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Mazda's MX-5 Miata follows in grand tradition of classic British Sports cars

Mazda's MX-5 Miata is a fine successor to the British sports cars of the 1950s and '60s whose popularity was fueled by U.S. servicemen returning from overseas.
Mazda's MX-5 Miata is a fine successor to the British sports cars of the 1950s and '60s whose popularity was fueled by U.S. servicemen returning from overseas.
Paul Borden

2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata

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Nobody built sports cars like British manufacturers in the 1950s and 1960s.

So says James Taylor, author of the book, British Sports Cars of the 1950s and 60s, and few would argue with him.

As he notes, there was something very special about these little two-seat roadsters with their spartan interiors and the wind-in-the-air motoring experience they gave driver and passenger.

They weren't particularly fast or powerful, but earned a special place among enthusiasts, many of whom were U.S. servicemen back from tours overseas, because of their agility and handling and the jaunty air they exuded. Models from MG and Triumph also were relatively affordable, adding to their popularity.

It was from these classics, which, if you want to put up with their idiosyncrasies (such as overheating problems) and balky conveniences, can still be found for sale through specialty auto auctions and websites, that Mazda took the inspiration for its own two-seat sports car it dubbed the MX-5 Miata (just MX-5 outside North America).

It was an instant hit, and over the last 25 years it as become the best-selling two-seat roadster in history.

There is so much to like about the MX-5.

Depending on the model, you get a choice of convertible tops -- a traditional soft top you can flip back over your head in one easy motion after releasing the center latch or a hard top -- which Mazda calls PRHT for Power Retractible Hard Top) -- that retracts with the push of a button (after the center latch is released) in roughly 12 seconds.

When retracted, neither one intrudes on the minimal trunk space (this is a convertible roadster, remember, not a family hauler!) and the hard top pretty much has the acoustics of a small coupe when raised.

Despite its small size, the MX-5 is not all that difficult to get in and out of, and though NBA power forwards might want to argue the point, the interior is snug but not overly tight for average-size occupants.

The cabin features a lot of hard plastics, but they don't look cheap, and leather seats are available as an option to really class up the cabin.

The MX-5 comes in three trims with the Sport serving as the base model. It comes only with the soft top and a five-speed manual transmission as standard.

Club and Grand Touring models come with a six-speed manual as standard and have the hard top --as an option. According to Mazda, the PRHT outsells the soft top by a 4:1 ratio.

All trims are also have a six-speed automatic transmission as an option.

All 2014 MX-5s come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that is rated at 167 horsepower at 7000 rpm (with a manual, 158 at 6700 rpm with an automatic) and 140 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm.

With the five-speed manual, mileage is estimated at 22 miles-per-gallon city, 28 highway. Both the six-speed manual and six-speed automatic have numbers of 21/28, so there's not a lot of difference.

Except in driving experience, of course. With its short throws and smooth clutch action, this is one of the best manual gearboxes around, and though the horsepower numbers are not huge, they are more than adequate to handle the MX-5's 2,562 pounds. To really appreciate how the MX-5 gets around, you've got to go with the manual.

Also, don't be fooled by the silly notion that somehow the Miata is a car built for sorority girls to coax around campus. As one of the most-raced vehicles around, the MX-5 Miata packs a good dose of testosterone along with good fun.

With a new generation and the 2015 model coming soon, it also may be a good time to find a 2014 model at a bargain. Pricing starts at $23,720 for the Sport model with the top-of-the-line Grand Touring carrying an MSRP of $29,450.

For a closer look at it and more information, check out the accompanying slide show.