Old's Cool - 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: Old's Cool

January 12, 2011

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Old's Cool 

Behold a relic of the 20th century. It has no panic button. It does not cost $150 to replace. It has an actual shank that slips into the ignition and starts the car.

The key could stand for a lot of things in the Miata, which felt like old-school driving to me, as someone accustomed to 21st century automotive appointments. As my colleague Ron Montoya pointed out recently, the Miata's radio is out of commission at the moment, so what I heard was the engine and road (and a weird chattering at higher speeds, like an angry chipmunk on helium. Didn't seem like a serious problem). It does have a hardtop now, which seems to upset some of you, but even with that and closed windows, I could smell eucalyptus trees on my drive home. Finally, I felt the road. Did I ever.

I was very conscious of how low I was, flitting along like a minnow in streams of motor whales. That took some getting used to. ("I'm lower than that Smart. I'm lower than that 911. I'm lower than that Mini?" Yes. I was.) I flipped up the lights and drove that way through late-afternoon traffic. It made me feel more visible. I'm not sure I really was.

But for all that, once I hit about 65, the car seemed to come into its own. At whatever speed, it's extremely responsive, and in reading up on some Miata history, I found that Mazda was striving for Jinba Ittai ("rider and horse as one") handling. It's a fitting description. Side and rear visibility are excellent. I could pick on the heater, which forced me to choose this morning between warm hands and warm feet. But that's a mere cavil.

I wanted a Miata, back in the day. My instincts then were good ones.

Carroll Lachnit, Features Editor @ 128,028 miles.

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