New Car/Review

1999 MAZDA MIATA MX-5 T

By Matt/Bob Hagin

Mazda MX-5 Miata (1:17) 28.8, 56k or 200k
SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 19,770
Price As Tested                                    $ 22,450
Engine Type               DOHC 16-valve 1.8 Liter I4 w/MFI*
Engine Size                                 112 cid/1839 cc
Horsepower                      140/  (Cal.) 138 @ 6500 RPM
Torque (lb-ft)                  119/  (Cal.) 117 @ 5000 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length                   89.2"/66.0"/155.3"
Transmission                              Five-speed manual
Curb Weight                                     2327 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  12.7 gallons
Tires  (F/R)            High-Performance P185/60R14 H-rated
Brakes (F/R)                                     Disc /disc
Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                         Two-passenger/two-door          
Domestic Content                                Two-percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                (with top up) 0.37

PERFORMANCE

EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            25/29/28
0-60 MPH                                        8.5 seconds
1/4 (E.T.)                          16.5 seconds @ 85.0 mph
Top-speed                                           120 mph
     * Multi-point fuel injection

(Although the Mazda Miata is touted as all-new this year, Bob Hagin is glad that it's still a no-kidding, two-seater sports car. Matt Hagin is happy he finally gets a turn behind the wheel.)

BOB - The Mazda Miata burst onto our market in 1989 and for its 10th anniversary, it's nearly an all-new car. But I'm glad that it hasn't been stretched, widened and enlarged into a four-seater like other sportsters have. I cut my teeth on British roadsters in the '50s, so climbing into the tight quarters of the Miata is definitely deja vu. When it was first conceived, Mazda researched what people wanted in a traditional two-seater open sports car and designed the Miata to fit. Although the demand for sports cars dwindled during the past decade, Mazda hung in there and now that the interest in "fun" cars is on the upswing, the relatively inexpensive Miata is a hot item.

MATT - Fortunately, the concept of a true sports car has softened since the '50's. The Miata has power windows and a soft top that doesn't require time or muscles, Mazda has made it easier to operate, and a glass rear window with a defroster replaces the soft zippered one of last year. It uses independent suspension front and rear, with double wishbones at each end - in updated sports car fashion. The twin-cam engine has evolved from 1.6 liters to 1.8, so the horsepower has risen to 140. That's not enough power to make the 2300-pound Miata a "pony car" challenger on the street, but it won the top eight places in its class during the '98 National Runoffs of the Sports Car Club of America.

BOB - Mazda has actually made considerable mechanical changes to the Miata this year, Matt. Its structural rigidity has been increased and both tracks have been widened, although the weight of the car is almost the same as the original. The standard transmission is still a five-speed manual, but I really feel that it needs to a sixth gear to best take advantage of the narrow power band. A sixth gear would also keep the revs down at freeway speed. The Miata can also be had with an automatic, but that seems counter productive to Miata's mission.

MATT - Its body design has been extensively revamped this year too, Dad. The grill is bigger, the pop-up headlights are gone, the hood and fenders are more curvaceous and the trunk lid has been raised. And to avoid the wind backlash that roadsters experience when the top is down, Mazda has added a windblocker behind the seats. The traditional simple analog instrument layout remains, in perfect view in a binnacle directly in front of the driver. An anti-lock braking system should be standard equipment across the board because it helps keep the car in control on ice and snow and it would also help a relatively novice amateur competition driver with a faster lap times. Power steering is an option at $300, but my personal opinion is that on this lightweight roadster with its 50/50 weight balance front and rear, it's not necessary.

BOB - At $1500, I don't think that the detachable hard top is a particularly good buy either, since it's always a hassle to lift it off. Then you have to figure out how and where to stow it. There are four different trim packages offered and they include upgraded leather upholstery, uplevel sound systems, special wheels and tires and a plethora of other stuff. That means a buyer can almost custom-build the car. My choose would be for the Sports Package which includes a Torsion limited slip differential, tighter suspension, a front strut bar and bigger aluminum wheels.

MATT - Dad, I know that in your heart, you're still the amateur sports car racer that you were 40 years ago but today, most young buyers are more interested in air conditioning, concert-hall sound systems and snug, weathertight cockpits. Most Miata buyers aren't interested in trimming a couple of seconds off their elapsed times in regional parking-lot autocrosses.

BOB - I guess you're right, Matt. Times have changed. I can almost understand a Miata equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission but I have to draw the line at whitewall tires.

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