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2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata

With Every Birthday Mazda’s Best-Selling Roadster Redefines Perfection

    Those of us in this business have now been trying to explain the Miata’s magic for 20 years. We use poetic superlatives and proclamations like “thrilling!” and “unbeatable!” and even with a heaping helping of exclamation points we can’t always convey its awesomeness. You must simply experience the pure driving pleasure Mazda’s minimalist roadster continues to provide two decades after its debut to understand its enthralling charm. Our real job, then, is to keep you up to date on the little changes Mazda makes every few years to keep the MX-5 on top of its game. For 2009 Mazda made just enough tweaks to make a revisit worthwhile for the AT staff. Who are we kidding, a smile occupies our faces every time Mazda sends one our way. Here then is what’s new in the land of Miata.
     The soul of any sports car is the engine and Mazda’s smooth-as-silk 2.0-liter I4 sees several improvements this year. The redline has been increased 500 rpm thanks to a stronger forged crankshaft, connecting rods, new pistons, beefed up valve springs and engine oil cooler. Now the fun doesn’t end until the tach reads 7,200 rpm. All this hard work rounded up exactly one additional pony (now 167 hp) so you can brag to owners of ’06-’08 Miatas who have to get along with only 166 hp. Engineers have also worked hard to improve the quality of sound being produced and actually developed an Induction Sound Enhancer to pipe the good stuff into the cabin. We’ll testify that it’s more successful than the dorky name suggests.
     We got a little nervous when we heard that Mazda had toyed with the 6-speed manual, which we consider one of the world’s best, but we should have more faith in the Miata team. Shifting a Miata has never been better thanks to revised synchros and a slightly taller 6th gear. There might be a bit more to be gained in 6th gear though since we’ve always felt a car with an engine this small in a package this light should achieve better than 28 mpg on the highway.
     We’ve established the engine and transmission is noticeably better than before and we’ve always considered the Miata the pinnacle of lightweight sports car handling, but Mazda says they’ve made improvements in the suspension to. The front suspension’s outer ball joints have been repositioned to bring the roll center down about an inch and damping on both the base car and sport suspension versions has been revised all around. We still maintain the $500 suspension package is an absolute necessity that bundles the limited-slip differential with Bilstein shocks and sportier tuning at all corners. We’re being honest and saying that short of minute differences that might come to light on a racetrack, we didn’t notice any changes to the perfect handling we’ve enjoyed in Miata’s for years.
      We didn’t have any complaints about the way the last model looked but Mazda stylists decided it was time for some changes anyway. They’ve brought the front end more in line with the rest of the lineup, although it works here, we’re not thrilled with the giant gaping grille that is infecting the rest of the Mazda lineup. We like the new fog lamps but we’re not thrilled about their black plastic housings. Generally, we feel black plastic lacks a certain timeless elegance you just do not find on the great auto designs of history. The rear end remains clean and tidy as before with classy little dual exhaust tips as in a proper sports car. We also like the new 17” wheel design on our Competition Yellow tester. Which brings us to another point regarding this new-for-2009 color: thanks, but no thanks. Yellow is reserved for the flashiest of exotic cars and the Miata has long been mature enough to pass up such cheap, attention-grabbing ploys.
     New seats are the big news inside and they work well enough but drivers will probably appreciate the leather padded center console lid much more since the days of uncomfortable elbows should now be over. We’d still prefer a better stereo system than the BOSE setup Mazda includes. GM manages to provide a much stronger, warmer sound in the Pontiac Solstice so we know good sound can be accomplished in tight roadster cockpits.
     Maybe Mazda’s engineers are saving that for the next set of updates. In the meantime we’ll have to keep the radio off, the top down and enjoy the superb sounds of roadster perfection.

The Good:
Best folding top in the automotive world, some actual trunk space, a mechanical package that brings a smile to driving enthusiasts the world over.
The Bad:
Could probably get better fuel economy, yellow is not in the spirit of Miata motoring, the stereo doesn’t sound like BOSE, Mazda’s keyless entry fob is stupid.
The Verdict:
If you’ve forgotten the joy of driving, buy a Miata and rediscover what you’re missing.
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