by Carlos Lago
You see it in flame wars on forums and buried in the comment sections of YouTube and Facebook: The data are gathered, plugged
in, computed. A conclusion spits out. The digital beings follow it blindly. It is their code.
Problem: The Mazda MX-5 does not compute. The formulae can’t explain its rampant success, why it’s a constant favorite. Nor can
the digital readouts explain why we ranked the MX-5 third in this year’s Best Driver’s Car comparison — that’s three spots
ahead of the Corvette ZR1 — despite the Miata producing the worst performance numbers of all the contenders. This result
bothers the hard-coded digital beings. “How dare you say this diminutive roadster is on par with the world heavyweights!” they
rage. They erase the MX-5 from their conscious with snide bits of text. Or they ignore it, lest they contemplate too long and
fry a circuit.
The Miata doesn’t do data plots. Never has. The roadster eschews numbers for a greater goal: driving bliss. “Oneness with horse
and rider,” Mazda calls it. The automaker says its objective wasn’t to make the 2009 MX-5 faster. “Put last year’s and this
year’s on a track, and they’ll cross the finish line at the same time,” said one engineer. “But the driver of the new one will
have a bigger smile.”
The engineers revised the suspension to reduce body roll and increase steering feel by repositioning outer ball joints and
adjusting the damping. They upped the redline 500 rpm, just so you could scream above 7000. They found another horsepower up
there, too. To models equipped with a six-speed manual, they added something called an Induction Sound Enhancer, which uses
tuned pipes to route the intake note to the cabin. The Miata circa 2009 sounded more like a carbureted roadster.
The same is true a year later. The 2010 model brings a reshuffling of color and package availability, but the smile remains,
even on the nose of the car. We sampled the MX-5 line on an autocross and on the windy, two-lane mountain roads off California’s
Monterey coast. Our cars had the $500 Suspension Package, which adds Bilstein shocks, a larger rear stabilizer bar, and
limited-slip differential. And through our time with the car, that smile became infectious.