Licensed to thrill

Mazda would like us to believe its diminutive iconic two-seat roadster is called the MX-5. It’s not.

Mazda would like us to believe its diminutive iconic two-seat roadster is called the MX-5. It’s not. It’s the Miata. Always has been. Always will be.

Allow me to illustrate:

“What car are you testing this week?”

“A Mazda MX-5.”

Awkward silence. Blank stare. Chirping crickets.

“You know, a Miata.”

“Oh yeah! Cute car. Don’t they come with a big bottle of perfume?”

This third generation car (launched in 2006 with the MX-5 handle) sees a number of tweaks for 2009. Externally, it gets more muscular side-sills, reshaped rear bumper and a revised visage with sharper headlights and a (thankfully) subtler version of Mazda’s leering grill.

The interior is spruced up with recontoured sport seats, trim upgrades, sharper gauge graphics, a new center console with additional storage, a padded armrest and door panels reshaped for increased leg room.

MX-5 pricing starts at $28,995 for the five-speed manual soft-top GX. My fully loaded six-speed manual GT specimen checked in at $39,995. That price included the power retractable hardtop, which is a $2295 option on the $33,495 six-speed GS model.

The GT gets such niceties as keyless entry, Bluetooth, heated leather seats, 7-speaker audio, Sirius satellite, 17” alloys, fog lights, strut tower brace, Xenon headlights and A/C with auto climate control.

No one buys an MX-5 for long distance touring. It’s made for sunny days and country roads.

Though 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the Miata, I’m happy to report it retains the simple rear-drive purity that made this roadster a hit from day one. Clutch takeup is short, and a mere twist of the wrist has the roadster changing its directional path. The star of the show is the rifle-bolt six-speed shifter that sprouts from the top of the transmission, just as God intended.

A six-speed auto with paddle shifters is a $1200 option. And yes, God will probably forgive you for ordering a slushbox-equipped Miata.

For 2009, the 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine gets a new forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods, stiffer valve springs and an oil cooler. Horsepower increases by one to 167 and the redline has risen from 6700 to 7200 r.p.m. With 140 lb-ft of torque it’s reasonably punchy in the midrange.

The MX-5 is engineered to deliver maximum driving pleasures at modest velocities. It’s a seven-tenths car. Push beyond that and it gets tail happy and a bit messy. If you want a ten-tenths roadster, spend twice the money and buy a Porsche Boxster.

While the MX-5 Miata was probably the last car to ask for a retractable hardtop, Mazda has engineered a slick piece here that looks good, operates in 12 seconds and doesn’t take up any more trunk space than the fabric lid. It does add 37 kg though.

The MX-5’s closest rivals are the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky siblings, both of which are lovely to look at, not bad to drive and sadly, likely to be deep-sixed with GM’s restructuring.

And this is the last year for the Honda S2000.

It seems as though Mazda’s little roadster has once again got the playground to itself.

2009 Mazda MX-5 GT

Type: Two-seat roadster
Price: $39,995 (base)
Engine: 2.0L four cylinder
HP/Torque: 167 hp; 140 lb.-ft.

Highlights

• Fun to drive
• Cute looks

 
 
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