Mazda MX-5 2009

If you don't like fun, if you prefer to mope about and wallow in your own misery, you're going to have to skip the Mazda MX-5. That might seem easy, because you probably don't know that "MX-5" is Mazda's official name for its two-seat convertible, also known as the Miata. Sound a little more familiar? Then "Miata" is the name I'll use from now on as a constant reminder so you don't accidentally drive one and ruin an otherwise glum day.

Some people think convertibles are inherently fun; some don't. The same can be said of small cars: fun by design, or cramped and invisible to larger cars and trucks? Take away the convertible aspect and peewee size, and the Miata is still fun — a fun you can't understand unless you drive it. And so it has been since the Miata revived the affordable-roadster market 20 years ago. The first model was a 1990, but it hit the market in 1989, so the 2009 I tested celebrates a birthday, if not technically an anniversary. I celebrate the upgrades Mazda implemented for this model year, including some suspension changes, a higher engine redline, new seats and revised styling. (Compare other changes side-by-side.)

As equipped, my test Miata Grand Touring with its optional power-retractable hardtop and several other options cost a steep $31,010. Fortunately, the fun isn't sacrificed in the base trim level with a manual soft-top, which starts at $21,750. At this price, the Miata competes with the erstwhile Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, which constitute a decent first effort from General Motors but have nowhere near the Miata's quality and refinement. There are other, cheaper convertibles, but none with the Miata's size, rear-wheel drive and overall gestalt.

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