In Praise of Analog - 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long-Term Road Test

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long Term Road Test

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1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: In Praise of Analog

May 27, 2011

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: In Praise of Analog

Let me tell you what's special about this otherwise unskilled photograph of the Miata's cabin. Actually, only the contents of the photo are noteworthy.

There's the sweet Momo steering wheel. Great feel and profile, and light touch horn button. Clearly useful on Italian roads, largely ignored around LA and Orange County. There's a cigarette lighter, still a personal favorite (if for no other reason than to remind of times when automakers made fewer choices for you). There's even an analog odometer and trip meter. Don't see many of those anymore.

And near the bottom middle of the picture, you'll see the accelerator. Just a regular old throttle pedal, thin and grippy. More importantly, that pedal is attached to a throttle body with an old-fashioned analog steel cable. Definitely don't see many (any?) of those anymore.

Got me thinking that cars which literally drive by a wire will be more coveted on the used market in the next decade or so. Maybe not among mainstream car shoppers, but enthusiasts. It'll become a selling point. After years of being conditioned to drive-by-wire, and now hybrids and even BM freakin' Ws that essentially ignore our true intentions, even a Mazda 626 will feel sporty with a direct connection to its air and fuel delivery.

Makes me further regret selling my '91 Integra some years ago. Great four-door LS 5-speed (DB1) in white, on new bushings, Tokico coilovers, and 5Zigen wheels. Even started getting parts together for the LS/VTEC head swap. Man, that car was great. Super responsive, good pull even for a Honda.

But as my job then involved multiple project cars, the DB ended up sitting in the garage more often, and in a moment of near-sightedness, I sold it to a kid who promptly went out, revved on his friends a few too many times, and blew the head gasket. Poor car.

My current Cherokee also uses no middleman in its throttle application, and it's one of the reasons I'm loathe to sell it (despite every indication that it's time). Obviously some DBW systems are pretty good and very transparent. You don't have to deal with cable slack and engineers can dial in nice resistance and feel. A car so equipped is not the end of the world.

Still, I'm betting that hard-wired connection starts commanding a premium as enthusiast drivers look to fun cars that remove as much governance as possible between themselves and the contact patch.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

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