- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

Dollar for dollar and pound for pound, if there is a car more fun to drive than Mazda's Miata, I have yet to drive it.
Sure, there are some other roadsters out there, owing their very existence to the groundbreaking Miata, that are quicker or more luxurious. However, that extra zip or luxury comes with a price tag thousands of dollars more than Miata's.
Motivated by the increasing pressure of its imitators, though, Miata has steadily increased horsepower, technology and creature comfort over the years. For 2001, several enhancements ranging from a boost of 15 horsepower the largest ever in Miata's dozen-year history and the availability of a six-speed manual transmission to the addition of chrome interior door handles and sportier seats have found their way into Miata.
When Mazda decided to shake things up with the Miata, lo those many years ago, there was only one Miata model and the emphasis was on handling performance. Although handling performance remains the focus, there are now two models: Miata and the more luxurious Miata LS.
Setting these two versions apart are tan leather seating, limited-slip differential, cruise control, power door locks, remote keyless entry, a Bose audio system and a $2,750 increase to the bottom line. My latest test Miata was an LS.
While horsepower has inched up ever so slowly from 116 horsepower in 1990 to 155 horsepower in 2001 Miata has retained its handling prowess. The newest Miata has a stiffer frame. Mazda claims bending stiffness is improved 16 percent and torsional rigidity is up 22 percent on Miatas with 16-inch wheels (13 percent and 6 percent respectively on Miatas with 15-inch wheels).
With the 16-inch wheels also come larger disc brakes. Spot-on steering and the control delivered by rear-wheel drive add to Miata's excellent driveability.
Tossing the Miata into corners is as much fun as you can have behind the wheel. This roadster was made for twisting country roads. The "zoom" quotient is highest where the road sweeps endlessly to the left and right. The four-wheel disc brakes bring Miata to abrupt stops. Anti-lock brakes are a $550 option.
In the beginning, Miata was powered by a 1.6-liter in-line four-cylinder engine. Modern Miatas have a 1.8-liter four-banger under the hood that produces 125 foot-pounds of peak torque as well as 155 horsepower. With your rump nearly touching the ground, speed is somewhat enhanced by your perspective.
However, Miata's acceleration isn't all smoke and mirrors. Capable of sprinting from a standing stop to 60 mph in about eight seconds, Miata pushes a lot from its four cylinders.
My test Miata had the $900 optional four-speed automatic transmission. Not quite as much fun to drive, the automatic shifts smoothly enough and takes little away from Miata's performance. With an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 22 miles per gallon in the city and 28 on the highway, fuel economy is decent as well.
Don't plan on shopping for a Christmas tree or heading to the golf course with your bag of clubs in the Miata. Sometimes less is more, but not so with regard to Miata's cargo space. While the trunk is shaped to coax the most out of its limited dimensions, cargo space is stingy. Inside the cabin, things aren't much better. Map pockets in the doors, a very small lockable center console and a glove compartment the size of a Dutch Masters cigar box is the sum total of storage space.
The two occupants fare better, however. The firm seats provide scads of lateral support. Average-sized adults will have no problem spreading out in the cabin. A leather-wrapped Nardi steering wheel is standard on all Miatas, as are air conditioning, power windows, dual power outboard mirrors and an AM-FM stereo-CD player.
The top is manually operated, but goes up and down with ease. When raised, it fits tight as a drum. The soft boot is a challenge to install and in the end, doesn't add all that much to Miata's drop-top appearance.
Base price of the Miata LS is $23,930. My test LS also had anti-lock brakes and the four-speed automatic transmission. Adding the $480 delivery charge brought the price as tested to $25,860.


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