First Test: 1989 Mazda MX-5 Miata
.Have Coppertone, Will Travel
You see, Mazda has a hit on its corporate hands with the Miata. Here's a car that can relight the fore in an older enthusiast's heart or just as easily drive a teenage girl to the point of hot flashes. We know. The driver's seat of the Miata puts you right at ground zero. In our experience, the appeal of the Miata knows no bounds. No Motor Trend test car in memory has gotten the numbers of stares, comments, and questions the Miata has garnered during its short stay with us.
A lot of people will fall in love with the Miata for its looks; the car's marvelous road manners ensure that the love affair will last a long time. With its 50/50 weight distribution (with two people aboard) and nicely tuned chassis, the Miata is a neutral, predictable handler. When the cornering limit is approaching, the MX-5 understeers initially, but the driver can coax the tail out with the throttle. In the lower gears, there's enough power to induce oversteer with a stomp on the gas, and in the upper gears, you can get it out of line with trailing throttle then hold it there with power. Through it all, the Miata feels stable, never darty or nervous. The power steering is a touch on the dead side for our taste, and we wouldn't be surprised if the manual steering is somewhat more communicative, but otherwise, there's nothing to complain about. The 4-wheel disc brakes are progressive, powerful, and almost fadeproof. The suspension settings at first feel surprisingly soft, but they turn out to be nicely matched to the Bridgestone SF325s.
And the Miata does more than just act like it loves to corner -- this thing is deadly serious. Our test car lapped the skidpad over and over at 0.92 lateral g, tail hung out, smoke billowing from the rear tires. It was great. You have to spend several times the Miata's asking price to find a stock production car that sticks better.
This is a serious for-real sports car that churns up all sorts of wonderful memories of late, great roadsters. The only difference is that this one is a far better, more capable car. And it even starts in the morning. For a newer generation of drivers who don't have those bittersweet motoring experiences to look back on, the Miata is ready to make them from scratch. Just add sun.