It might seem that everything that could be written about the Mazda already has. The Mazda Miata has been around so long. And if you think all has been written, stop reading here.
On the other hand, as much as the Miata has stayed the same over the years, it also has changed. And as much as it has changed over the years, it also has remained the same. At the root of it all is Miata’s vaunted “oneness of horse and rider” concept it has pursued since the first of these roadsters debuted in 1989. It’s a contention we find difficult to contradict, as does America, the market for which Mazda’s roadster was originally developed.
So much have Americans so adopted the sports car that when Mazda attempted to drop “Miata” as the car’s model name and refer to it as the “Mazda MX-5”—to correspond with usage in the rest of the world and also the rest of the Mazda’s alphanumeric model nomenclature—the American market strongly rejected it. Mazda quietly readopted Mazda MX-5 Miata and, while sticking with MX-5 in the rest of the world, freely calls it by the name we’ve known it here.
So what is this diminutive two seater that inspires such passion and calls us back to write about it again? First, there’s the pure selfishness of driving the Miata another time. And to write about, we have to drive it, and we’re not the ones to shirk our responsibilities.
Second, the Miata has indeed changed over the years, in part to stay fresh. Nothing stays the same forever, though 1989 Miatas are coveted now as much as then. But the world has changed as well. Increasing safety concerns and technology, emissions considerations and driver comfort and performance expectations have made the Mazda Miata heavier, despite Mazda’s best “gram strategy” (chasing every gram of extra weight), and while the original roadster made do with a 1.6-liter 114 hp engine, the current model is considerably more potent. The 2010 Miata is powered by Mazda’s MZR-series 2.0-liter four, rated at 167 horsepower in manual transmission-equipped cars. That manual gearbox, incidentally, is a six speed instead of the original’s five.
The most recent round of changes came with latest generation of MX-5 that arrived for the 2009 model year, and in fact the 2010 Mazda Miata has only minor changes from the 2009.
The 2009 Mazda Miata received significant exterior upgrades, including a Mazda five-point grille, plus other changes that enhance the Miata’s aerodynamics, such foglight bezels that direct air around the tires.
The body was made wider with the greatest width at the mid-point for added room and safety, though rounded, says Mazda, “like the skin over a muscled body.” (We didn’t write that). Even the taillights contribute to the Miata’s aerodynamics. While recalling the elliptical shape of the original Miata’s rear lights, the outer corners have a crisp edge for a cleaner separation of air along the sides of the car, reducing drag.
The oval side rearview mirrors were inspired by the first generation as well, according to Mazda, however Mazda elected not to re-adopt the 1989’s Miata’s pop-up headlamps. Instead the headlights are mounted more inboard to make the Miata look smaller.
Another change in the 2009 model was a special sound system that’s not something that plays music, except for those who consider classic sports car sounds musical. Mazda specifically worked on the sounds made by the first generation, testing a multitude of exhaust configurations while getting the car ready for market. With the current model, Mazda is relying on the intake system to make the proper noises.
Mazda did so in the first generation by pointing the air intake at the firewall, basically aiming a trumpet at the driver. It worked, at least from a sports car sound standpoint, but it required pulling in hot underhood air into the engine intake, which is bad for performance.
For 2009, Mazda decided to bring in cooler ambient air for more consistent performance, ducting it from the front of the car. But that reduced the amount of the intake sounds heard by the driver. To recover that, Mazda experimented with reverberation chambers attached to the intake system and aimed that at the Miata’s firewall.
In part to test that, we drove a Competition Yellow 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring with the manual transmission. The automatic transmission cars do not have that sound system—no doubt because it would accentuate the looseness of that transmission’s torque converter—and besides, they didn’t bring one and we wouldn’t have driven it anyway.
Our assessment of the intake system? It works. It’s readily apparent that the nifty intake sounds are coming from under the hood, Mazda apparently also having deemphasized the exhaust tuning so important in the early years. More than likely it’s more efficient to pipe the sound directly to the passenger compartment than to broadcast it behind the car and hope some makes it back to the driver.
Of course the sounds the Miata makes is the icing and that alone doesn’t make the cake. From there the Mazda Miata plays a game of back to basics. The engine is mounted aft of the front axle line for a “front mid-engine” configuration for ideal balance. The race car-like double A-arm suspension, with aluminum front control arms and aluminum rear uprights. The hood and trunk lid are aluminum for light weight, and Mazda has used high-strength and ultra-high-strength steel in the Miata’s unit body construction for rigidity while minimizing weight.