Mazda MX-5 Still a Classic Roadster Throwback

The 2013 Mazda MX-5 is still the essence of a roadster – compact, sporty and simple in design.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

There’s a reason why the Mazda MX-5 has its own race tour sponsored by Playboy. There’s a reason why the car is often tricked out into great track cars like the BF Goodrich modified version you see up there. There’s a reason why a car that was snickered at a bit when it first debuted in 1989 as a bit of a silly little gimmick grew to thrive as one of the automotive world’s most manageable and more affordable performance cars.

It’s a lot of fun to drive. Period.

I recently had a weeklong test drive of the 2013 Mazda MX-5 and had plenty of that key word – “fun” – while dipping its nose in and out of traffic and along the twisty rises and falls of Mulholland and the Angeles Crest Highway. Throughout that experience, I was amazed at how little the car’s design has changed since 1989 – and how little it really needs to change.

Despite its birthplace of Hiroshima, the MX-5 is the purest throwback to the classic British and German roadsters of the 1960s. A classic two-seater, rear-wheel drive sportster, it has the racing pedigree of the Austin-Healey or an MG. With limited weight, tight suspension and aggressive acceleration, it’s a driver’s car in an era in which technology continues to separate them from the touch and feel of controlling a car.

The MX-5 was already a descendant of those European roadsters 20 years ago, and its outward design has changed very little. The simple, smooth lines – free of fancy skins, scoops or greedy spoilers – are essentially unchanged from its original design. There are a few more techy bangs and whistles on the interior, but even those are nominal by today’s standards. For example, there’s no foot-wide navigation screen or touchscreen color menu.

Throw in a manual transmission, and I was truly sitting in a driver’s car. Is it tiny on American roads? Sure. Do some drivers look down at the MX-5 from their SUVs and four-door sedans and titter at the little Miata? Perhaps. But, that laughing stops when the MX-5 driver speeds by them and bites off a corner they have to send an invitation to approach.

One of the surprises the 2013 MX-5 still held after all these years is that I could actually get into it comfortably. At 6’3” and north of 240 lbs., some casual observers suggested I’d look like a Fisher Price figure wedged into the front seat. While that driver’s bucket is snug, I had ample leg room and was able to get that classic racer’s elbow bend to the steering wheel.

With its 2.0 liter engine and 167 horsepower, the eager roadster wants to be driven. Still, it will most likely appeal to a very specific buyer. It won’t appeal to muscle car lovers or true sports car enthusiasts. It’s less car than that by design. It’s not meant to roar down a quarter mile. It’s meant to sprint through aggressive turns and break through tight corners.

It’s not for the tiny economy car crowd with its non-existent backseat and shoebox trunk. It’s a car built for a driver who wants practicality to get bent.

In the end, the 2013 MX-5 is a rare breed these days. It’s a machine built only for driving “fun.”