When I got my driver's license at the age of 17, my lofty requirements for my first car were that it had to be cheap, reliable, and, most important of all, fun. It may come as no surprise then that my search ended with a Mazda MX-5 Miata, model year 1990. It was faded, rusty, and ridiculously basic – the side mirrors, for example, required you to stick your hand out the window for adjustments – but I craved a pure-bread sports car experience and that’s what it gave me.
True to its roadster heritage, the latest MX-5 embodies everything a great sports car should. Indeed, one look at the spec sheet reveals what is, without a doubt, the undisputed mixture of automotive nirvana vocabulary: naturally-aspirated engine, manual gearbox, insanely low curb weight with 50:50 distribution, and rear-wheel drive. With all this in a tidy roadster package, I think it's fair to say that Mazda absolutely nailed the ideal sports car formula.
The culmination of these traits is a totally blissful driving experience. The steering is accurate and super responsive to inputs. The throttle response is sharp and immediate, but not at all touchy. And the suspension tuning, though a tad soft, is taut enough to give the MX-5 the agility and urgency of a frenetic puppy. It's the type of handling capability that only a perfectly balanced, light-weight car can deliver.
The engine is quite zingy as well. It loves to be revved straight to its 6800rpm redline at every opportunity. Although the acceleration is nothing to brag about - 0-100km/hr takes about six seconds by most popular estimates - the sound and eagerness make it feel so much more substantial. Honestly, I've driven cars with double the cylinders that weren't nearly as exciting to floor. Part of that joy comes courtesy of the superb 6-speed manual gearbox, which offers one the sweetest shifter operations around.
For an MSRP ranging from $31,900 to $39,200, the MX-5 delivers nearly all the enjoyment of an exotic supercar at a fraction of the price. That's the thing about the MX-5. It's proof that you don't need a million dollars and a thousand horsepower to put a smile on your face. With its combination of a sharp light-weight chassis, lively engine, and slick, short throw, manual gearbox, it feels more thrilling at 60km/hr than many supercars do at 120. The MX-5 does to supercars what computers do to typewriters, it renders them pointless.
And then there’s the rest of the package. Those handsome, long hood, short rear-deck, roadster proportions. The choice of an easy folding manual canvas roof or a quick automated retracting hard-top. And the wonderfully simple cabin with its straightforward controls. Of course, one has the option of having all the leather heated blind spot lane departure gadgetry one could want, but no need really. The MX-5 doesn’t have complexities like selectable drive modes because it just doesn’t need them.
Taking the MX-5 plunge means there’s a chance you'll get the occasional “chick car” remark from some ignoramus. But anyone who doesn't take the MX-5 seriously simply doesn'tget the MX-5. It is truly a superlative automobile; one brimming with character, joy, simplicity, and, that epic enthusiast ingredient, a soul. It also happens to be cheap to run and as reliable as a Swiss watch. All of these things are reflected in its popularity among enthusiasts, racers, both grassroots and professional, and many others alike. Hey, over one million buyers can't be wrong.
Shari Prymak is a member of the Car Help Canada team and as an auto expert, has published countless articles for auto sites.