1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long Term Road Test - Comfort

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long Term Road Test

  • Full Review
  • Pricing & Specs
  • Road Tests
  • Comparison
  • Long-Term

1997 Mazda Miata: Holding Cups

April 11, 2014

1997 Mazda Miata

Yeah, I'm blogging about the cupholders in a Miata.

While not as bad as the "cupholder" in a C5 Corvette, the two in our 1997 Mazda MX-5 are pretty sorry. Like Millenials, they lack depth and the ability to hold on to anything for long periods of time.

But I digress.

You can make the cupholders work, but you'll need a couple of other items. Follow me to see how it's done.

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Close To You

October 31, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Since driving the 2014 Corvette Stingray across country, I'm fiending rear-drive manual gearbox love these days, and that combination is unfortunately rare in our fleet. But settling into the Miata the other night, I forgot just how freakishly compact its dimensions are. Without leaning forward in the seat, you can almost cradle the driver-side mirror in your arm like a football.

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Busted Air Conditioning

October 11, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Don't let that blue light fool you. Even though it's implying the air conditioning is turned on in our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata project car, trust me, the system definitely isn't producing any cold air.

Which is a fine thing to find out as you're driving home ahead of a hot southern California weekend.

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Aftermarket Seat Tips, Version Two

January 21, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

After living with our modded 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata and its aftermarket seat over a weekend, I realized I left out a couple of key seatbelt-buckling tips.

I failed to mention that in order to feed the belt through the seat hole on the center tunnel side, you actually need to position your butt up on the left-side seat bolster so that your right leg is out of the way. No biggie, just not your typical seat-belting method, eh?

The other extremely helpful tip is to slide the seatbelt receiver back slightly, so that it's closer to vertical. This makes it a straighter shot for the belt.

One last tip. If you're hopping into the Miata at night, just don't be in any kind of a rush. I found out (when I was in a rush in a very dark parking lot) that the interior light doesn't work. Not sure why I've never noticed this before. But it made it even more of a challenge to snap the belt into place, since I couldn't see anything that was going on in the extremely tight space between that heavily-bolstered seat and the center tunnel. Plus, you can barely even squeeze a hand in there.

But you know what? After a couple of fumbling runs, I actually got reasonably good at the whole process. Even in the dark. Some might call it a nuisance. I call it part of the character of a modified car.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 140,508 miles

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Ride Quality

January 17, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Considering the level of handling our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata possesses, the ride quality is actually not that bad. Believe me, I'm not saying this modified car rides down the road like it's on a bed of pillows, but for a machine that pulls 1.03g around the skidpad and 71.8 mph through the slalom, yeah, I'll put up with above average stiffness and some harshness over small bumps.

Unlike a lot of modified cars, there is some compliance here. It doesn't try to bounce you up out of the seat and drive your head into the roof over large, fast bumps. Chalk it up to spot-on spring rates.

Also, and again unlike a lot of modified cars, the Miata's suspension is quiet. No squeaking, creaking or clunking noises coming from the chassis here. This is suspension done right.

Which is not to say Project Miata is rattle-free. Nope, there's more than a few odd, and occasionally annoying, rattles and squeaks emanating from the tired interior.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 140,445 miles

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Aftermarket Seat Tips

January 16, 2013

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

This was my first stint in our 1997 Mazda MX-5 since on-site Project Miata guru Jay Kavanagh installed an aftermarket racing seat. As such, I now have some key tips for anyone driving this car.

Tip Number 1
Be sure to remove everything from your pockets before getting into the extremely restrictive confines of the seat. That means everything, but particularly that cell phone in your front pocket. Because once you're in this seat, and especially once you're buckled in, there's no getting anything out of your pockets. Ever again.

Not to mention the fact that, apparently, Dan Frio doesn't appreciate people pocket dialing him.

Tips Number 2 and 3
Before you try to buckle yourself in, gather as much seatbelt slack as possible (this tip courtesy of JayKav) prior to slipping the belt through the hole in the seat.

But even more important, especially for those of us short of leg, be sure to buckle the belt before you move the seat into its proper forward position. Skip this last step and you'll be hard-pressed to pull the belt far enough back to clasp it into place.

Follow these tips and this seat won't seem like such a hassle, leaving you to revel in its unbelievable lateral support. Just the thing for canyon runs and track days.

