- Mar 11, 2006
- Reaction score
Today I took my Mini Cooper in for servicing, and while fighting narcolepsy in the stupefyingly boring (and garishly cheap-feeling) BMW 3-series loaner they gave me I happened to pass a Mazda dealer with a gleaming row of 8 or 9 Miatas. With spring here, I started to realize how much I missed my first car, a 1993 Miata Limited Edition. ("Limited" or "Special" Edition in Miata-speak is usually just a unique colorway offered for only one year - in 1993, black with a red top and red leather with some bespoke aluminum - though sometimes they add something else nice like in the case of the 1993 LE ultralightweight forged alloy BBS wheels.) So I stopped in to have a look. Here are my impressions. First, price. I was pretty impressed, to be honest. The one I drove had everything - sport package, which is Bilsteins and torsen LSD; Blose stereo, leather, 6 speed manual, HID's - and stickered for about $27,000. A comparably equipped Mini Cooper Convertible is about $5000 more. And much harder to see out of in back, though you do get a much better stereo. First, look/feel. Overall, I do not think the lines are an improvement on the original Miata's, or of the more Jaguar-like Mk2 Miata's. Instead of the earlier Miatas' pleasingly faux-European - a little Lotus here, a bit of Alfa there, a sprinking of MG and Triumph all around, a touch of Fiat - lines, the shape is now overtly Japanese, with those horrible mirrored taillights that Japanese designers seem to love. (Indeed, I've always felt that the only thing Japanese about the Miata was its reliability. Beyond that, it's a better European roadster than the Europeans ever made.) The fun seems to have gone out of it, too. It went from a friendly little puppy to a mini-shark. The grille is the worst aspect of the design, a cheap plastic part that looks as bad as the Solstice's mug. The wheels are not ugly, but they are two or three sizes too large. A 14" or 15" wheel would have allowed them to delete the ugly fender brows and have a better-handling car. (More later.) The top neatly fixes the three ergonomic flaws of the original Miata's top. First, the window is glass, rather than plastic. That looks much better and allows you to not worry about unzipping it and protecting it before lowering the top. (I think 2nd gen Miata tops had glass, too.) Second, there are rain rails built in, so you won't get dumped on when you open the door. Third, it does not require a separate top. However, if you lower the top you surrender the package shelf behind you, so the convenience does have some cost. Inside, there is some good and some not so much. The door sill is low enough that you can rest your elbow on it without looking the fool. The e-brake is now on the passenger side, away from the driver's right knee. There seems to be more space all around. The steering wheel tilts and has controls on it, but like many Japanese cars' steering wheels it is annoyingly squishy in feel, like there is padding under the leather. The stereo looks promising, with a center channel in the dash and speakers in each door, but sounds typically Bosey. An Apple iPod HiFi on top of the dash would be a better sound system. The color of the leather and lower plastics is pretty off-putting. It looks like someone took white material and treated it with spray-on tan. Hopefully Mazda will go to a more natural color in the future. The plastics also feel cheap to me, but not as bad as the BMW 3-series'. The lid on the center cupholders, for example, does not slide as gracefully as it should. Ride/Drive Enough about the cosmetics. A sports car is about driving not any of that stuff! (Right?) Firing it up, the exhaust sounds pretty pedestrian, and there was no noise from up front. In fairness, my Mini sounded pretty pedestrian too save for some SC whine, but then I added a ProMini intake with Miltec cat-back and now I'm happy. The Miata aftermarket is huge - R-Speed is a great Miata shop that also carries great Mini stuff - so I'm sure there's an easy fix. The clutch was perfect, and the shifter feels just like an S2000's; I bet with another 20k thousand miles under it perfection will be seen. The engine revs unrestrainedly, and has lots of torque from 2000rpm up, though again its note is kind of flat. The gearing does not take advantage of the engine, with shift points at odd places and sixth being too short. I would have liked to see a close-ratio five speed with an interstate cruising gear, but as it stands 6th is kind of worthless. By far the best part about the car is the brakes. The car I drove, a demonstrator with 2k miles on it, had the best brakes of any car I have ever driven. Great feel and I would not be surprised if objectively the car's stopping distances are not in the 99th percentile of all cars sold in the US. The worst part about the car is the handling. Unfortunately, the Miata has succumbed to granturismoitis. Turn-in is on the laggard side, no doubt due to those oversized leaden wheels and tires, and the steering is less connected than on older Miatas, or on the Mini. Also, the car's gained a few hundred pounds since they first came out. It is no longer a car that is fun to drive at 25mph, though I do not doubt that at 105mph it is better than the old one. With the top up, the car is uncannily quiet. Too quiet. While memories are shaky at this point I think with the ragtop up it is quieter than my 1993 Miata was with the hardtop on! With the top down, it is also fairly quiet considering. The suspension tuning (sport suspension with Bilsteins, remember) was pretty good, not too hard like most American/Japanese/German "sport suspensions". Overall, my impression of the new Miata is that it is one of the neatest little GT's that you can buy. A sportscar, unfortunately, it is no more. When I returned the BMW GÃ¤hnenwagen and picked up my Mini hatchback, I was not the least bit disappointed that it will be with me for a while yet. I was, however, disappointed that with the fall of the Miata the Mini and Elise are the only pure fun cars for sale in the US today.