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Road test: Mazda MX-5 Miata remains pure to sports car roots

This year the Mazda MX-5 Miata has been with us for twenty five years. So what better way to start the summer than to drop the top and take one out into the Phoenix desert back-roads for some fun?

Mazda MX-5 Miata remains pure to sports car roots
Mazda MX-5 Miata remains pure to sports car roots
Sam Haymart
Mazda MX-5 Miata remains pure to sports car roots
Sam Haymart

The Mazda MX-5 Miata we have today is far removed from the cheeky and cute original which made its debut as a 1990 model. Though it has been thoroughly redesigned it's immediately recognizable as its progeny.

Thankfully, when Mazda crafted this latest generation MX-5, it only grew an inch or two in size and gained only a small amount of weight. It still retains the pure formula of light and simple that made it a favorite among driving enthusiasts from the start.

Flared wheel arched give it a more muscular look and larger wheel openings allow for a slight up-size in tires and wheels than before. While simple in its form, the MX-5's design is saying a lot to the eyes, though in a very subtle language.

Our Grand Touring tester had the upgrade of the power retractable hard top, a device I thought at first to be a bit much for this car. After discovering how well it works and how simple its 12 second folding action is I became a believer.

It's almost a $2,000 addition to the MX-5, but winning me over was the fact that it takes absolutely zero space from the trunk, which is already sacred real estate in these cars.

The cockpit while designed many years ago remains fresh and up to date in terms of material quality, fit and finish, and the expected creature comforts. While it looks small, it feels much roomier and more substantial from behind the wheel than the original.

The cabin is comfortable with the seats being a welcome place to sit for long periods of time. I actually had to push the seat forward a bit in this MX-5 where in previous generations always had to have it back all the way.

On the road, the interior of the MX-5 is quiet enough with the top down to hold a conversation or listen to the audio system without having to crank it up all the way. This comes thanks to a well designed aerodynamic flow over the windshield and side mirrors.

The Spicy Mocha leather seating and trims in our tester were a nice contrast with the black trim, but the hides were somewhat sweat inducing more than most. Though this look is handsome, cloth seats may be more comfortable here in Arizona summers.

Center stack controls and the audio system remain old school which I prefer in a car like this as it's in keeping with the simplicity theme. There aren't any fussy touch screens, console control pucks, or menus to complicate your life with.

Storage space and daily life features like usable drink holders are surprisingly better than expected. The doors each have water bottle holders, the center console too, and a large lockable storage box resides between the rear seat backs.

At the heart of all this fun is the MX-5's rather ordinary 2.0 liter DOHC four-cylinder engine. Producing 167 horsepower and 158 lb-ft of torque it isn't outright muscle by any means. It is however just what the doctor ordered in terms of sound and feel for this car.

The engine loves to rev all the way to its 7200 rpm redline. It has a happy and willing demeanor at all times and rewards your prodding with a zoom-zoom audio track that is the very soul of the Mazda brand.

While I didn't get to test measure for 0-60 times, published reports put the MX-5 in about the low to mid six second range. Numbers in this case miss the point as the car is so fun and enjoyable to flog, you forget things like math.

Handling in this generation is much improved with a double wishbone front suspension and a multi-link rear. Our tester also had the optional Suspension Package with a more aggressive spring tune, Bilstein dampers, and a limited slip differential.

Though it's been around for a while, the chassis is as stiff and solid as you can ask for in a topless roadster, the experience on back-roads is sublimely civilized when the pavement is less than smooth. And while the heaviest MX-5 at 2,593 lbs, it's remarkably light by today's standards and responds as such.

Steering remains communicative and full of feedback from the road surface thanks to an old-school hydraulic power rack. Future MX-5 designs will surely lose this wonderful piece of automotive history soon, but this one still has it.

While talking about fuel economy in this context feels out of place, the EPA does rate the MX-5 at 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. We achieved exactly that, 24 mpg combined during our testing.

While it has a six-speed manual transmission, the low 4.10 to 1 rear axle ratio still has the engine buzzing at a relatively fast 3000+ rpm at highway speeds. If the gearing scenario was such that the engine settled in at 2000-2200 rpm on the highway, that mpg might be considerably higher.

Progress often kills the soul of a car over the course of a quarter century. They grow larger, get heavier, gain more features. Marketers sand off the rough edges and smooth the high spots down all in the act of trying to make it appeal to more people than the original.

Luckily for the 2014 Mazda MX-5, the engineers and enthusiasts within the company have obviously slapped back the hands of the gerrymanders. This roadster remains pure to the ideals that brought it to our roads in the first place.

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