DETROIT — Call it the Mazda Miata or the Mazda MX-5 or the Mazda MX-5 Miata — this roadster has built a following of loyal enthusiasts that has lasted through its 30-year lifespan. Now in its fourth generation, the Mazda MX-5 shows no sign of losing its appeal.
Some facts: One million have been sold since it was introduced at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show. I still call it the Miata and I test drove the 2018 Mazda MX-5 RF. Deciphered, that RF meant retractable fastback (top). In other words, my test roadster was a hardtop convertible. The fully automatic top lowered into the trunk in a very swift 13 seconds.
The Miata is a throwback to the British roadsters of the 1950s. Those cars couldn’t overpower with brute force. They were light and it was the horsepower to weight ratio that made them athletic. The same holds true for the Miata.
My test vehicle tipped the scales at 2,381 lbs. That was for the six speed manual transmission, the six speed automatic weighed 49 lbs. more. The car had a 2.0 liter 155 horsepower four cylinder engine that made 148 pound-feet of torque. And of course, it was rear-wheel-drive.
With small roadsters the fun is in the handling, the ride and the feeling of being glued to the road. My test vehicle maneuvered like a go-kart. It only took a twitch of the steering wheel and I was off in another direction.
The car had a double wishbone front suspension and a multi-link set up in the rear. It had stabilizer bars fore and aft as well as gas filled dampers, read shock absorbers, shock tower braces in the front and power rack & pinion steering.
This sounds like a pretty straight forward setup but it was an intricate balance. On one hand I could feel every bump in the road. That’s what makes a roadster a roadster. But on the other hand going around a particularly curving cruddy piece of road I noticed there was no wheel skip which I expected. That to me was impressive engineering.
With the top down, the MX-5 was exhilarating. The six-speed manual was smooth and easy to shift. And with a car this swift and this light, downshifting added extra braking force when needed and I needed it a few times during the course of the week.
Inside there was a simple straightforward layout. Jutting up out of the top of the dash was the infotainment system with a 7-inch, full-color touchscreen display and voice command. I rarely bother with voice controls but I did use the navigation system once. It was intuitive, pretty easy to use and it got me to where I was going. You can’t ask for more than that.
I test drove the last generation Miata and a glaring deficiency was that technology had left the car in the dust. Mazda has caught up. This test vehicle had satellite radio, voice controls and two USB jacks.
There was what Mazda called a multifunction commander control or what I call a mouse for the infotainment and information screen. The dial was in the center console next to the hydraulic emergency brake. The bucket seats were black and the interior was accentuated with red stitching. The top of the interior door trim matched the exterior. In my case it was ceramic metallic, or cream colored.
I had the club trim line exterior. One of its accessories was a premium nine-speaker audio system. The car had a smart key and push button start stop. There was Bluetooth for hands free phone operation.
I was impressed with the blind spot alert as well as the cross traffic alert. This was the first time I experienced the latter without a rearview camera. The car also had tire pressure monitoring and there were 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels.
The base price for this test vehicle was $31,555. But I had Brembo front brakes, calipers and rotors. And we had an appearance package that included a front air dam, rear spoiler, and rear bumper skirt as well as side sill extensions.
Add $3,400 worth of options, the $835 freight charge and the total came to $35,790. That’s not bad for a car that has thus far proved to be timeless.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com