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Less-Speedy Getaways

October 24, 2012

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Less-Speedy Getaways

In most cars, you click the seatbelt's metal tab into the receiver so quickly and easily that you don't even need to think about it. 

With Project Miata's new seat, there's a bit of work required first -- since this is a single-piece shell, the tab must be fed through the lap belt slot in the side of the seat before it can go into the receiver. Your right hip wants to block the slot while you do this, and then you've got to navigate the tab-slot action between the seat and trans tunnel. I expect to hear some grumbling from other editors the first time they strap in. Here again, it helps to be slim.

A bit of technique goes a long way here -- I've got it down to a few seconds now. And once secured, the stock lap belt lays across the hips much better with this seat than it did with the stock seat after its foamectomy. Same for the shoulder portion -- its routing through the new seat prevents the slow retracting belt action you get when you have rollbar and stock seats in a Miata.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: It Helps To Be Slim

October 23, 2012

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

When it comes to the stock seats in Corvettes and first-gen Miatas, driver width isn't really an issue. That's because the seats are flaccidly bolstered, so the flesh just sort of floats on the top surface of the seat. As a result the stock seats will accomodate a variety of body morphs equally well. Or poorly, if lateral support is something you seek in a seat.

With Project Miata's new seat, the opposite is true. The seat's deep sides place a practical limit on the driver width that will fit comfortably between them. We've got a couple of 34-inch waistlined editors that fit in the new seat... snugly. Anyone larger won't be having it.

On the flip side the support from the new seat is just bonkers -- it holds you the way a mother cradles a baby. There is simply no comparison to any street seat. 

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Too Hot

October 19, 2012

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata

I hate driving our longterm 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata when it's hot outside. The reason? It's even hotter inside the car. 

I've noticed this in every first-gen Miata I've ever driven for any prolonged period of time -- the cabin gets nasty hot. Recently we experienced some unseasonally hot weather here in SoCal, and driving Project Miata around in it reminded me how I'd rather park this little green tictac during hot weather than deal with its steamy cabin.

Why is this? Well, first, the a/c in first-gen Miatas is kinda weak. Despite having only a tiny cabin volume to cool, the stock a/c just can't keep up with summer-like California weather. It blows cold air, just not enough of it.

But tepid aircon is not the root issue. The main problem is that there's another heat source besides the pavement and the ambient air that's pummeling the cabin with calories -- the exhaust. 

The exhaust in a Miata runs down the driver's side of the transmission tunnel. Due to proximity and insufficient shielding, heat from the exhaust and catalytic converter simply bakes the entire transmission tunnel, and then the tunnel radiates like a giant hot plate into the cabin. Just hover your hand over the carpet on the trans tunnel and you can feel the heat! Don't put anything that's temperature-sensitive into the console cupholder -- it'll melt. 

This radiant exhaust heat also takes its toll on the rubber boots surrounding the shifter, which lead a relatively short life in Miatas as a result. 

Want swamp ass? Sit in a Miata in Los Angeles rush hour traffic during August. And were the hardtop not in place, it'd be even worse -- the last thing you want in a California heatwave at midday is the sun screaming down on you. 

Next time this thing is on our Rotary Lift, I'm putting some heat shields in the trans tunnel.

Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Shut The Buzz Up

May 25, 2012

Miata key buzzer.jpg

Our long-term Miata has one of the most annoying key buzzers I've heard. Put the key in the ignition and open the door and it just incessantly buzzes at you--whether the car is on or off, doesn't matter. Key in, door open and let the annoyance reign.

On the bright side, I guess you won't ever forget and leave the key in the ignition...

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 137,265 miles.

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Slide Right In

May 10, 2012


So many reasons to love the Miata in general and ours in particular. Here's one: Easy parking in narrow coastal city parking lots. Plus a bonus "ewwwww" from a passing 328i full of dim spending drones on leave from their first corporate job in Century City.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Master of the Obvious

March 30, 2012


Kurt's about to do something interesting with Project Miata over the weekend, so that gives me time to make some mundane observations right now.

Driving a recovering convertible with a fixed hardtop and rollcage is as cool as it is inconvenient. I put 50 mostly freeway miles on the 1997 MX-5 last night and noticed that with the driver seat tracked back in my preferred position, it rubs continually against the cage. It really is time for a new seat, but you know, it's so tight in this cockpit with a cage, I might still have this issue.

