TK

By Steven Macoy

Sales figures for the Mazda MX-5 Miata have run parallel with a couple trends in American motoring. Drivers in the United States remain in the grip of a love affair with sport-utility vehicles, and the MX-5, while undeniably sporty, has about as little utility as you can get. Also affecting MX-5 sales, we suspect, is the aging of the U.S. population. Getting in and out of an MX-5 is a task for the young and supple, not the old and creaky.

One thing hasn’t changed, however. No matter your size, shape or agility, once settled into the driver’s seat of an MX-5, the driver can’t help but smile. And when the soft top is down, even the access-egress issue fades away, leaving only sunshine, sweet handling and strong performance.

The MX-5 hasn’t changed much since its 2016 redesign. Mazda added some tech features commonly found in most new vehicles nowadays, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Desirable safety tech — notably, lane-keep warning, blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert — are standard in all MX-5s. Otherwise, it’s not much different from the MX-5 we test-drove in 2017.

The MX-5 can be had with a soft top or retractable steel roof. This time around, we drove an MX-5 Miata Club with the soft top, and the Brembo/BBS Recaro Package, a $4,470 option. This package included Brembo brakes, Recaro heated sport seats, and BBS forged 17-inch dark alloy wheels. The seats’ bottom-cushion bolsters lock down the driver and passenger but may be too tight for some drivers — so anyone shopping for an MX-5 should try the Recaro and standard seats on for size before buying.

Our test car, priced at $36,275, came with that rarest of automotive rarities these days — a 6-speed manual transmission. It was delightful to relive the experience of running through the gears by hand, using Mazda’s smooth-shifter and perfectly balanced clutch.

On the highway, the car is fairly noisy inside, but the ride is smooth and the handling pristine. Unlike most of the convertibles we’ve driven, the MX-5 provides good sight lines in every direction.

The MX-5 is roomy enough fore and aft for tall drivers and passengers, but there isn’t much space side to side. As we’ve noticed before, cubbyholes and cabinets are scanty, and the biggest one, located in the rear panel between the seatbacks, requires a contortionist’s skills to access while seated in the car. It’s strange that Mazda seemingly has made no attempts to solve this problem, which makes the car unnecessarily hard to live with.

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club

Price: $36,275

Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four, 181 horsepower, 151 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Drive: rear-wheel

Weight: 2,341 lb.

Suspension: double-wishbone front, multi-link rear

Wheels: 17-in. alloy

Tires: P205/45R17 high-performance

Seating capacity: 2

Luggage capacity: 4.6 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 11.9 gal.

Fuel economy: 26 mpg city, 34 mpg highway

Fuel type: premium unleaded gasoline (recommended)

The radio controls are less awkward to operate but do require quite a few clicks with the Commander knob.

Fuel economy is rated at 26 mpg city, 34 highway - and 26/35 in models with shiftable automatic transmissions. Mazda recommends the use of premium unleaded gasoline.

The base MX-5 Sport starts at $27,525, and the RF version has a base price of $33,990.

There’s very little competition in this sector. Similar to the MX-5 is the Fiat Spyder; Toyota and Subaru teamed up to build the Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ.

Steven Macoy (semacoy@gmail.com) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.