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Mazda MX-5 Miata

2014 MX-5 Club (36)

Base Price: $23,970
Price as Tested: $32,140

By Russ Heaps

When it comes to a scrappy, fun-to-drive, rear-wheel-drive roadster, the Mazda MX-5 Miata still delivers the goods.

It’s been 25 years since the first Miata rolled into showrooms to the standing ovation of British-style sports-car lovers 2014 MX-5 Club (45)everywhere. At the time, a decade had passed since the MG faded into history. Miata not only tugged at the heartstrings of those lost in the nostalgia of iconic two-seaters with nameplates like Sprite, Elan, MG and Spitfire, it was good enough to attract a new generation of drivers in search of some open-air fun. Mazda answered the call with Miata: A roadster that not only delivered the driving dynamics of those legendary British automobiles, but added bullet-proof electronics to boot.

Never about speed, Miatas have instead been all about handling dynamics. There is not a car on the road that delivers so much handling performance in such a tidy package. The first Miata powered the rear rubber with a 116-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Sure Miata only tipped the scale at 2,100 pounds, but that still wasn’t a lot of grunt for a sporty car. No one much noticed. It was so much fun to toss around the curves, its lack of straight-line oomph didn’t really matter.

In that regard, not much has changed. The displacement is up to a whopping 2 liters with a modest 167 horsepower. The MX-5 I had a couple of weeks ago had the standard six-speed manual transmission. Opt for the six-speed automatic and the ponies drop to 158. But now as 25 years ago, the emphasis is on handling. What a hoot the MX-5 is to drive. It’s still got more personality than a game-show host.

2014 MX-5 Club (30)Fuel economy is pretty steady regardless of the transmission or whether the convertible top is cloth or the power folding hardtop. The soft-top with the manual tranny gets an EPA-estimated 22 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. Every other version posts the same highway number, but the city drops to 21 mpg.

When Miata first launched, its base price was less than $14,000. Considering it’s laboring under the weight of 25-years worth of inflation, today’s base bottom line of less than $24,000 isn’t terribly outrageous. My test Mazda was considerably more at $32,140, but just switching from the cloth top to the folding hardtop like mine had increases the price by $4,945. Options, such as the upgraded suspension with limited-slip differential and Bilstein shocks, and the Premium Package with keyless ignition and Bluetooth connectivity added close to $3,000 to the total.

Despite this roadster’s compact size, its cabin is roomy enough for two six-footers. Supportive seats are fine for tackling the twisties or hanging out on a cross-country trip. All of the systems are easy to find and user friendly. Nothing is overly complicated here. Even with the hardtop lowered, the trunk has a bit more room than you might imagine. It’s not spacious by any definition, but will hold a couple of soft bags for overnight outings.

One way Mazda has kept the price manageable is by keeping the standard equipment to the basics. Sport is the base trim and 2014 MX-5 Club (47)includes power windows and outboard mirrors (but not power locks), air conditioning, and a six-speaker audio system. There is a Club version on the way to the Grand Touring trim, which my test Miata had. By the time you get to Grand Touring, the goodies include automatic climate control, power door locks, trip computer, leather heated seats, redundant steering wheel-mounted audio controls and a seven-speaker Bose-infused audio system.

Car pooling the office to lunch and bringing home a Christmas tree are absent from the the list of things at which the MX-5 Miata is good. On the other hand, if you are looking for an open-air thrill ride, the Miata nails it.