2002 Mazda Miata SE
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Story and photos
by Laurance Yap

Well, it’s about time.

Time that the summer weather came along – time that the sun came out and the roofs of convertibles finally started dropping in numbers. And time that Mazda gave us a yellow Miata again.

It’s been ten years since the last factory-yellow Miata, the 1992 model that they only made 1500 of, was sold in Canada. One wonders why it’s taken them so long, given that yellow’s the colour of sunshine and the best representation of all the joys that Miata driving offers.

This is the quintessential summer joy machine, a vehicle perfect for zipping through city and country alike. Roomy enough for two, practical enough for a weekend away, and economical enough to use as a daily driver, Miata’s familiar formula has been honed to perfection over the years. Rather than trying to be an out-and-out performance car, it’s instead a whimsical little scooter that, because of its immediate control responses and the connection it gives the driver to his or her
environment, manages to feel fast and free in every situation, no matter how slow you’re actually going.

2002 Mazda Miata SE
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Not that the Miata isn’t quick enough. With 142 horsepower from its 1.8-litre variable-valve-timed four, a gem of a six-speed transmission and so little weight to pull around, you can still screech the 16-inch tires from a stop if you want, and the car’s legs are long enough to make highway cruising bearable, if not exactly relaxed. All the while, and especially with the top down, the engine makes all sorts of happy rorty noises, encouraging you to wind it up to its noisy, but entirely pleasant, 7000-rpm redline. The first five gear ratios are delightfully short, meaning you can actually use all of them in most day-to-day driving conditions.

They also make easy work of any winding road, where despite its modest power and fairly modest grip (the engine has just enough torque to ease the tail out into a gentle, easy-to-control drift if you’re being aggressive enough), Miata’s able to keep pace with much faster, more serious machines.

2002 Mazda Miata SE

2002 Mazda Miata SE
Click image to enlarge

The steering is almost telepathic: by the time you know you want to be somewhere in a corner, the car’s already there. The brakes, clutch, shifter and throttle move in perfectly linear arcs.
Despite a relaxed highway ride, the suspension digs into corners, and body roll is minimal. All the controls are light, easy, and intuitive; you can maintain momentum merely by twitching your fingers and curling your toes, while drivers of bigger, heavier, faster cars work much harder to maintain the same pace.

Though the interior’s a pretty tight fit for two – storage space is minimal, with two tiny map pockets, a tiny console bin, and a small glovebox – it’s at least a focused drivers’ environment. The seats – black leather for the first time in a Miata – are not only comfortable, but have great lateral support that stretches right up to your shoulders. The Nardi steering wheel is great to hold; the leather on the wheel is glued instead of stitched, making for a better grip at the spokes. The pedal placement is exactly right, and the stubby shifter is right where it should be – too bad that when you’re hurriedly grabbing the next gear, the lid over the console-mounted cupholder keeps flipping open. But outward visibility is excellent, the four corners of the car seemingly just
within an arm’s reach, and even at higher speeds, the windblocker keeps in-car turbulence to a manageable level.

2002 Mazda Miata SE
Click image to enlarge

It’s questionable whether the yellow Special Edition, at $34,735, is worth the money, though, especially when a base Miata, at just under $28,000, is just as much fun and has an arguably sweeter five-speed gearbox. Certainly the extra features – soft, thickly-padded black leather seats with Miata logos, 16-inch Enkei alloys, aluminum-finish trim, an excellent 6-CD Bose stereo with separate top-up and top-down programs, stainless-steel door sills, metal pedals, and special floor mats and
silver stitching – don’t dilute the car’s essential appeal, but nor do they really add to the grin-o-meter reading, partly because it’s already pegged so high.

Then again, only the most egregious of meddling with Miata’s essential formula could dim the shine on what has been, since its introduction for the 1990 model year, Mazda’s guiding light – the car whose cheekiness, responsive handling, and sheer fun factor have become the traits the whole company clings to as it tries to reinvent and grow its product lineup. Twelve years on, and especially in blazing yellow, the Miata’s still the world’s happiest car, the vehicle that still never fails to
bring a smile to my face. Long may it be thus.

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