Keepers: Mazda Miata MX-5

By Christopher Smith

March 22, 2010

If we could choose only one car to represent the epitome of Winding Road’s philosophy, well, it wouldn’t be the Miata. But you can bet your driving gloves and designer sunglasses that the little Mazda would be in the top five, maybe even in the top three. Few cars in the past 20 years have captured the essence of basic, undiluted driving enjoyment as well as the Miata, and it should come as no surprise that this outstanding little machine isn’t just a Keeper, but an icon among motoring purists around the world.

The Miata’s concept is nothing new. Classic British droptops like the MG Midget and Triumph Spitfire brought simple, recreational motoring to the masses long before the Miata was even on the drawing board. One ton, two seats, three pedals, a balanced chassis driven by the rear wheels, and an open roof—it’s a very simple, inexpensive recipe that leaves us wondering why more manufacturers don’t offer such a sports car. Mazda clearly mastered the concept with the very first Miata in 1989, and they’ve managed to sell over 700,000 worldwide through the end of the second-generation’s run in 2005. That’s a very impressive figure for what amounts to a niche vehicle, but it warms our automotive hearts to know that we’re not alone in our Miata fandom. Maybe there’s hope for the world after all.

All Miatas are Keepers as far as we’re concerned, but we’ll focus on the second-generation cars (1999-2005) for their combination of mechanical upgrades, refined styling, and affordability. That last point is one of significance, because these cars can be found for well under $10,000 in just about every town across the country. The second-generation cars also had the benefit of extra horsepower—142 ponies for the standard Miata or nearly 180 for the turbocharged Mazdaspeed versions in 2004 and 2005—while beefier wheels, brakes, and suspension upgrades made the already tossable Miata even more of a joyride. Yes, it grew a little bit in size and weight, but we’re still talking about a svelte two-seater with an exclusive connection to the primal sports car switch in our brains. Should the human race eventually evolve into cars, we suspect most enthusiasts would resemble the Miata.

In the market for a Miata? There are plenty of styles and special edition models to choose from, and we’ll take a look at them in our next round of Keepers, coming soon.