Another thing I noticed last night is that even with its upgraded suspension, wheel/tire swap and pretty amazing grip, the Miata doesn't ride half bad. On L.A. freeways, it's more compliant than our 1985 911, far less compliant than our NSX and about as tolerable as my (fading) memory of Evo VIII/IX (obviously, I'm comparing apples to oranges to mangos to papayas, but when you have a whole fleet of cars, it's tough to resist looking at them in relation to each other). But the steering is very reactive just off center -- great for quick transitions on the track, but a little high-maintenance on the 60 freeway.

Parting thought: In-gear acceleration is plenty good at 70 mph in 5th. More power/torque would be exciting, no doubt, but as it is, most of my heel-and-toe downshifts in normal driving are executed just for sport -- they sound good.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda Miata: Not For Me

March 20, 2012


The first time I drove a Miata was during the summer of 1989. It was one of the first MX-5s in America. It was blue, just like the one on the cover of Road and Track that March. I hated it.

Honestly, I don't remember much from that day behind the wheel. I just remember how disappointed I was. I was looking forward to the drive for months. But once I got behind the Mazda's wheel I knew immediately that it wasn't for me. It was too slow. Too small. And just too delicate for my New Jersey sensibilities.

Twenty three years later I'm still there.

Whenever I drive a Miata, any Miata, I'm always disappointed. Which is exactly why I dreamt up our Project Miata, because I'm still looking for a Miata I like to drive. A Miata I like to be in. I remember talking it up to the staff before we agreed to do it. "We can make it like a little Cobra," I said. Jay Kav bought in immediately and got to work.

But it still doesn't push my buttons, our car still leaves me cold.

It's not our car's fault. It's a cool little ride. Jay has improved it 1000% in every way. He did just what we talked about. But it still isn't for me. Every time I drive it I quickly wish I wasn't. It just doesn't do it for me. I can't help but feel like I'm driving something I'm supposed to like but don't. Something I'm talking myself into.

Where's the thrill? The tire smoke? The powerslides? Where's the intensity?

I still like the idea of a Miata. It just turns out that I like the idea much better than I like the actual experience. I always have and I'm pretty sure I always will.

Oh well, different strokes.

Scott Oldham, Editor in Chief

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Now That's a Racket!

February 09, 2012


The other night I got stuck in some pretty awful traffic. It ended up taking almost 30 minutes to get home from the supermarket, which was only a mile away. Besides fearing that my pint of Ben & Jerry's was turning into a milkshake in the trunk, the cabin started getting a little hot and stuffy. So, I hit the AC button.

A cacophony of rattling and belt noise sprung from under the hood. "Well, that's not good," I said. I tried it once more and left it on for a few seconds, but the racket continued. Alright, time for the windows.

It was so loud and rough, it reminded me of this:

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Where's the Reading Material?

February 08, 2012


Quite some time ago, we dug out some of the seat cushion foam to allow more headroom for our taller drivers. It's been a while since I drove the Miata, but I had the chance last night. I think we need to add some foam back in.

The center of the cushion is now dished out, which means that most of the support is now on the sides of the seat. Yes, that's right, the Miata's driver seat now feels like a toilet. I'm thinking if we plop in some lower-density foam to push out the center, it'd be a big relief. I think it just needs to be a little more flush with the rest of the cushion.

Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda Miata: Works Well In The Mountains

January 25, 2012


Our Miata is meant for snaking around tight corners or hitting up a racetrack. But it's also pretty good at highway travel(*) in the mountains. The supercharger gives it a nice boost in torque to climb grades with ease in fifth gear. And as the Miata's nimble and pretty easy to see out of, it's fun to nip through traffic and pass slower moving vehicles.

Though it's not a winter car you'd take to go skiing, summer recreation could certainly be on the docket.

Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor

*This is not to say our Miata is comfortable on the highway. It's not. It's loud, buzzy, stiff-riding and probably not too far away from what I imagine it's like riding on an ox cart. But it's a first-generation Miata. What do you expect?

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: We Meet Again

November 29, 2011

Project Miata.jpg

It's been quite some time since I've driven the Inside Line Project Miata. We're talking literally months. In fact, I think this is the first time I've driven the car since JayKav had the roll bar installed.

