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Car Report: Mazda MX-5 Miata still fun after 25 years

Monday - 4/14/2014, 5:12am  ET

The new and the old: The 2014 Mazda Miata model (left) and a 1997 model show how some classics don't have to change much. (WTOP/Mike Parris)
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WASHINGTON -- It's hard to believe that Miata has been around since 1989 offering a small, affordable roadster that's easy on the wallet and easy to maintain. It takes the boring commute and changes it to a fun driving experience with great handling and slick manual gear box. But now the MX-5 Miata has grown up slightly and is available with a power retractable hardtop to make it more of a year-rounder. This is also close to the end of this generation, where, at the New York Auto Show, a new Miata will be introduced for 2016.

When I saw the list of cars I had coming my way, I was very interested to see what the MX-5 Miata was like in 2014 compared to the last Miata I drove, in 1995. It has grown some. The engine is bigger and there seems to be slightly less trunk space due to the retractable hardtop option my car had. Other than that, it's still as fun as I remember nearly 20 years ago. I also used WTOP engineer Art Rose's 1997 Miata for some pictures just to show the size difference.

My week-long test wasn't long enough. I really enjoyed driving the $29,460 2014 MX-5 Miata Club PRHT (Power Retractable Hard Top). The Club is the middle trim level for the Miata. The base sport model starts at around $24,000 and comes with a five-speed manual and 16-inch wheels, power windows and locks and vinyl convertible top. The Club trim level adds a six-speed manual transmission, larger wheels more sporty front and rear body work and the availability of a power retractable roof. The top of the line Grand Touring adds leather, heated seats, automatic climate control and some other nice features. All MX-5 Miatas can be had with six-speed automatic transmissions, if you must.

I spent 238 miles of driving bliss getting lost on back roads in Howard and Montgomery counties and commuting into the District. The Miata is very happy on the back roads winding out, and it's a joy to row through each gear in its slick manual gearbox. It will tackle highways and stop-and-go traffic, but you do notice the size difference -- you just hope that minivan can see you way down below them before they change lanes.

You'll also notice that the gear ratios are very close, so you're always in the power no matter what gear you choose. The MX-5 Miata with the power retractable hardtop is very good as well; it turns the Miata into a year-round car without having to store the optional hardtop like you would on older model. I averaged 25.8 mpg, and Mazda recommends premium fuel.

The Miata is a small car, and getting in and out can be an art form for some, but once in, the seats are comfortable and all the controls are easy to reach. There are just two seats and enough space in the trunk to pack lightly. The steering wheel is nice to hold and the gear-shift lever is in the perfect place for your hand to fall. The heating and AC are strong and good for top-down, window-up motoring. There is some road noise, but my tester was fitted with winter tires, which tend to add more noise than usual. With the top down and the air deflector between the two seats, you can have a normal conversation at 50 mph.

The 2014 MX-5 Miata Club PRHT really is a ton of fun in a small package. It has excellent handling, just enough power to make it fun, but it still returns a decent mpg. Just remember to pack sunscreen, beware of larger automobiles and don't forget to wave at other Miata drivers. You're now part of the "enjoying driving without emptying your wallet" crew.

Editor's Note: Mike Parris is a member of the Washington Automotive Press Association. The vehicles are provided by STI ,FMI or Event Solutions for the purpose of this review.

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