Weekend Wheels: Fun in the sun in Mazda's too-cute MX-5

It’s the Labor Day weekend. Yay. In some parts of this great nation, it marks the official end of summer. A time to ponder the long, cold, frosty winter ahead. A time to order that Starbucks pumpkin spice latte. 

For us Floridians, maybe not so fast. 

With my local AccuWeather crystal ball gazer calling for 93 degrees and humidity equivalent to that of a Swedish sauna, I fear we’re still a few weeks away from that first chill of the year. 

But with the prospect of fall filling me with anticipation, I thought it was my duty to prepare for that first coolish day. So I borrowed a convertible.

Mazda’s itsy-bitsy-teeny-weenie MX-5 Miata has seemingly been around longer than Betty White. But even after 31 years of production, it’s still the go-to drop-top for anyone looking for an affordable, crazy-fun-to-drive sportster. 

How affordable? It’s still hard to believe that you can drive away in a “starter” MX-5 Sport for just $27,500. Even for a fancy Grand Touring RF with boxes checked for every available bell, whistle and doodad, you’ll still struggle to blow $36-grand.   

Yes, Mr. Salesperson, would you like me to put that on one Amex card, or two?

While most millennials today think of an affordable sportscar as a $22,000 Mazda CX-3 sport-ute with black wheels, there’s still a core group of fun-lovers who keep saying “one day” to owning an MX-5. 

OK, OK, I agree it is still very much an acquired taste. Yes, it is that small; you don’t so much drive it as wear it. And I swear there are cars in the Hot Wheels catalog that are bigger.

But full credit to Mazda for keeping the faith and not super-sizing this beloved two-seater. At 154 inches nose to tail, however, the Mazda is definitely the Danny DeVito of sportscars. 

Of course it was created to zip around curvy California coastal roads or North Carolina switchbacks. Arrow-straight I-75 in rush hour? Not so much. 

Even so, for a fun weekend escape capsule to zoom to the beach, or partake in the simple joy of “going for ice cream,” this little Mazda is worth every cent of its low asking price.

Since that first model landed back in 1989, the MX-5 has evolved very nicely. Now in its fourth generation, it’s jam-packed with plenty of cool features. 

Arguably the most interesting: the retractable hardtop that’s been offered since 2017 for the MX-5 RF model.

For me, it’s very much a love-it-or-hate-it thing. I love the practicality it offers, with a roof that powers back and disappears in a mere 13 seconds. And one that doesn’t eat into trunk space. 

But I’m just not fond of the way it looks. It’s like the Mazda is wearing a backpack, adding visual top-heaviness to a car, in soft-top form, that’s so slim, slender and lithe.

What I dislike most is the awful blindspot it creates when you’re backing out from between two honking pick-ups. Or need that quick, over-the-shoulder glance before changing lanes on the freeway. 

Me, I’d rather save the $2,765 the RF costs over the prettier-looking soft-top version. 

But hardtop or ragtop, the MX-5 is still the feisty, fun-loving two-seater it’s always been. Power these days still comes from a 2-liter four-cylinder, but this latest version packs a respectable 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque.

The gearbox of choice is still the 6-speed stick — don’t even think about the heathen 6-speed automatic — and together this lovely powertrain can punch the Mazda from zero to 60 in around 5.7 seconds. 

But 0-to-60-ing isn’t what this lovable funster is all about. It’s about enjoying the laser-precise steering, the light-switch-fast gear shift, the go-kart-like handling, and the feeling of wind in your hair and sun on your face. It’s the feeling of escape.

So prepare yourself for that day when the temperature drops, the humidity disappears and the Florida winter arrives. Get a Miata!

Take a spin in the latest MX-5 Miata at Westshore Mazda in Tampa, Tyrone Square Mazda in St. Pete, Ferman Mazda of Brandon, Ed Morse Mazda of Port Richey.

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