mazda's dedication to the overall driving experience over skid pad numbers and quarter mile times. I found the tunnel on Sepulveda boulevard under LAX the perfect place to enjoy the Induction Sound Enhancer…
As you can probably tell by these photos, I rarely drove the car with the top raised. In fact, maybe Mazda should consider building a "SoCal Edition" MX-5 that doesn't even include a top? It's almost a crime to drive a convertible with the top up on the streets of Los Angeles…
The MX-5 has always been one of the best handling cars in any
price range, and the 2010 model is no different. I didn't take the car
to race track, or hammer it on any canyon roads, but even on a relaxing run through Rancho Palos Verdes, the MX-5 was a blast to drive. The
Bilstein suspension gives the car a firm, planted ride, and helps to
make cornering effortless. The concept of Jinba Ittai is as evident here as ever…
Really that's what the MX-5 is all about. You don't even need to be at a race track or on a deserted stretch of highway to enjoy the car. Just cruising through traffic, running through the gears, feeling the wind in your hair, and listening to the growl of the 2.0 is more than enough to put a huge smile on your face – all while staying at completely legal speeds.
For the entire time I had the 2010 MX-5, I was thinking of reasons to go out for a drive – asking my wife if there was anything she forgot to pick up at the grocery store. Everytime I looked outside and saw the Competition Yellow MX-5 I parked on the street, I felt the sudden urge to stop what I was doing and take it for a spin. That's really about the best compliment you can give a car, and one that the MX-5 certainly deserves.
Damn, now I want to go for a drive…