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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Jim Flammang
April 30, 2002
Vehicle Overview As the 2002 model year began, changes were few for Mazdas two-seat MX-5 Miata sports car, whose 1.8-liter engine is now rated at 142 horsepower. Mazda recently suffered adverse publicity due to claims that the Miatas engine did not produce as much power as claimed. Like nearly all traditionally styled sports cars, the Miata has rear-wheel drive.
The 2002 LS model is equipped with modular audio with a Bose speaker system and automatic speed sensing. A five-speed-manual gearbox is standard, a four-speed automatic is optional and a six-speed-manual transmission is now available as an option on select models. An in-dash six-CD changer and a perimeter alarm with a shock sensor are new options. Restyled for the 1999 model year, the Miata isnt likely to change dramatically before the 2004 model year.
At the Chicago Auto Show in February 2002, Mazda introduced two Special Edition Miatas. Chicagos show has served not only as the traditional launch site for special versions of this sports car, but it also held the debut of the first Miatas back in 1989.
The two Special Edition (SE) Miatas differ mainly in body paint and interior colors. One of them is painted Titanium Gray metallic with saddle-brown leather seats. The other is finished in Blazing Yellow Mica with black leather and silver stitching and embroidery. Each limited-edition roadster is equipped with a close-ratio six-speed-manual gearbox, a six-CD changer in a 200-watt Bose audio system, aluminum pedals and scuff plates, a two-tone black leather Nardi three-spoke steering wheel and aluminumlike interior trim. The stereo system has speed-sensitive volume control. Enkei alloy wheels on the SE models hold 16-inch tires, and white-faced gauges are installed inside.
Restyled modestly for 1999 with minimal dimension changes, Mazdas ever-popular sports car still comes in base and LS trim levels, along with the SE editions. The Miata ranks as the best-selling two-passenger roadster of all time. Sales have remained respectable even after more than a decade on the market. Automotive News reports that 16,486 Miatas went to U.S. customers during 2001, which is a decrease from the 18,299 sold in the preceding year.
Exterior The Miata is loosely patterned after an older British Lotus Elan two-seater. The current body is largely unchanged and still features an amalgamation of curves that are offset by few straight lines. The manual-folding fabric top has a glass back window with a defogger and can be raised or lowered from the drivers seat without undue twisting. A wind blocker panel is included. A $1,500 detachable hardtop and a $295 rear spoiler are optional.
The Miata rides on an 89.2-inch wheelbase and is just 155.7 inches long overall thats about 3 inches shorter than the BMW Z3. Five-spoke alloy wheels on the base Miata hold 15-inch P195/50VR15 tires. Standard tires on the LS and SE editions are 16-inchers, with Enkei wheels for the SE. The Miata has a fully independent suspension with double wishbones, coil springs and stabilizer bars.
An optional suspension package for the base model includes the 16-inch tires, alloy wheels, a limited-slip differential and a strut-tower brace; all of these features are standard on the LS. A separate sport suspension package for the LS requires the six-speed-manual gearbox. Both suspension packages include Bilstein shock absorbers.
Interior The two-seat Miata has cloth-upholstered bucket seats for both occupants. Because its only 4 feet tall to the top of the roof, occupants have to drop down into their snug-fitting seats. The driver faces a simple dashboard with all the controls and gauges within easy reach.
Standard equipment includes air conditioning, variable-assist power steering, power windows and mirrors, intermittent wipers, a CD player, power antenna, tachometer, digital clock, leather-wrapped steering wheel and theft-deterrent system. The LS version adds tan leather seating surfaces, a tan fabric top, cruise control, chrome inside door handles, power door locks, a Torsen limited-slip differential, remote keyless entry and a 200-watt Bose CD stereo system with four speakers.
Under the Hood Mazdas 1.8-liter dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing develops 142 hp and teams with a standard five-speed-manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic. A six-speed manual is optional on the Miata LS and is included in the two Special Edition Miatas.
Safety Side-impact airbags are not available, but antilock brakes are optional on the Miata LS and SE models. Dual second-generation front airbags with a key-operated deactivation switch for the passenger side are installed. The Miata also has seat belt pretensioners and force limiters.
Driving Impressions The Miata was created for fun and is just as enjoyable to drive today as it was more than a decade ago when the two-seater first went on sale. In the early days, the Miata was selling for far above its sticker price and is a good buy today. It retains its value well in the used-car market. Plenty of competitors have come along since the Miatas debut, but Mazda remains the standard of comparison at least at the affordable end of the sports-car price spectrum.
Although the ride can be a bit stiff, which causes the roadster to bounce a bit when traversing rougher pavement, nothing seems to detract from the enriching sports-car experience. Engine noise is noticeable, and performance lags behind some rivals, but the traditional-looking Miata still ranks as the one to beat.
Although the snappy-shifting manual gearbox and positive clutch behavior add to the driving pleasure, even a good thing can become tedious after a while being stuck in slow-moving traffic with a stick-shift roadster can almost turn pleasure into pain.
On sunny days, few cars deliver as much sheer driving delight as the Miata. This roadster is snug inside, and sitting down into the seat may be a bit of an ordeal if the top is up. But once settled inside, the two occupants are sure to wear smiles when its time to take the Miata out on the road.