Sunday, November 25, 2012

Used Car Review: 2004 Mazda Miata (all three trims levels)

Its been a while since the Elitist Enthusiast posted, so here's one for the enthusiast in all of us.  Most enthusiasts are either in the closet or openly a fan of the one car that brought "cheap" and "fun" into the same sentence back in the 90's, the Mazda Miata.  If you're like me, the idea of a convertible was a bit of a turn-off.  It hurts chassis rigidity and aerodynamics.  So then why was this car the holy grail of enthusiasts? 

Introduced in 1990 in the U.S., it is now known as the best selling sports car ever (yes, ever!).  Lightweight, rear-drive and (relatively) cheap, its an enthuasiast's ideal car.  The second generation started in 1999 and continued to 2005, keeping with pretty much the same car, just different exterior and interior (you can bolt on the interior of newer miatas into the older ones for a newer look...and vice versa for an older look).  I had the distinct pleasure of test driving not just one, but THREE Miatas from 2004. Today, they'll run you around $8,000 to $12,000, depending on the trim level. 

The first was a 2004 Miata, base model.  Came with a 5 speed manual transmission.  There was an option for the Suspension package that included a limited slip differential (LSD) and Bilstein shocks, but the car I test drove did not include this.  Because of the light curb weight (about 2440 lbs) and rear-wheel drive, the car was very light on its feet, unlike the front-drive cars I've driven for most of my life.  Its always willing to rotate and never gave a hint of understeer.  The engine is a 1.8 ltr 4-cylinder engine with variable valve timing, good for 142 horsepower.  The engine doesn't quite sing like the Honda VTEC motors but it still is fairly entertaining.  Drop the top down and you finally understand why this car wasn't available as a 2-door coupe.  Being able to feel the environment, the air and the wind, makes you feel even more connected to the road and a better judge of speed.  Its like being on a rollercoaster where you're in control of the direction that you'll be heading next.  Everything about the car screamed "pure sports car," even with the top down!  Thoroughly impressed, I had to see if I was missing out on anything, so I went on to the next, natural progression of the Miata, the LS trim:

The LS trim of the 2004 Miata (and pretty much all the 2nd generation Miatas) looked the same as the base on the outside , but included leather seats along with a 6-speed manual transmission and LSD.  You also get a terrible Bose sound system. The sports package also threw in the Bilstein shocks, if you so desired.  The car that I test drove included the sports package.  If you thought that adding leather and an extra gear would take some of the fun out of the car, that's simply not true for the Miata LS.  The final gear is actually shorter than that found in the 5-speed models!  The leather seats do make you sit a little higher up but there's actually no weight gain (actually, the LS models are lighter by just a few pounds!).  Being very unfamiliar with a 6th gear, I tried avoiding it as much as possible but eventually went for it (which was very awkward for me).  The car isn't much more luxurious than the base (did you really buy a Miata for luxury?) and maybe it was because the shocks were 8 years old, but it didn't feel any different in the handling department either.  Then again, we were on public roads and driving the car like you stole it shouldn't be on the list of test driving someone else's car.  Still, the car was a blast and you can't go wrong with this trim level.  But that really got me thinking...what about the last trim level?

Called the "Mazdaspeed MX-5", Mazda wants you to know this car isn't your same, tame Miata.  Boasting a turbocharged 1.8 liter 4-cylinder engine pushing out 178 horsepower to the rear wheels.  It comes with larger 17" Racing Hart branded wheels and special Mazdaspeed goodies like the rearview mirror, floormats, doorsills, gauge cluster, pedals, etc.  The front end gets a different front spoiler along with darkened headlights.  The interior also comes with special red inserts too.  Overall, its the most sought-after MX-5.  But is it worth all the extra money and complications of a turbo?  If you plan on building on the great platform, its well worth it but if you plan on keeping it stock...why not just get a non-turbo model for less?  You'll have almost as much fun without a lot of the heartache.  The test drive was a blast, but so was the previous two cars.  The extra power doesn't feel all that noticable.  If you're a good at-home mechanic with plenty of time and money to spend on the car, go for it.  But if you're like me, all you want is a simple car that's loads of fun without breaking the bank.  Which comes to my next point...
The reason why I hadn't been updating my blog was because this was one of the best test drives I had ever had.  Every enthusiast owes it to his or herself to drive one of these cars, even for just a few minutes, to appreciate what kind of car it is and how much fun that can be had behind the wheel.  So much so that I decided it would be my next car:
(Not my actual car)
I bought a silver 2004 Mazda Miata base model 5-speed! 

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