Driver's Seat: Mazda MX-5 is tiny but fun


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2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club PRHT: A hardtop convertible -- the best of both worlds?

Price: $29,260 (No options)

Marketer's pitch: "Can a sports car have 20/20 foresight?"

Conventional wisdom: We don't get what you mean, Mazda, just build more fun cars.

Reality: Fun 1, Practicality 0. (Actually, fun 14 or 15, practicality 0.)

Hot time: Now that it's June, the weather is supposed to get warmer and sunnier. Somewhere, if not necessarily in Pennsylvania. So in theory it's a good time to put top-down driving to the test.

And that's just what I did here. I put the Miata up "against" the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet TDI, although they definitely work different sides of the sunny street.

Unfortunately, I had the Miata at the end of January -- not an ideal time to try out top-down driving -- but fortunately I'd had open-air MX-5 Miata mayhem a few years ago and that aspect doesn't really change that much.

An icon in its own right: The Miata was introduced in 1990 as an homage to the delightful-but-breaky European sports cars of the '60s and '70s. Now in its 24th season, the little roadster has gotten more power over the years. But space is still at a premium, so the two-seater sports car remains a mistress, or maybe a drinking buddy.

Size small: I stand an average 5 feet 10 inches, and I pretty much maxed out the available space.

On the road: If the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine provides more power than older versions, then older versions are fairly putt-putty. The engine makes 167 horsepower and 140 foot-pounds of torque, but the car is not all that fast.

But it is fun as anything. Racing around the curves of some mountain road makes Mr. Driver's Seat feel like he's James Bond on the French Riviera.

This was the car that gave Mazda its chops among enthusiasts, and for good reason.

In gear: Shifting is nice, as Mazda has a way with a six-speed. The gearbox could be a little balky in the cold weather, but the gears themselves were spaced nice and close. It was so close it was sometimes a challenge to recall which gear I was in. (This is where the Beetle has advantage; a dashboard display tells drivers the gear selection.)

Pass with care: I found it surprising that a small two-seater would come with a blind spot, but getting into the left lane requires a bit of prayer. With the top up, there's just no good way to be certain no other car rides at the 7 o'clock position.

Sunny days: Of course, the point becomes moot with the top down. The hardtop does fold quickly and cleanly out of the way, no cranks or snaps to deal with, and opens up a world of fun.

In and out: The long doors are helpful for inserting one's feet into the distant front part of the cabin. But tight parking spaces wrought havoc on my entry-exit strategies. I returned the car with scuffmarks aplenty from my big feet hitting everything in sight.

Friends and stuff: Just one friend goes along. Choose wisely.

A CD holder door sits inconveniently between the seats on the rear wall. If one wrong twist can set your shoulder or neck ablaze, this is not the car for you. You might think you'd use your iPod and avoid this, but the cubby also holds the fuel door release.

Even the trunk is fairly small.

On the bright side, a nice skid-proof compartment in front of the shifter keeps cell phones in place.

Fuel economy: I averaged a dreadful-for-its-size 23 mpg, in a mix of highway and suburban driving. The MX-5 Miata prefers a diet of premium fuel. It could actually use more than six gears, but good luck squeezing them in between the two passengers.

Where it's built: Hiroshima, Japan.

How it's built: A longtime "Recommended Buy" from Consumer Reports.

In the end: It can fit into your garage, but can you fit into it? Definitely not a bad choice, but it's not on the fairly practical Mr. Driver's Seat's short list of favorite toys.

Next week: The 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Cabriolet TDI.

autonews

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at mrdriversseat@gmail.com.


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