Mazda MX-5: Should Steven Slater Drive This JetBlue Ride?

August 18, 2010

MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PRHT.  It's a Stormy Blue Mica cure for a Steven Slater meltdown.

In TV land, talent (people in front of the camera) want good hair days.  They spray, mousse and gel their way to welded-tresses.  But one little car can offer more mane-raising motoring enjoyment than practically any other:  Mazda's MX-5, available with a power hardtop.  Its foldable helmet suddenly turns this alfresco (albeit wayward) hair dryer into a Devo-inspired head topper.

From an ideal vantage, you'll notice vintage Jaguar XK120 in the MX-5's top-up lines.   For 2010, Mazda adds sparkle: bright trim surrounds the mouth-like grille, clear or crystal lamp housings offer a new look.

Grand Touring:  17-inch wheels, Bridgestone's RE 050A rubber, leather interior trim, and snick-snick six-speed shifter surround a 167-hp mill that's tuned to unleash a snake-like hiss, cat-like roar or bear-like growl.  Each animated sound enhances this sports car's cred.  And they're relatively subdued at a steady speed.  Nonetheless, interior noise might prove annoying on long trips.   Road roar and the rev-happy mill churning 2,800 rpm at 60 mph produce a racy din.

Caveat:  If you're, say, 6'1" tall chances are the Miata is a squeeze.  There just isn't enough legroom or headroom to avoid the sardine-can experience.  Nonetheless, this roadster offers so much driving fun that you'll want to shoehorn yourself.  Other warnings include Lilliputian passenger toe space and skimpy stowage within the cabin.  Stashing your sunglasses, cap, house keys and Mazda's "keyless" fob tests your hideaway acumen.  And stewardesses take note: avoid using the center console's beverage holders; they're an invitation to spill.  Despite the overhead origami, the trunk's baggage area is more accommodating than most airlines.

Mazda's engineers are exceptional; they created a satisfying roadster at a modest cost:  $31, 300 as tested.  The midship engine augments the superbly balanced chassis.  Add four-wheel independent suspension, weight-reducing methods (aluminum hood) and you'll discover the MX-5 turns almost any motoring moment into a sporting proposition.  Getting groceries is exciting!  Its modest 167-hp four-cylinder engine performs its mission with pipe-organ-like tuning.  It's like they put Iceland's Robyn on wheels.

Handling quality:  great with quick, properly weighted steering.  Feedback:  excellent.  Unlike most new cars, this one feels like manual steering with a gentle increase in steering effort as you push harder in corners.  It also promptly communicates road flaws that might upset your intended path.   Chassis response: crisp, quick and predictable.  Dodging potholes or navigating autocross pylons reveals cat-like agility.  It also tackles off-camber corners with astonishing ease, as though this car were basically your body on four wheels.  And you'll further relish the way the Miata's rear rotates a bit before the stability control kicks in.  This lets one practice placing the car via throttle and rear-drive torque.

While in hardtop mode, rear sightlines are blocked; top-down visibility is top notch.  Mazda makes judging where the front wheels are easy; you see subtle fender arches rather than a monster hood scoop.  Styling sanity adds to the MX-5's racetrack prowess.  Too bad the optional HomeLink rear-view mirror with automatic dimmer hogs a precious few millimeters of the short windshield's aperture.  Instrument layout:  brilliant.  Some switches, however, are hidden; dash space is limited.

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