And, wouldn't you know, I had forgotten how fun it is.

I love Project Miata's nimble nature, that quick turn-in and precise steering feel. When we tested it with the bigger wheels and tires, Walton and I were flat out amazed with not only how much grip it had through the slalom and around the skidpad, but how composed it was.

Sure, a bit more sauce would be nice, as the Miata certainly has more grip than power at the moment. But I really like the way the power flows so smoothly from the supercharged engine.

And the clutch is terrific, the take-up point absolutely second-nature combined with great throttle calibration. This is the way all cars should be.

Course, there are a few things that make the Miata less than perfect as a daily driver:

There's the seatbelt that retracts quite reluctantly. And the gouged-out driver's seat, the cushion bolsters of which now dig into me. And yes, lots of road noise. It's boomy inside the cabin. And there are a few more creaks and rattles than I remember, along with a bit of speaker distortion that I don't recall. Maybe I just had the stereo cranked louder than usual last night during my slog down the 405...

Ultimately I can put up with those. Because, a) it's a project car. And b) it's pure and purposeful.

Mike Monticello, Road Test Editor @ 133,950 miles.

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Not for the Squeamish

November 09, 2011

mazdamiata 009.jpg

OK, as a passenger, I am not crazy about our 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata. Don't get me wrong, I lovvve driving it. But just sitting inert in the passenger seat? Not fun.

Since I was a kid, I've always been prone to car sickness (valid excuse for usurping any "Shotgun!" winner). So the Miata's lurchiness and loud, reverberating revs don't do my sensitive constitution any favors. Compound that with the stuffiness of the cabin (the car's floorplan transmits a lot of heat from the exhaust and we have to keep the blower speed low else the air vents get too loud) and I just want out already.

To get through the ride, I roll down my window, sink into my seat and stare at a fixed point straight ahead. But I think the real solution to curing car sickness in the Miata is simply to get behind its wheel and take control of the situation.

Caroline Pardilla, Deputy Managing Editor

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Lash

October 13, 2011

f34 hood eng.JPG 

Last night's horrid commute traffic highlighted that Project Miata exhibits not-insignificant driveline lash. When you're modulating the throttle lightly in first or second gear, it's possible to set up one of those hilarious undamped fore/aft lurch cycles.

Low-speed part-throttle driveability slipped a hair when the supercharger went in, underscoring the lash issue which is definitely more pronounced now than it was when we bought the car. Engine mounts are likely accountable for the lash. The factory mounts are small blocks of rubber bonded on either face to a metal backing. Over time the rubber dries out, gets crusty and breaks away from the backing.

The engine mounts are not the best design, really, and should be considered a regular service item if you drive your Miata with any kind of spirit. Not only does Project Miata get worked hard; it's also making more torque than stock, exposing the tired old mounts to more extreme loading. Project Miata is pushing 140k miles and is very likely on the original mounts.

Mazdaspeed Motorsports sells engine mounts made with rubber of somewhat stiffer durometer than the originals. Something to add to this car's to-do list.

--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Workaround

August 31, 2011

Miata_belt workaround.jpg

While Editor Jay devises a solution to the binding seatbelt, I used the headrest-workaround during my recent seat time in Project Miata. You hook a thumb under the belt and pull it to the back of your neck to create slack, grab the buckle and latch in, then slowly allow the tension to take in the slack. Slowly is the key word; too quick and the belt will bind during retraction. Suddenly you'll be straining shoulder muscles you didn't know existed trying to free it up. 

Not ideal, but it'll work for now. Living with older cars calls for some improvisation, and our Miata still rewards you for thinking on your feet.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Needs A Pull Strap

August 26, 2011


See this? This is ugly. Some would call it utilitarian. Some would call it functional. I'll call it ugly.

As I see it there are only two reasons to keep the door pull/armrest in this car.

And neither of them are very good.

First, we need a means to close the door -- something to grab and pull. Here's an idea. It's an oldie but a goodie. Porsche does it well in the Boxster Spyder:

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Young Dad Approves

August 23, 2011


Eighty-five degrees by late morning and a Miata with busted A/C. Damp shirt, ripe and shiny, by the time I finished with this shot. No, we don't have the humidity a lot of you readers deal with. But we have plenty of strong desert sun. Took about 10 minutes at 70 mph with both windows down to cool off. Apologies to my downwind neighbor Caroline here on the cube farm. 

