Mazda is the automaker most responsible for the sports-car revolution of the 1990s, and the MX-5 Miata continues to provide driving entertainment at a moderate price. For 2004, Mazda’s rear-wheel-drive two-seat sports car gets restyled 16-inch aluminum wheels and two new body colors. Speakers are integrated into the restyled wind blocker.
Base and LS editions remain available, and a six-speed-manual transmission may be installed (the Mazdaspeed model comes only with a six-speed manual). During the 2004 model year, Mazda introduced a high-performance Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata with a turbocharged engine that generates 178 horsepower rather than the usual 142 hp. The Mazdaspeed model rides on 17-inch tires and has a body lowered by 7 millimeters. The Miata could be facing a significant redesign in 2005.
Loosely patterned after an older British Lotus Elan two-seater, the Miata body still exhibits an amalgamation of curves that are offset by few straight lines. The manual-folding fabric top has a glass back window with a defogger. The back window can be raised or lowered from the driver’s seat without undue twisting, and a wind-blocker panel is included. A $1,500 detachable hardtop and a $295 rear spoiler are optional.
The fully independent suspension includes double wishbones, coil springs and stabilizer bars. Separate suspension packages with Bilstein shock absorbers are available for base and LS models.
Cloth bucket seats are used in the base model. Because the car is only 4 feet tall to the top of its roof, occupants have to drop down into the seats. The driver faces a simple dashboard, and all of the controls and gauges are within easy reach.
Standard equipment includes air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, intermittent wipers, a CD player, power antenna, digital clock and theft-deterrent system. The LS version adds leather seating surfaces, cruise control, power locks, a Tochigi Fuji limited-slip differential and a 300-watt Bose CD stereo.
Under the Hood
Base and LS models carry Mazda’s 1.8-liter dual-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. The engine develops 142 hp at 7,000 rpm and teams with either a standard five-speed-manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic. A six-speed manual is optional on the Miata LS, which has a revised final-drive ratio for 2004. In the new Mazdaspeed Miata, a turbocharged 1.8-liter engine produces 178 hp and 166 pounds-feet of torque. This engine works only with a six-speed-manual transmission.
Side-impact airbags are not available, but antilock brakes are optional on the Miata LS. Dual second-generation front airbags include a key-operated deactivation switch for the passenger side.
The Miata is just as enjoyable to drive today as it was 15 years ago. The ride can be a bit stiff, which causes the roadster to bounce when traversing rougher pavement, but nothing seems to detract from the enriching sports-car experience. Engine noise is noticeable, and performance lags behind some rivals.
Though the snappy-shifting manual gearbox and positive clutch behavior add to the driving pleasure, even a good thing can become tedious in heavy traffic. This roadster is snug inside, and getting into the seat might be a bit of an ordeal if the top is up.