CLINTON — I've got an awkward job this week: reviewing the newest version of a car I know and love, the Mazda MX-5 Miata.
I've driven Miatas for years and currently own a first-generation '94 model with a gazillion miles on it, and one thing about the new version is clear. Mazda has done an amazing job sticking to the Miata's mission as a pure roadster -- nothing but two seats, rear-wheel drive, a taut suspension and a top that goes down.
The fact that Mazda has been able to retain that unmistakable Miata feeling, even though the new one doesn't seem to share a single part with my old version, is remarkable. You can pop the hood on the 1994 and the 2012 cars side by side, look underneath and see that there's nothing whatsoever in common between the two cars mechanically.
Spiritually, though, they have everything in common. They're identical in purpose, evoking the same smiles, the same "it feels like I'm going fast" exhilaration at 15 mph, and the same giddy enthusiasm in corners.
Still, after 18 years of development, I can't help but wonder why Mazda seems to be taking away some of the original car's purity. It's roomier now, more expensive and feels a bit flabbier.
The version I drove this week is the perfect example. Called the Special Edition, it looks breathtaking with a black top, black mirror surrounds and black wheels that contrast with its shimmering, pearl-like white paint. It has a retractable hard top that goes down with the press of a button, all kinds of luxury gadgets, and a comfortable suspension.
The cost? $32,000.
Aside from the fact that I could buy a dozen early Miatas for the same price, with money to spare for sprucing them up with aftermarket accessories, I couldn't help but wishing a high-end new Miata was different from this cream-puff variety.
In fact, I'm tempted to write a letter on behalf of Miata owners that goes something like this:
We're fanatical about your little sports cars. We've owned millions of them and even helped create Miata clubs all around the world.
We're really glad you've kept the Miata's spirit alive until now, but we're worried that people like us will lose interest in it as you make it bigger, fancier and more comfortable.
You see, people like us don't buy Miatas because they're big, fancy and comfortable. We buy them because they're small, basic and fun -- the polar opposite of what most new cars are becoming these days.
Please, if you could, direct your engineers to stop spending their time on things like electric retractable hard tops. Have them spend that same time on making the Miata a little smaller, a little faster and a lot lighter than before.
Do that, and it will make the decision to trade in our old cars an easy one.
Miata drivers everywhere