But not complaining. Kudos to Editor Jay for the improvements he's made to this car. With the new roll cage, the chassis feels tight and direct, as if it pivots around the shifter. Freeway travel is not near as punishing as I'd feared. The clutch also feels wonderfully slick now. Picks up first gear like a magnet. 

My neighbor likes Project Miata. He's a young guy with an S2000 and a 2006 Evo. His wife drives their toddler around in the latter. He says it's a good family car. He praised Editor Jay's work, the cage install, and the Hankooks while practicing wheelies on his fixie. I woulda offered him a PBR, but was already late for the office.

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Beauty Of Dual-Purpose Cars, Pt. III

July 14, 2011


By the time we'd reached Highway 101 on our mountain-road-and-track trip, the ambient air temp had dropped considerably. I'd been able to use the throttle with impunity for the last several miles as a consequence, and we'd had a hell of a great drive so far, earlier near-overheating notwithstanding. 

Carmel Valley Road was our final tarmac destination before turning in for the night. It was nightfall when we reached the turnoff for this road, a bumpy, tricky, tight mess of an unlit 23-mile stretch. I absolutely love it to pieces. But it's no place for some rickety 15-year old droptop.

Carmel Valley Road brings out the worst in a chassis. It has everything, sometimes all at once -- off-camber, broken pavement, scree-strewn, decreasing radius blind corners. If your car isn't right, this road will let you know about it in no uncertain terms. Insufficient travel, poorly valved dampers, mismatched spring rates? You'll hate this road. This is an Evo or WRX road.

And you know what? Project Miata swallowed up that bumpiness and fidgetiness while being driven as hard as the headlights would allow, maintaining its grip on the pavement with the security of an iron fist. No amount of pounding would upset it. It remained poised, communicative and inspired heaps of confidence. I'd been impressed with its bump compliance before, but this road is kind of an ultimate test. Project Miata is no Evo, but it's doing a far better job of emulating one here than a 15-year old droptop has any right to do. Gotta hand it to FatCat Motorsports, they know how to dial a suspension for this stuff, and that's not easy. 

That suspension works even better now that Project Miata's chassis stiffness has been fortified by the GT3 6-point roll bar. I'll go so far as to say that the car has been transformed by its presence, with the brunt of the credit going to its door bars. Much of the secondary jitteriness the body shell had while traversing bumps is now gone; the whole thing drives more all-of-a-piece. It now goes down the road like a fundamentally much more serious and capable car. 

There's more. Project Miata's ride quality is notably more supple due to the roll bar. Inputs from the road can actually be damped out by the suspension, rather than simply being transmitted to the previously noodly (and undamped) chassis. Whether increased chassis stiffness improves lap times is one of those endless internet debates, but consider this -- allowing the suspension to work better results in more uniform contact patch loading when traversing lumpy pavement. It also makes for a much more confidence-inspiring (and pleasant) drive. Confidence is speed.

One side effect of lowering a Miata (or any car, really) is bump steer, and Project Miata has exhibited it from the day we did exactly that. The bump steer was excessive at times on Carmel Valley Road. A million years ago I'd swapped in the longer tie rod ends from the R-package cars. A good start, but longer tie rod ends alone aren't really enough to quell the bump steer at the ride height Project Miata runs. I should fab some spacer shims to move the steering rack up. I probably won't.

Fun roads over, we turned up Laureles Grade and onto Highway 68 to find a hotel. Motel 6 only has smoking rooms available. Screw that. Days Inn it is. We'll rise with the sun (not really) and arrive at Laguna Seca in the morning, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (not really).

--Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Roll Bar And Visibility

July 04, 2011


Some of you have asked about Project Miata's visibility with the Blackbird Fabworx GT3 6-point roll bar. I'm here for you.

Hit the jump.

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda Miata: More Room Than Our 911

May 25, 2011


At 6 feet 2 inches, I need a fair amount of room to feel comfortable behind the wheel. My legs are relatively short, though, so my standard driving position is a bit on the odd side. Think sitting close to the wheel with the seat tilted back.

