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2008 Mazda MX-5

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Convertible Review:  As a guy who worships two-seat sports cars and has owned a few Miatas, you'd probably expect me to gush over this car, the new Mazda MX-5.

Normally I'd write about how wonderful it is, how its exhaust note sounds like an angelic orchestra, its driving feel makes you glad to be alive, and its body is so sexy that photos of it should be banned from school libraries, but that would be all too predictable.

Yes, I'll say up front that this is a great car. Despite its drop-dead-gorgeous competition from General Motors, the MX-5 is still a better car than the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. It's the world's best car when you consider smiles per dollar, and it's the car I'd rather buy if I wanted something new.

Now that I've gotten that out of my system, I'll tell you what I really think about the MX-5: Mazda is messing it up.

When Mazda first introduced the Miata in 1989, it was a direct blessing from the automotive gods. Here was a tiny, good-looking vehicle, with the spirit and spunk of a classic British sports car, only it had Japanese reliability. Basically, it was an old MG that started when you wanted it to.

Today's MX-5, Mazda doesn't call it the Miata anymore, sticks with the formula that made it the best selling sports car of all time. It's still immensely fun to drive. It still has timeless good looks rather than trendy, short-lived styling. And it's still affordable.

But some recent developments are troubling, and they could eventually kill this great car if Mazda stays on the same path.

The biggest problem is how the MX-5 is getting bigger, and heavier, exactly the opposite of what Mazda should be doing if it wants to make a better sports car. Consider:

With simple, smooth lines, the Mazda MX-5 has a classic sports car shape that will always look good.

Only two seats are in the MX-5, but they're roomier than previous generations. That's good for comfort but bad for weight, the enemy of sports cars.

I'm a big fellow. When I get into a sports car, I ought to be crammed into it like an elephant in a phone booth. In this car, though, there were 2-3 inches of space between my big gut and the door panel. That means this car is way too big.

It now comes with an optional power hard top. That's a good idea on big, heavy luxury cars, but on a sports car it's like wearing a mink coat for a lunchtime hike through Death Valley in July. It's a terrible idea.

Granted, some people appreciate the extra space and the convenience of a power-folding top. But in both those instances Mazda's engineers are solving problems that don't exist. The MX-5's soft-top is an industry benchmark that's amazingly easy to put up and down, and, seriously, who would buy this tiny thing if they were looking for something roomy and comfortable?

Even if those people exist, they shouldn't be buying a sports car. If they really want a roomier, more comfortable and luxurious car, Mazda sells a perfectly good grand tourer, called the RX-8.

Finally, the thing that bugs me most about the new MX-5, is how much better it could be. Mazda brags about how the current generation of this car is bigger and more powerful without adding much weight. That's good.

But think about it. If Mazda could use new technology to make this car balloon up without adding weight, imagine what they could have done with a smaller vehicle. It would have weighed a lot less but had a lot more power, staying true to its pure sports-car roots and getting better performance at the same time.

That imaginary Miata would have been an amazing car. It would have gotten club racers and first-generation Miata owners excited. It would have blown away the performance of the Solstice and the Sky. It would have been on the cover of every car magazine because of how much speed you got for the dollar.

Instead, we have a softer, kinder, gentler, roomier MX-5. It's a wonderful car. It's just not nearly as wonderful as it could be.

What was tested? The 2008 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring with a base price of $26,520. Options: Premium package at $1,250, suspension package at $500, satellite radio at $430. Price as tested: $28,700

Why avoid it? It's becoming less pure with added weight and a bulkier body.

Why buy it? It's amazing fun for the money. It drives like a go-kart, has the reliability of a Japanese car and simple, timeless styling. It's still a great sports car.

By Derek Price AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

Mazda Home Page

Byline: Convertible Review provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name: It's still a great sports car.
Topic: The 2008 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring
Word Count:  856
Photo Caption: The 2008 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring
Photo Credits: Mazda MX-5 Internet Media
Series #:  2008 - 09


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