When Mick Jagger crooned “you can’t always get what you want,” he likely wasn’t talking about cars. Or maybe he was, as apparently old Mick and the Stones did get some satisfaction from collecting them.
But you and I don’t have that Rolling Stones catalog money. And for the rest of us, I think there is one sports car that CAN get you what you want, at the right price. And that’s the Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Car fanatics, journalists, and legions of Mazda Miata fans will tell you what I’m saying isn’t exactly breaking news. But outside of these insular groups, for many people the Miata comes off as a toy, a trifle, something of a non-serious car. And that’s why I’m writing this review - I’m trying to convince those non-believers to give this car a chance. Because it’s really good… and may not be here that much longer.
The MX-5 Miata basics
“Basic” is an apt sub-heading here, because when it comes down to it, the Miata is a pretty basic package - but it gives you just what you need as a driver.
Take one part British style roadster, add Japanese technical know-how and reliability, a bulletproof naturally-aspirated 4-cylinder engine wringing out as much power as it can muster, and make the car as light as possible. This is the Miata formula.
The current-gen MX-5 Miata, internally given the ‘ND’ model designation, has been with us since 2015; however, it was given a much needed engine refresh for the 2019 model year. The 2.0 4-cylinder saw its horsepower rise to 181 (from 155 hp), with torque climbing to 151 pound feet (from 148).
The car I’m testing here is the Miata RF - which means it has a retractable hardtop, a variant that was introduced back in 2016. It gives the car some much needed utility for owners in cold-weather regions that would like a 4-seasons type of roadster, plus I believe the car looks better in the RF body style.
My tester also came in Grand Touring trim, meaning it had some extra interior niceties like automatic climate control and heated seats. Since this Miata RF tested here was the manual, this allowed us to have the uprated Bilstein shocks and a limited slip differential (these options are unavailable for automatic transmission Miatas).
Why the Miata is so great
I can describe this to you, but to be honest you really need to get inside and drive a Miata for yourself, because there’s nothing really like it.
When you first approach a Miata you really can’t believe how small it looks. “How can I, and a passenger no less, fit inside this thing?” Well you do, and it’s a tight fit, but that’s why its so great. Go kart-esqe is how I would describe it.
It’s intimate, it’s cozy, and everything is in the right spot. Because you’re basically surrounded by the car, and not enveloped in it, the steering wheel, pedals, and shifter (in this case a 6-speed manual transmission), all fall into hand (and foot).
Fire up the Miata and get going and you’re one with the car. Everything is buzzing a little bit in a good way, throttle response is great even though you’re not going to pin your head back into the seat, and handling is again go-kart precise, with good steering feel.
You row through the gears and quickly discover the small gear ratios mean you’re upshifting and downshifting a lot, which is actually good thing because its so much fun. Get moving into 3rd and 4th gear and you really feel like you’re going fast, the car is so small, and you’re so low to the ground - it feels like you’re almost flying. But then you realize you’re still below the speed limit.
And that’s another reason why this car is so special. Turns out you don’t need to go stupid fast to really enjoy some spirited driving when you are so connected to the car, and the road. You get all the thrills, and you’re not breaking the law (or endangering yourself).
It’s the magic of the Miata - and one of things we lose out on in this world where monstrous horsepower and sub 3.0 second 0 - 60 mph times are what impresses most people. What should really impress is how the damn car drives, period.
So my advice to you is: Go out and drive a Miata if you can. They’re great cars, and unfortunately Mazda doesn’t sell that many of them. Maybe you’ll like one so much you’ll buy one - before everything at your dealer’s lot is some variant of an SUV.
The 2020 Mazda MX-5 RF in grand touring trim with the 6-speed manual transmission costs $35,345, including delivery.
Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. You can follow him on Twitter here.