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(Spangenberg Photography)
(Spangenberg Photography)

ROAD TEST

Mazda's Miata is magical Add to ...

The ebony convertible top, the hardtop that folds away completely in a handful of seconds, and does it all with the push of a button. Excellent.

The fiery red paint and the gunmetal-grey spoked alloy wheels. Bold.

The snickety little six-speed shifter, the one with the short throws and the aggressive ratios that allow you to squeeze everything out of the little 2.0-litre, 167-horsepower four-banger under the hood. Lovely and inviting it is, so much so you’ll want to find a stretch of road that invites you – no, requires you – to row the gears, up and down and up again, over and over. Indeed, the clutch has a light, smooth feel to it that makes gear-changing completely entertaining.

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You gotta love this car, this two-seater, this MX-5 Miata roadster. Utterly impractical? Well, of course. Completely enjoyable? Naturally. Affordable? Well, at $33,845 all in, the Miata SV I just tested wants for nothing and delivers plenty. This one is not likely to be your only car, but as toys go, you could do much worse. You could buy an old British original and spend most of your time fixing it – from the mechanical bits to the electrics to the rust. If you enjoy getting greasy, knock yourself out.

The genius of the Miata is that it doesn’t try to be anything more than it is. That’s been the story from the start, 20-odd years ago. The plan behind the car has always been to deliver something as emotionally connecting as an MGB or an Austin Sprite in a package that won’t leave a pool of oil on the garage floor. That’s the MX-5 Miata to a T.

The Miata has been around for so long, it’s been so thoroughly a part of the everyday automotive landscape, that it’s a car we might take for granted. The sheer brilliance of it, I mean. The Guinness records says more than 900,000 Miatas have been sold worldwide. The utter simplicity of the car, not to mention all the left-brain stuff like affordability and reliability, explains so, so much.

Now before I slip and spin on all this gushing, I’ll say the Miata is not for everyone. The cabin – no, the cockpit – is cramped as a Gemini space capsule from the 1960s. I’m talking about a no-room-to-spare squeeze. If you’re taller than, say, 6-foot-2 and heavier than 210-215 pounds, you might be able to twist and push and slide into place behind the right-sized sport wheel. But to get out, you’ll probably need to find help if you haven’t smeared your body in Vaseline.

All the cabin switchgear is fairly modest and uncomplicated, too. I love that. Everyone will immediately recognize how to do everything, from making the power windows go up and down, to unlatching the roof, to changing radio stations. Simplicity is so refreshing. Who really wants to pull out an owner’s manual as thick as The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

The driving part is more of the same. The power-assist of the rack-and-pinion steering is weighted just right and has feel. Scream into a wickedly tight corner and the disc brakes scrub off speed in a blink. Cornering? You’re so low your backside is nearly scraping the pavement, so the car’s attitude remains flat and controlled. Front and rear stabilizer bars are standard, though from GS upward the handling improves thanks to 17-inch alloy wheels with 205/45R17 tires, limited slip differential and a strut tower bar.

For the record, Mazda Canada offers four versions of the MX-5 Miata GX ($29,145 with a five-speed manual), SV ($33,995), GS ($35,940), and GT ($40,145). The power hardtop is standard equipment on the GS and GT trim, the engine the same across the board and electronic stability control is part of the standard package.

To juice interest, Mazda has 180 Special Versions on offer. I’ll give Mazda credit for a sense of humour, too: “The MX-5 Special Version will ensure you attract unnecessary attention everywhere you go,” says the product guide.

The 17-inch wheels and black mirrors stand in contrast to the red paint and they look bad in a good way. The roll bars are also in “Brilliant Black,” as are the dash and steering wheel inserts. The heated black leather seats have sand-coloured stitching.

The basic gearbox in all but the least expensive model is a six-speed manual, though you can get a six-speed automatic with a manual shift mode for an extra $1,200. A lockup torque converter and steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters come with the automatic on GS and GT trims.

Stick with the manual and enjoy.

Tech specs: 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata SV

Type: Roadster

Price: $33,845 ($1,875 freight)

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 167/140 lb-ft.

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: Rear-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 9.7 city/7.1 highway using premium fuel.

Alternatives: Mini Cooper convertible, BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SL

jcato@globeandmail.com

Editor's note: An earlier version of this online story contained incorrect information under the Tech Specs heading. This online version has been corrected.

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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