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New Car/Review

1999 Mazda MX-5 Miata

By Tom Hagin


     Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 19,770
     Price As Tested                                    $ 22,450
     Engine Type              DOHC 16-valve 1.8 Liter I4 w/MEFI*
     Engine Size                                 112 cid/1839 cc
     Horsepower                                   138 @ 6500 RPM
     Torque (lb-ft)                               117 @ 5000 RPM
     Wheelbase/Width/Length                     89.2"/66"/155.3"
     Transmission                              Five-speed manual
     Curb Weight                                     2321 pounds
     Fuel Capacity                                  12.7 gallons
     Tires  (F/R)            High performance P185/60R14 H-rated
     Brakes (F/R)                                      Disc/disc
     Drive Train                   Front-engine/rear-wheel-drive
     Vehicle Type                         Two-passenger/two-door
     Domestic Content                                Two-percent
     Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.37


     EPA Economy, miles per gallon
        city/highway/average                            25/29/28         
     0-60 MPH                                        8.5 seconds
     1/4 Mile (E.T.)                       16.5 seconds @ 85 mph
     Top speed                                           120 mph

     * Multi-point electronic fuel injection

Mazda pioneered the revival of the two-seat sports car back in 1989, the year that its Miata hit the streets. Affordable and exciting, with true sports car handling, the Miata stimulated an automotive concept long considered out of date and abandoned.

Now, a decade later, there is a new Miata on the road. Without straying far from the original, it features a new look and a new level of sophistication. It's slightly faster and not much more expensive.

OUTSIDE - The new look is somewhat muscular, with just a hint of elegance. The design is not as simple as the original, but it still retains its character. The body is lower and has shorter overhangs, and the cut-lines of the doors sweeps upward like that of the since-departed Mazda RX-7. Bulges and bumps replace the simple lines of the old car, and molded-in fender flares have been added to the wheel wells. The relocation of the spare tire and battery has helped to increase the size of the trunk by about 10 percent. The headlights, pop-up units in the previous car, are now oval shaped and flush with the nose. And as part of the Miata Touring Package, Our test car wore a set of 14-inch alloy wheels, though an even bigger set of 15-inchers is available.

INSIDE - True to its vintage sports car heritage, Miata's interior is tightly packed, though numerous changes have increased its space efficiency and utility. The instrument panel uses more curves and a new central cluster houses the ventilation and stereo controls. The gearshift knob has a new, more natural shape, and the steering wheel is smaller and sportier, with a thicker, more substantial grip. The seats are still sculpted and contoured, and the driving position is low. A larger glove box and door pockets create a bit more storage space. Standard features include an AM/FM/CD player, rear glass window with a defroster, lockable center console, passenger-side airbags deactivation switch and remote fuel filler door and trunk releases. Our test car's Touring Package added power steering, windows and outside mirrors, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel.

ON THE ROAD - Under Miata's hood is the familiar dual overhead cam, 1.8 liter four cylinder engine of the previous model, but it's been "massaged" to produce more power and efficiency. Horsepower is 140, up from last year's 133, and torque climbs to 119 lb-ft from the 114 of before. In some states those figures are slightly lower, but it's still a significant increase. The extra power comes as a result of a new cylinder head with redesigned ports and a new camshaft, a variable- volume intake system and a higher compression ratio. The difference is noticeable, especially in the mid-rpm ranges, and yes, it still possesses that sporty exhaust "rap" that helped make the first Miata famous. An improved five-speed manual transmission now features shorter throws and smoother linkage. A four-speed automatic is optional, though it's decidedly less fun than the stick-shift version.

BEHIND THE WHEEL - The body shell has been reinforced with gussets in the transmission tunnel and side sills, and Mazda uses what it calls a Power Plant Frame, a truss that connects the transmission to the rear differential. The stiffening resulted in a 10 percent increase in chassis rigidity, but it feels like more. The perfect 50/50 weight distribution of the previous model remains, though the car's center of gravity is now lower. Mazda engineers have put much effort into making the chassis motion more gradual and stable. Its four-wheel independent suspension is improved slightly as well, with different mounting points that have changed the geometry, and shock absorbers that now have a longer stroke. It has a wider track too, which keeps it flatter and more controlled in corners, and the rack-and-pinion steering has an improved ratio for better off-center response. Braking duties are handled by four-wheel disc brakes with an optional anti-lock braking system.

SAFETY - Dual airbags and side-impact beams are standard, ABS is optional.

OPTIONS - Touring package: $1,100; air conditioning: $$900; floor mats: $80; California emissions: $150; Destination: $450.