Oddly, I feel much more at home in our tiny little Miata than I do in our '85 Porsche 911. Could be the changes Oldham made to the Mazda's seat, or the new steering wheel. Either way, it works well as there's plenty of room for my knees which makes it much easier to shift and steer.

The 911 is comparatively cramped as I'm constantly try to get my legs out of the way so I'm not bumping the shifter or steering wheel. Never would have thought the 911 would be so tight without driving them back to back. Of course, I look better getting out of the 911 that I do exiting the Miata. Oh well.

Ed Hellwig, Editor

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Positives and Negatives

March 31, 2011

 Miata longtermer shade shot.jpg

First, the good news: The new Flyin' Miata clutch, which replaced the previous tired and dead-feeling unit, works great. And despite being rated to handle over 300 lb-ft of torque, it has a very light effort and an intuitive engagement point, making it simple to use in stop-and-go traffic.

Now the bad news:

The newly scooped-out driver's seat ain't working for me. I understand the intention, as you definitely sat a bit high in the stock configuration. But because the foam was simply ripped out of the center of the seat cushion, the sitting pressure falls primarily to my hips and the side of my legs which now rest on the bolsters, my right leg and most particularly my right hip socket taking the brunt. Ouch.

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Seriously Fun City Car

March 30, 2011


It was a few upgrades ago that I last drove our long-term 1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata -- last time it didn't have the wheels/tires, the new clutch, the Momo steering wheel or the "lowered" seat. All this stuff had an immediate effect on my driving yesterday, as I adopted a more run-and-gun style without even thinking about it, making even my routine errands on LA's west side exciting.

The new clutch makes it so much easier to enjoy the Kraftwerks supercharger kit for the simple and obvious reason that you can run through the gears more quickly and with less left-foot deliberation. Now, Project Miata's neat combination of torque and grip is undeniable.

All Miatas, well, at least all first-generation Miatas, feel direct in their reactions to throttle and steering input. But the green '97 project car feels sharp and precise in its responses, too. You turn the wheel, it responds, and goes through the corner with no body roll. Its reflexes, combined with its lowness to the ground, combined with the atmospheric Momo wheel, make me feel a bit like I'm driving to the dentist in a racecar. How can my life be this good?

Somehow, too, the ride quality is better than I remember it being on the '94 white Miata when it had the wheels and the Hankook Ventus. Maybe I'm just less of a whiner now, but really, our '97 is very compliant, except over gnarly seams in the road. I may have to see what JayKav has planned for this car once it cycles out of the fleet.

Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 130,232 miles

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Sorry, Tubby

March 23, 2011


Guess which one of these kids would not fit in the Miata's newly sculpted driver's seat? Yup, Frankie Festive over there on the right.

Guess which one of the above three I resemble most? Yeah, *sigh*.

If I want to fit in the seat properly, properly enough to drive this thing hard without experiencing pain, I'm going to have to put down my deep fried Twinkie, pour out my Four Loko and hit the gym.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 130,066 miles

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Seats are Good!

March 15, 2011

 Miata seat.jpg

One of the worst things about this generation of Mazda Miata is the complete lack of steering wheel clearance. Let a pedal out and my knee hit the wheel. Turn the wheel and my hands hit my legs and the bottom of the wheel is ALWAYS rubbing up on my thigh in a very unwelcome way. It's unpleasant.

But not anymore. Oldham dug about six loaves of foam out of the seat this weekend and I'm happy to report that not only did this increase clearance, but it increased comfort. The seats in our M edition were ultra-firm and dead-flat. Now there's some squish (you could drive it for hours if not for the noise) and, being lower, the side bolsters actually work as bolsters.

I avoided driving the Miata because I hated the seat / wheel position so much. Not anymore. Now I just wish he'd scooped more foam out of the back, too. Next time.

Mike Magrath, Associate Editor Edmunds @ 129,905 miles

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda Miata: Seat Fixed...Finally

March 14, 2011


Gary Coleman. Danny DeVito. Emanual Lewis. Wee Man.

Until yesterday, these were the only four people that could drive our Project Miata comfortably. 

Personally I've been complaining about the Miata's seating position since I drove a pre-production Miata back in 1989. The seat angle is all wrong (kinda dumps you into the footwell) and the seat is just mounted too high. Combine that with a steering column with no tilt and I've always wondered why Mazda wanted you to sit on a Miata and not in a Miata.

