Despite being a megaseller and perennial favorite of pen-toting pistonheads, the Mazda Miata is still considered a chick car. Make that was. The new MX-5 resembles a lightweight power lifter — tiny but bulgy, with flared wheel arches rising out of the hood and the trunk, aggressive swells around the headlights and dual pipes poking out of a chiseled, muscular derriere. Even with all that metallic beef, a strategically placed Honda Civic can easily obscure the MX-5. Despite 77 extra pounds of hardtop, this welterweight, in pre-production trim, is just 2,575 lbs. And what a fabulous hardtop it is.
Remember this number: Twelve. That's how many seconds it takes to raise or lower the roof. Unlike other, far more expensive hardtop droptops — whose Transformer-like machinations are typically described in terms of a "mechanical symphony of precision" (or whatever) — the MX-5's top performs a slamdance. The tiny rear-deck lid raises up, the top drops and the lid seals it. Boom. No fuss, no hassle, no triple-gainers; just push the button, count twelve Mississippis and do some donuts. It really is remarkably quick, efficient and nifty to watch. Coolest of all, the trunk volume is equal top up or down.
Forget such practicalities though, because the MX-5 is anything but practical. While the trunk can hold a few cases of beer, I had to revert to the WRX Wagon (shut up, Davey) to pick up my mom from the airport. I just couldn't chance it (and I guessed right as Mom had gone shopping). The two cup holders in the center armrest are useless unless the car's stationary; any beverage stowed there blocks the driver's shifting arm. There's a center storage bin between the seats, but it's oddly shaped, awkwardly placed and barely large enough for a tube of suntan lotion. Unlike the soft-top Miata, there's no room behind the seats; the bulkhead's been scootched forward to make way for the machinery.
Nonetheless, five minutes alone with this MX-5 and you'll be dreaming up lease-breaking schemes. In hardtop mode, the MX-5 is about 90 percent as livable as a fixed-roof vehicle. Wind noise doesn't intrude until 75mph. And, of course, short of the Porsche Boxster, it's still the best handling roadster around. Even if you stuff it and turn with the brakes on, the MX-5 fails to understeer. Oversteer can be tricky to induce, but at speeds above sane, it's not that pressing an issue. But then, off goes the traction control (DSC) and on come the power slides. Simply glorious, my friends. I've never had more fun in a car. The only question left is, do I really need a sport wagon? [by Jonny Lieberman]