Versus the competiton:
Miata moves into fast lane
Without so much of a rev of the engine, the guy in the hot-rod, silver Honda S2000 next to me seemed to sense there was something sinister lurking under the hood of my 2004 Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata.
Maybe it was the cool 17-inch Racing Hart wheels wrapped with Toyo Proxes high performance radials. (Fancy talk for nice tires.)
Maybe it was air dam under the front bumper. The spoiler on the trunk. Or the Velocity Mica Red and tinted headlamps. (Fancy talk for souped-up looks.)
“A Miata?” he asked, rolling down the window at a stoplight and pointing to my test car.
As the Dodge Hemi ads say, he was about to find out.
A thrust into first gear, a drop of the clutch and a mash on the gas backed it all up. Mazda isn’t fooling around with the two-seat Miata anymore.
“That’s no Miata,” my lane neighbor said when we met up again at the next red light.
Indeed. Welcome to a whole new way to think of the Miata. No longer relegated to Sunday summer drives, the Miata finally has some meat – and for a great price. And thank heaven.
Although Mazda’s been putting out special edition Miatas for about 13 years, the new Mazdaspeed is exactly what the name implies. Speed.
It is a trip from 0 to 60 mph in a flash. It is great equipment levels and a package that buyers have wanted for so long: power, power and more power. Equipped with Mazda’s first-ever turbocharged engine, it is zoom-zoom and then some.
The 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine has been juiced with an air-to-air intercooler that, in layman’s terms, means all kinds of oomph. How much? Try a leap from the standard Miata power of 142 horses to 178 and an increase in torque from 125 to 166 pound-feet. Combine this robust engine with a curb weight of 2,529 pounds, and you have more power than you really need. Translation: Hang on tight.
The base Miatas have always suffered from more cruisability than driveability. Cramped and tiny, there was pleasure in zipping around town in a car the size of an old British sports car – only with a serious need for zip.
Enter: Zip. With the new engine on board, the turbo doesn’t lag, and power seems to be always at the touch of the pedal. Far and away it’s quicker than the non-turbo, putting the Miata into some serious company for some seriously reasonable cash.
If you want the maximum vehicle for the best convertible price, you can’t go wrong. With a starting sticker of $25,500 (and $700 more for leather), this is one of the best bargains on the block for the power, performance and fun factor of a convertible.
The six-speed manual transmission lets you work the revs and push the Miata into corners and out of tight turns. But Mazda didn’t stop there. Always known for its balanced approach to the road, the new Miata includes larger front and rear anti-roll bars, stiffer springs and a front-end pack age that keeps things nice and rigid.
Under the sheet metal, the clutch is stronger, the pistons reshaped and the six-speed more durable. The ride is even dropped a little to give it that “slammed” look.
That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily comfortable, mind you. This is a car that is meant to bounce around a bit. And if you hit the wrong pothole, the Miata will snap you around.
Still, this car isn’t about getting from Point A to Point B in daily traffic. It’s all about the experience. And, make no mistake, it’s still a looker.
With the addition of all those extras – tinted lights, rear spoiler – the Miata enjoys a great deal of top-down appeal. It’s still small (especially when highway driving means passing a semi-truck), but it’s very sleek.
Front end curves meld into short sides and a sharp back end. Inside, there are all of the Miata staples: small dials and gauges, tiny vents and narrow storage compartments, a la the old British spo ts cars.
The top folds down – old-school style with no power top. Instead, two flips of levers under the roof and a gentle push back collapses the convertible. It comes up with one tug.
The limited dimensions are worth mentioning. This is a small car with a tight cabin. Even working the pedals can be a little tight, especially with little room in the footwell. No tilt steering is another drag for tall drivers.
This year there are more than 1,000 parts that have been substituted on the Mazdaspeed from the regular car, and that means something special as well. It all adds up to a great package.
And it”s a good thing. This Miata is actually on the way out. The Ibuki concept car unveiled on the auto show circuit is the next generation of Miata that will eventually hit the streets, with more of the styling that is reminiscent of the original car and with underpinnings delivered from the very incredible RX-8.
In the meantime, we’ll take this one. It’s fast, sleek, stylish and fun.
Don’t believe it? Ask the guy in the hot rod next to me who still can’t believe it’s true.
2004 Mazdaspeed MX-5 Miata
Vehicle type: Rear-wheel-drive, front-engine, two-door, two-passenger convertible
Key competition: Audi TT roadster, Honda S2000, BMW Z4, Volkswagen Beetle convertible
Base engine: 178 horsepower, 1.8-liter four-cylinder
Optional engine: None
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Standard safety equipment: Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, front air bags
MPG rating: 20 city/26 highway
Warranty: Basic warranty is four years/50,000 miles with roadside assistance.
Base price: $25,500
Price as tested (including destination and delivery): $26,200