Every now and then, carmakers get it right. They come up with a model that’s well designed, well engineered, affordable, driveable and reliable.
Models like the Toyota Camry, Honda Civic, Mazda 5, Porsche Boxster and, if you go back in time, the BMW 2002 and E30, Volvo 240, MGB, Volkswagen Beetle, Jaguar E-Type and so on all fall into this category.
To that list we can add the 2020 Mazda MX-5, or Miata as it’s still affectionately known by many owners.
It’s changed over the years and is a little bulkier and upscale than it used to be. But even now, over three decades after its introduction, it remains a well-built sports car that’s a pleasure to drive and fun to spend time in.
It still ticks all the boxes, and remains faithful to its original intent and purpose. It’s still as much fun to drive as anything out there and although affordability has become a bit of an issue, it still costs less than many of its competitors.
Offered in three trim levels, plus an incredibly ugly hatchback, the 2020 MX-5 is essentially unchanged over 2019. It’s still powered by a two-litre, 16-valve twin four-cylinder engine that develops just over 180 horsepower and is matched to a six-speed manual gearbox.
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It comes with a traction control system as standard, as well as Bilstein shocks, 17-inch wheels and tires, air conditioning and a bevy of performance/handling enhancements.
With 50-50 weight distribution, it is, in the truest sense, a traditional sports car.
You can also get it with Brembo front brakes, special forged alloy wheels and leather Recaro seats. Not to mention the “soul red crystal metallic” paint of my tester.
It starts at just under $34,000 and, with options and other extras, can get up to $40,000 easily.
Elbow room and cargo space is at a premium. There’s just one cup holder and the trunk will take just 130 litres of stuff. This is strictly a two-seater and a little tight for space.
That said, it has a full complement of modern conveniences and a manually deployed top that can be raised or lowered in 10 seconds. This top is the best designed and most user-friendly of its kind.
The MX-5 has an enviable reliability record. This is a dependable automobile. After all these years, it still gets top marks from institutions like Consumer Reports and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S.
It happily provides day-in, day-out transport. It’s not exactly a people-carrier, but it’s incredibly dependable and loved by motorsports buffs because of its cast-iron durability.
The MX-5 seems to be getting up there in price but you can pick up older models for a song. Decent first-generation models can be had for as low as $5,000, which is a bargain.
And let’s not forget fuel economy. With the manual gearbox, the MX-5 is arguably the thriftiest sports car on the market, although it requires premium gas.
This is still a fun car to drive. Peripheral visibility with the top up is surprisingly abundant. And the shift mechanism, with its rifle-bolt precision, is a treat. With 180 horsepower on tap, this is also a lively car, more than enough for most people.
Although it’s still a reasonably handsome car, the MX-5 has lost some of its character. It looks much more generic than it used to and lacks the elegant simplicity of its predecessors. The hatchback derivative – the RF – on the other hand, is possibly the ugliest car on the road.
The years have been relatively kind to the MX-5. It’s not the fastest sports car out there nor the most roadworthy, but it does everything well and can be used for everyday transport by anyone who appreciates accessible performance.
2020 Mazda MX-5
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder
Transmission: six-speed manual
Horsepower: 181 at 7,000 rpm
Base price: $33,100
Fuel economy: 9.0 litres/100 km city and 7.0 highway, with premium gas
Some alternatives: Fiat Spider, Nissan 370Z Roadster, Audi TT, Porsche Boxster
Ted Laturnus writes for Troy Media’s Driver Seat Associate website. An automotive journalist since 1976, he has been named Canadian Automotive Journalist of the Year twice and is past-president of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).