2002 Mazda MX-5 Miata

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2002 Mazda Miata

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 7

Bottom Line:

Lowest-priced genuine sports car in the classic roadster tradition.
Pros:
  • Affordable
  • Lots of fun
  • Enticing Special Edition model
Cons:
  • Tight interior
  • Steering wheel and cowl shake
  • No anti-lock brakes for base trim

The Mazda Miata kicked off a sports car renaissance when unveiled in the winter of 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show and has become the best-selling two-seat roadster of all time.

The 2002 Miata is offered with an available in-dash 6-disc CD player and minor changes such as higher friction brake pads. Also new is an interesting, but rather costly, $25,755 Special Edition (SE) trim.

However, anti-lock brakes still aren't offered for the base $21,280 Miata. The anti-lock system is available only for the midrange $24,080 LS trim and the SE. The system has electronic brake force distribution, which varies front-to-rear brake bias, depending on vehicle load, for more-controlled stops.

Nice Copy
The tiny Miata often was—and frequently still is—mistakenly referred to as a modern version of the 1960s British MG and Triumph mass-market sports cars. But the first front-engine rear-wheel-drive Miata was an almost artistic copy of the far more sophisticated 1960s British Lotus Elan, right down to its pop-up headlights and the nifty appearance of its engine's cylinder heads.

The Elan was a wonderful sports car—that is, when it was running. It wasn't especially well-built and was unreliable. Lotus was a small operation that only bothered to make road cars to support its successful worldwide racing operation.

Reliable
On the other hand, the Miata was a picture of reliability and originally only cost $13,800. Many Americans immediately fell in love and rushed to Mazda showrooms to get a Miata for themselves—or for their kids.

Remember the fairly recent craziness that accompanied the introduction of the Volkswagen New Beetle and Chrysler PT Cruiser? Same thing happened with the Miata. Some Mazda dealers asked for—and got—as much as $5,000 more than list price for the Miata. And some Miata buyers quickly resold the car for an even higher profit.

More than 500,000 Miatas have been sold, and more than half of those have been bought in North America. The Guinness Book of World Records calls the Miata the best-selling roadster.

Maintaining Interest
The big news for 2002 is the SE. It should be no surprise because the Miata only has been refined since its introduction and Mazda thus continually has introduced low-volume Special Edition trims to maintain high interest in the car, which is on its final laps in the U.S. market. In fact, the first Miata Special Edition, a British Racing Green trim, arrived as early as 1991 and was sold out within weeks.

The simple, lovable Miata already is a classic and will be even more so when it is replaced. Even now, a Miata produced in 1989 is worth almost half its original base price—not bad for such a high-volume car.

The 2002 Miata looks like its predecessor. Pop-up headlights finally gave way to fixed units in 1999 and changes for last year included a more responsive 4-cylinder engine, restyled front end, different interior, larger brakes and a stiffer structure. That's a lot, so there's little new about the current version, which continues to strongly resemble the original Miata.

The SE is worth a close look. One of the best known special edition trims is the 10th Anniversary one, which came out for 1999 with such things as special Blue Mica paint with the first Miata matching color convertible top. It also had a 6-speed manual transmission, instead of the regular trim's 5-speed manual.

That trim is worth about $2,000 more than a standard 1999 Miata. The 2002 SE version thus could be a solid choice for buyers who plan to keep the car only a few years and want the highest resale value.

Special Edition Features
What's the SE got? For one thing, an SE with Blazing Yellow Mica paint is the first Miata with a black leather interior, which, ironically, was fairly common on mass-market 1950s and 1960s British sports cars. The other special SE color is Titanium Gray Metallic, which comes with a saddle brown leather interior.

Other SE features include special badging, 6-speed manual gearbox that is $650 extra for the LS, race-style chrome fuel filler door, special 16-inch Enkei alloy wheels and the in-dash CD changer with a 200-watt Bose AM/FM/CD audio system with speed-sensing audio volume control .

The SE also has a special Nardi steering wheel, shift knob and handbrake lever. There are white-face gauges with retro-style aluminum accent rings and aluminum door handles, pedals, foot rest and scuff plates.

Bargain Model
But, if buyers aren't looking for maximum resale value, the base Miata is the bargain trim. It's well-equipped, with items such as air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD player, all-disc brakes, wide 50-series tires on 15-inch wheels and power windows and mirrors.

There's even a power antenna and defogger for the glass window in the manually operated convertible top.

The base trim has such a slick 5-speed manual transmission that it makes you wonder if the 6-speed unit is necessary. However, the general rule is that the more gears you have, the better—especially if a car has a small engine such as the Miata's 1.8-liter unit.

Lots of Shifting
Quite a bit of shifting is needed to get the best performance from that 142-horsepower engine, which has a high 7000-rpm tachometer redline. However, this is a sweet and sophisticated 4-cylinder with dual overhead camshafts, 16 valves and variable valve timing. And both manual transmissions work with a light, short-throw clutch.

Fuel economy is an estimated 23 mpg in the city and 28 on highways with either manual gearbox and 22 and 28 with the optional ($900) automatic transmission.

Great Fun
The agile Miata is a blast. Its power rack-and-pinion steering is quick and handling is sharp. This car is almost as much fun on the road as it is on a twisting race course.

It's hard to beat a four-wheel double-wishbone suspension for handling and ride comfort, and thus the Miata has a supple ride despite its short 89.2-inch wheelbase. However, some bumps definitely can be felt and cause the steering wheel and cowl to shake a bit.

Most Popular Model
The LS is the most popular Miata. It adds a limited-slip differential for better traction, cruise control, leather upholstery, power door locks and remote keyless entry.

The LS and SE share the Bose sound system and wider 45-series tires on larger 16-inch wheels. And that could make the SE more attractive than the LS to many folks, especially considering resale value.

Key Options
Key options include a sport suspension for the base and LS models and a detachable hardtop. An SE I tested had the $295 rear spoiler and $450 appearance package, which contains small side sills and rear mud guards.

Mazda says few Miata buyers order the automatic transmission, which seems out of place in such a pure sports car.

An $800 appearance package with a front spoiler and larger side sills would have made the SE I drove look a little racier. But the base Miata looks quite sporty without appearance packages and can be had with the wider tires and 16-inch wheels.

Snug Interior
The Miata's cockpit is fairly quiet and comfortable—at least if you're doing a New York-to-Los Angeles run. There's sufficient space for two 6-footers, but not much room to spare; it's so snug in there that using the manual shifter sometimes caused my hand to hit the sound system's "off" button.

The bucket seats are supportive, gauges can be read at a glance and controls are nicely positioned. There is a key-operated deactivation switch for the passenger airbag.

The trunk is small, but larger than you might think when first looking at the car. It's usefully shaped and has room for a fair amount of cargo, especially soft luggage.

The base Miata still is the lowest-priced genuine sports car. It can be driven on a daily basis or just used for warm-weather weekend kicks. One thing's for sure—this is one of those cars that invites driving just for the fun of it.

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BB05 - 8/23/2014 8:20:49 AM