October 31, 2014

2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club: An enduring model, merging fun and reliability

2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club

2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata ClubIt’s spring, and a young man’s fancy turns to … the rich array of sporty, open-air roadsters, just waiting for someone to come along and set them free  from the showroom. Of course!

One of the most popular and enduring members of this fraternity is the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The Miata has been a Mazda success story since 1989, when it delivered a combination of low price, fun performance, good fuel economy, Japanese reliability and sweet lines. 

On its arrival 24 years ago, the Miata essentially took over a segment once ruled by a trio of European brands – Fiat, MG and Triumph – that had failed or left the U.S. market forever. It had these roadsters’ eye-catching style and slick handling, but none of their notorious reliability problems. Thus has the Miata weathered many a stormy season in the auto industry.

The 2013 MX-5 Miata we test-drove was a bright red unit with a Club logo, as in playing cards, designated by medallions on the front fenders. This odd designation – in card games, clubs are the weakest suit – used to be the Touring model and maintains its predecessor’s second-in-line standing to the Grand Touring trim. Diminutive and low-slung, the Miata presented an access and egress to challenge to big, tall drivers. Conditions inside the two-seat cabin range from confining to cramped, depending on the length and breadth of the driver and passenger. On the plus side, the climate and audio controls are commendably simple.

The Miata was fairly noisy on the highway, but in a good way. The engine gave off a pleasing sound, and the discernible road noise provides the driver with a sense of connection with his surroundings. The car’s handling and balance, as always, were sharp and precise. The power numbers are fairly modest – 167 horsepower, 140 pound-feet of torque – but in a car this small, never intended as a muscle car, they add up to entertaining performance.

Our test car had a sticker price of $29,250. The base Miata, the Sport, starts at $23,670. All Miatas have rear-wheel drive and the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, and can be equipped with a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. The base package includes a soft-top. The test car had an easy-to-operate, glossy black, power retractable hardtop.

The Miata delivers 21 mpg in the city, 28 on the highway; the manufacturer recommends using premium gasoline. Owner surveys by Consumer Reports magazine indicate the roadster has better-than-average reliability.

There are alternatives to the Miata, but not in the same sense that American drivers could choose among the Fiat Spider, MGB and Triumph TR series two generations ago. Most of the competitors are bigger, seating four in theory if not reality, and cost more. Others have tried the economical, compact formula – Honda, with the S2000; Toyota, with the MR2; General Motors, with the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky – but they’re gone and the Miata is still with us.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

Price: $29,250

Engine: 2.0-liter Four, 167 horsepower, 140 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Drive: Rear-wheel

Weight: 2,953 lb.

Suspension: Double-wishbone front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 17-in. painted alloy

Tires: 205/45R17 W performance

Seating capacity: 2

Luggage capacity: 5.3 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 12.7 gallons

Fuel economy: 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway

Fuel type: Premium unleaded (recommended)