Why The Mazda MX-5 Miata Makes Me Smile

2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club
The 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club.

Well, just look at it, wouldya?  I mean, if you don't break into an involuntary grin at the sight of a gleaming, polished Miata, you should check to see if you have a pulse.

And if the driver's seat is empty, and you have the key fob to said Miata in your pocket...well, the fun is just beginning.

Especially if there's a winding, twisting, scenic road nearby...and as luck would have it, I had a red 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club, and the key fob to it, in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento, California.

Map of alternate route from Folsom to Placerville, California
The way from Folsom to Placerville if you have the keys to a Miata (source: Google Maps).

A run from Folsom to Placerville takes you from 466 feet above sea level to 2,000 feet in 24.2 miles and 29 minutes if you take U.S. 50.  But until the last few miles into Placerville, that's just suburban freeway.  Take the back way, a scenic two-laner called Green Valley Road, grab North Shingle Road south to Mother Lode Drive, then take Pleasant Valley and Cedar Ravine Roads, and it's 36.7 miles, 58 minutes ( a bit more if you stop at the El Dorado Cafe for breakfast, and you should) and infinitely more satisfying.

By the way, the El Dorado Cafe didn't pay for, ask for or even know that I was going to write that.  That's just a recommendation from yours truly.  Thank me later.

Rear 3/4 view of 2014 Mazda Miata MX-5 Club
2014 Mazda Miata MX-5 Miata Club.

With its dual exhausts, dark gunmetal 17-inch alloy wheels and black trim (air dam, rear diffuser, headlight bezels, side mirrors), the Club version of the Miata looks seriously fast.  It's not.  Nor is it slow. It's the same 2-liter, 167-horsepower four-cylinder that's in every other Miata.  If you look online, you'll find 0-60 times that are all over the map...as high at 8 seconds, as low as 6.  Call it 7 with the six-speed manual (which ours had) because, like the points on "Whose Line Is It Anyway", 0-60 times don't matter in a Miata.

Cedar Ravine Road south of Placerville, California
Cedar Ravine Road south of Placerville (source: Google Maps Street View).
No, it's 35 miles of this type of road that matters in a Miata.  Because Miatas are all about handling.  A base, box-stock Miata...heck, a 24-year-old, used, first-gen Miata, is all about handling.  And thankfully, Mazda hasn't lost the thread.

The Club model just sweetens the deal.  Get it with the manual instead of the automatic (you should anyway) and the suspension package comes standard.  That's a sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein shocks, and a limited-slip differential.  Even if you obey the posted speed limit, you'll have a ball because the car simply sticks to the road as if there was a magnet under the asphalt guiding you.  Except you have the control.  The steering is still hydraulic instead of electric.  There's direct, immediate feedback.  And because the car is small and light, it does what you tell it to do with the steering wheel rightnow.

Interior shot of a 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club
2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club interior.
Inside, well, it's primal stuff...devoid of 7-inch color touchscreens and iDrive-type controllers that my latest car guy friend (Hi, Ray!) calls a "mouse".


The Miata simply doesn't need them.  It has what a driver's car should have...supportive seats, a grippable steering wheel, big, crystal-clear gauges, switchgear that can be operated without taking your eyes off the road and a buttery-smooth shifter that snicks into the right gear with no hesitation or ambiguity.  It also has what every convertible should have if you're going to drive it with the top down in the mountains in January...a good heater.  My navigator was thinking seriously about asking me to put up the retractable hardtop, but 30 seconds of the heater in the Miata elicited a "Naaah...I'm good".

Practicalities? Two people max (choose your navigator carefully, as I have, and you'll be very happy). More luggage space than expected because Mazda wisely found a way to keep the retractable hardtop from eating trunk space when it's down. We got two-thirds of a six-foot tall fake Christmas tree in the trunk (the other third made for a cozy companion for navigator's lap). Still, a $300 Costco run or two weeks worth of clothes for two might be beyond the pale.

EPA estimated fuel economy is 21 city/28 highway/24 combined, and we hit that target dead-on.

And finally, price.  A base Miata is $23,720.  A screaming deal.  Step up to the PRHT (Power Retractable Hard Top) and the Club model and the base price jumps to $28,665.  But if you examine what you get for that additional $4,945 (we'll let Mazda run it down for you here), there's a strong value argument to be made.  And after you make that step, you're done. The only options left are paint protection film, Crystal White Pearl paint, a satellite radio subscription, wheel locks, floor mats and a cargo net...and our tester managed just fine without any of them, settling in at an as-tested price, including $795 delivery fee, of $29,460.

Regular TireKicker readers know that in the last five-plus years, we've driven a lot of more expensive cars here.  None have a better fun-per-dollar ratio than the Miata.