Until yesterday I thought the only solution to this is an aftermarket seat. I was wrong. Dan Edmunds had another solution. "Pull the seat foam out," he said. "I did it to one of my Miata race cars about 20 years ago."

So I did.

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda Miata: Boots

February 21, 2011


Sports cars are the biggest culprits in requiring fancy driving booties in order to properly operate their pedals, but our Miata is different.

Not only could I stuff my size 12 (44 for our European readers) Doc Martens into the pedal box, but I had plenty of room to use the pedals without once accidentally hitting the wrong one. Try that in a Lotus. Actually, don't - you'll never get out of the parking lot.

And no, I don't own a pair of Pilotis. Sacrilege, I know.

Kurt Niebuhr, Photo Editor @ 129,410 miles

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Happy Wheels

February 08, 2011

 Miata-Kraftwerks blower.jpg

Wow. Those small pulleys generate tons of fun. I'm not sure you could get any better response to throttle input unless you were riding atop the engine, pulling on the butterfly. It wasn't until driving back to the office this morning that I put two and two together. Several years ago, Oscar Jackson said he was working on a new project with Rotrex superchargers. I remember that his original company, Jackson Racing, not only excelled at Honda supercharging, but also in force-feeding Miatas. Then the light went on, and I was happy to hear Editor JayKav confirm my hunch.

Oscar was one of the first heavy technical minds I met in the Honda world, and always gracious with his time. He indulged our magazine staff's notions of building a Super GT-spec NSX for the street. A raised glass to him and JayKav for this ridiculously fun car in its present state.

Even after a loud and bumpy 100-mile commute, no muscloskeletal complaints. It's stiff, but not stone.

Momo wheel and shift stalk feel perfect. The Miata is like a perfect bookend to the Z06; they appeal to different senses, but both get to the matter: thrilling acceleration and satisfying speed.

But Project Miata is loud. All that tire, road, and bypass valve noise sounds like an old faucet left to run wide open. There's a radio in there -- a nice Sony and some good speakers -- but it's a losing battle. It's more fun to listen to the blower whine, anyway.

That slight, rising whistle is the only thing I can figure attracted a pair of clownballs in separate Mazda3's to buzz by at different points in the commute, one in a 5-door, one in a sedan. Both were either just showing some oddball Mazda love or asserting some misplaced authority.

Then later, a Miata came up quick in the rearview mirror, hung on the bumper for a couple of seconds, then made a clean jerk to the left and eased up alongside. Don't think he was prepared for Project Miata to put three car lengths on him in seconds. Good laugh watching him scramble to catch up, then hammer off to whichever Kookville he came from.

Still not sure what inspired all the attention. To a nearby motorist, Project Miata looks like a quiet, docile two-seater. No aftermarket exhaust grumble. Maybe it's the stance? The hardtop? The molting trunklid? Come on, Jay - straightpipe and racing stripe next!

Dan Frio, Automotive Editor

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Roof and Other Impressions

January 19, 2011


I think if this were one of my personal cars, I'd keep the folding soft top. I like convertibles, always have. Maybe if I put the Miata on track, I'd pop the hardtop on. As it is, the top of the side windows are about an inch above my eyes. In most cases, I have to duck my head down slightly to get a good view out the side. I have to duck even further down to see traffic signals if I'm first in line. I'd rather go top down, where I the only impediment is the windshield frame.

Where the performance upgrades are concerned, hats off to the talented Mr. Kavanagh. The supercharger produces smooth and linear power. There's none of the harshness that I've experienced in lesser project cars. Sure, it's a little loud, but I like the hiss when you let off the gas. I wasn't all that impressed by its straightline acceleration, to be honest, but in the turns the Miata feels like it has the perfect amount of power.

The new brake lines are a huge improvement, too. No more soggy pedal that squishes sloppily when you need to get on the binders. If this were a track car, though, I'd prefer a firmer pedal -- especially if there's no ABS.

Put some sticky tires on this thing and it'll be a riot to drive at the Streets of Willow. I think it'd be interesting to see how it stacks up against my darling Elise.

Mark Takahashi, Associate Editor @ 128,050 miles

See full article and comment.

1997 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Old's Cool

January 12, 2011

olds cool.jpg 

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.

See full article and comment.

Leave a Comment

Past Long-Term Road Tests