2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata review: Young, adult and (still) novel

2014 Mazda Miata

In its 9th model year, Mazda’s Miata still fresh, attractive and dynamic.

On a bicycle, ‘fit’ isn’t a component; it is the component. Whether you’re spending $80 for a junkyard dog or $8,000 on the slickest bit of carbon fiber, if the bike doesn’t fit you must, uh, quit. Almost as essential as good fit are the points of contact: handlebars, pedals and seat. If bars or pedals are too far or too close, or the saddle provides an I-can’t-stand-it-any-longer perch, what should be a recreational outing can quickly reduce itself to chronic suffering. And so it is with Mazda’s 2014 Miata, a model that – in its 25th year – remains amazingly true to its original concept. If it fits, and you can enjoy the points of contact, you’ll find the drive and ownership an absolute delight. And if it doesn’t fit, buy one (please) for the wife or kids…

As noted previously, we are in the final days of what we hoped would be a 90-day test of Mazda’s new Miata in this, its 25th year. Due to travel – and the very real need for a car capable of carrying more than a carry-on – we’re moving on to something with a bit more day-to-day practicality. But the lack of utility in Mazda’s now-iconic (but then, when wasn’t it iconic?) two-seater doesn’t diminish for a moment its essential goodness. This is one sweet ride, from how it looks in your garage to – at its least attractive – stuck in a mall parking spot. And while the sheetmetal may be slightly polarizing (something the first and second gens weren’t…), and the price of up-spec models slightly dizzying, there are few better ways to connect yourself with the road than Mazda’s evergreen Miata.

2014 Mazda Miata Rear

Brit-inspired roadster, Brid-inspired manse

On this driveway the Miata’s sheetmetal is well-liked, if not exactly loved. Although the design is not particularly color sensitive, the test car’s Meteor Gray makes the wheel/tire combo seem more dominant than is the case with lighter metallics or white. And while the proportions of the retractable hardtop – when not retracted – don’t seem as visually balanced as those of the cloth-covered roadster, neither do they offend. In short, it’s a balanced, athletic look, not suffering the relative bloat of current Porsches, nor the sports car caricature that is (in my op) the C7 Corvette.

Inside, the Miata’s tightly drawn interior is covered – in our Grand Touring spec – with Spicy Mocha leather. And despite the descriptive, they didn’t take the seats from an old Cordoba; rather, they’re attractively designed, with a shape that provides a reasonable balance between lateral support and ease of ingress. And although a $30K window sticker might suggest a fat wallet, put that wallet in your wife’s fat purse; these seats provide little room for the fat wallet (or big butt) that might typically occupy the space.

If the seating works visually and functionally (we still like cloth for its ability to breathe and hold you in place), the interior plastics date this Miata to its 2006 intro – or maybe  a 1996 refresh. Both the door trim and dash are hard and harder, respectively, and while the grain is OK, the tactile and visual aspect are closer to $10K than $30K. Audi’s TT is no match for the Miata’s dynamic, but given that you’re in a car 100% of the time, and only flogging it (maybe) 50% of the time, there’s a good argument for examining an Audi before finalizing the interior plastics on the next-gen Miata. And while we liked the shape and size of the steering wheel, does the quintessential sports car really need volume controls and cruise screwing up – at least visually – its spokes? We like Scion’s take on steering wheel design in the Scion FR-S: three spokes, ergonomic proportions and nuttin’ else!

2014 Mazda Miata Roof

With roof up, proportion seems off…

Under the hood is the same 2.0 liter four the Miata was first blessed with eight years ago. The DOHC four certainly produces adequate power for the MX-5’s 2,500 pounds, but there’s a resonance at most engine speeds, making it tough to identify a sweet spot. Thankfully, with a smooth, precise gearbox and one of the truly great clutches, the engine’s relative coarseness is easily overlooked. We remember it in supercharged, Super20 spec, built for SEMA to commemorate the Miata’s 20th anniversary. And while its responsiveness was exhilarating, the Miata chassis doesn’t need 50% more power; a bump to 200 horsepower and (perhaps) 200 lb-ft of torque – delivered smoothly – would seem about perfect.

The available power is delivered to the ground via rear-wheel drive, as the automotive gods intended. The suspension is all-independent and, in sport-tuned guise, beautifully composed. (I’m not sure why every Miata is not spec’d with this suspension, as those without it tend to ‘Buick’ a bit much.) Steering is point-and-shoot, while avoiding the excessive feedback point-and-shoot often implies. And the Miata’s smallish footprint allows you to point at just about any hole and make it through the hole. We suspect the next Miata will be more accommodating, but hope it isn’t less ‘flickable’.

We’ve touched on utility – or lack thereof – but it’s worth referencing again. The smallish trunk will handle luggage for two over a long weekend, but if the journey is longer – or wardrobe is bigger – you’ll want to find a MG Mitten catalog (good luck with that…) and one of its excellent trunk-mounted racks for your trunk-mounted trunk. Some adventure bikes and/or personal watercraft have more storage capacity than this Miata, but we wouldn’t want Mazda to turn its MX-5 into a sport utility. And it’s not financially necessary; the monies spent on Porsche’s modestly equipped Boxster will net you both a Miata and Mazda CX-5 at your Mazda showroom.

Now in its 10th year of production, the third gen has served both Mazda and its enthusiast base extremely well. The next one will most assuredly be better, but advancing technology might very well make it more complicated. If you enjoy the current model’s essential simplicity – and happen to fit – you could do far worse than investing at the end of this line, rather than waiting for the first of the next one. The regular roadster, in Club guise, would work for me. And it remains a car a journalist might actually buy; there is no higher recommendation…

Specifications continued on next page…