It’s not every day that people tuck little notes under the windshield wiper of our test-drive cars, asking us to call them for a product chat. But that’s exactly what happened with the 2002 Mazda MX-5 Miata Special Edition.
The little Japanese roadster tends to evoke emotional responses from drivers, passengers and passers-by.
The Miata has been around since 1989. The Guinness World Records says it’s the best-selling, two-seat convertible of all time, with more than 250,000 sold in North America alone.
We are both longtime Miata fans, although the Special Edition’s $27,790 sticker price gave us pause — despite the fact that it came with a gift set that included goodies like a Miata badge and key chain.
She: If you tried to talk me into a base Miata and argued that the $21,280 price tag was a bargain for all that summertime, top-down fun, I might agree with you. But you’d need a law degree and a lot of confidence to convince me to part with close to $28,000 for a toy that doesn’t want to start easily first thing in the morning, has a teensy trunk and no lighted vanity mirrors.
He: Come on, when you drop the top and fire up the Miata, who cares about the trunk and whether or not you can check your lipstick in the dark? The Miata still has a charming simplicity that hasn’t worn off after more than a decade.
She: I thought it was especially charming of you to order me out of the car to put the top up when it started raining today. What was your excuse? That you actually had to put shoes on to go out of the house? I’m guessing Mazda had better think about an automatic top at some time, as sort of a marriage-saving feature.
He: You’re goofy. The biggest marriage-saver I can think of is you putting the toilet paper on the roll correctly. And don’t tell me you were actually grousing about the top. The Miata may have the nicest convertible top in the business. It literally takes about 10 seconds to put down and another 10 seconds to put back up. I’m sure you barely got wet, dear.
She: It was the principle of the thing. Have you ever heard of the word chivalry?
He: Have you ever heard of the words “torsional rigidity”? That’s part of the Miata’s secret. Body and chassis are relatively stiff, so you don’t feel as much vibration and harshness as you would in, say, a Mustang convertible.
In fact, the Miata is still a joy to drive, even if the design is getting a little dated after all these years. I like the fact that you can still jump in the car, fire up the little twin-cam four-cylinder engine and drive like crazy in what is one of the most nimble and agile roadsters on the market today. Steering is deliciously precise and direct. The Miata goes exactly where you point it, with no fuss or bother. And you don’t have to fiddle with a lot of switches, controls or gauges. No whiz-bang video displays or fancy voice-activation controls on this baby. Just pure and simple driving enjoyment — at a pri ce.
She: What makes me nervous about the Miata is the same thing that made me nervous about the Mini Cooper. It’s such a tiny little thing, up against all those big SUVs on the road. And unlike the Mini, the Miata doesn’t have side air bags. It also doesn’t have traction control, which means this rear-wheel-drive car could be difficult to maneuver in winter weather. I know some of the thinking is that people who buy a Miata often have other vehicles in their personal fleet. But I worry about the person who wants to use this as their main vehicle year-round.
He: My only real reservation with the Special Edition is the price. Mazda has offered these packages for years on the Miata, and seems to have no trouble selling them, so you know the audience is out there. But I have to agree with you — for once — that the standard Miata is a much better value, and just about as much fun.
Anita’s rating: (above average)
Paul’s rating: (world class)
Likes: Still evokes lots of response from strangers. It takes less than 10 seconds to drop manual top (Paul). After 13 years, the Miata retains its charming simplicity (Paul). Handles like a dream; few cars are more agile than this. Decent power. 6-speed transmission is lots of fun. Special-edition model has lots of memorable features, including a black-and-brown leather steering wheel, satin finish accents in cabin and a sharp titanium exterior.
Dislikes: The base model is a better value for this impractical, summertime ride. Expect husband to order you out of car to put manual top up (Anita). Teensy trunk (Anita). Doesn’t start easily. Anti-lock brakes cost $550 extra. No side air bags or traction control (Anita).No lighted vanity mirrors (Anita). Two so-called cupholders don’t do the job (Anita).
Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger convertible.
Price: Base, $25,755; as tested, $27,790 (inc. $520 destination charge).
Engine: 1.8-liter I-4; 142-hp; 125 lb.-ft torque.
EPA fuel economy: 23 mpg city/28 mpg highway.
12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,152 (Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)
Where built: Japan