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big al
June 26, 2019
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great handling; fun to drive
May 01, 2019
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November 09, 2018
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May 20, 2018
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2001 Mazda 1203 MX-5 Miata 1432 6664
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Expert Reviews

Mitch McCullough, Editor-in-Chief
powered by New Car Test Drive
In spite of an invasion of two-seat sports cars from other manufacturers, the Mazda Miata remains the benchmark. It offers truly outstanding, classic sports car handling. Rear-wheel drive and light weight make the most of its twin-cam four-cylinder engine. Amenities are traditional elegantly designed sports car: simple and functional.

It isn't the most powerful, or the most luxurious. It isn't the most exotic or the most sophisticated. But in terms of an affordable roadster, which is what the original British sports cars were, the Miata is near perfection. And, following the classic sports car definition, in a pinch it can be raced. It is the best-selling two-seat roadster of all time, according to Guinness World Records; more than 500,000 have been sold worldwide, half of them in North America.

For 2001, Mazda has increased horsepower, enlarged the brakes, stiffened the chassis, and upgraded the interior, making this the best Miata of all time.

Model Lineup
Two models are available: Miata ($21,180) and Miata LS ($23,930).

In previous years, the Miata models were organized as packages. The base Miata now comes standard with air conditioning. Also standard are alloy wheels, four-wheel disc brakes, a CD stereo with four speakers, and power windows and mirrors. The base model comes with black cloth and a black convertible top.

LS adds leather upholstery, a tan convertible top, 195/50VR15 tires in place of the base model's 185/60HR14s, a Torsen limited slip rear differential, power door locks, cruise control and a Bose CD/cassette stereo with six speakers.

An optional Suspension Package includes a sports suspension with strut tower brace is available for the LS ($495); this package is also available for the base model ($995) and includes the Torsen LSD and 15-inch wheels and tires. Anti-lock brakes ($550) are an option on the LS. A removable hardtop ($1,500) is available for driving in cold climates, bad neighborhoods or on race tracks.

All Miatas come with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine. For 2001, the Miata gets the largest horsepower increase in its 12-year history, raising the output to 155 horsepower. A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard; a 4-speed automatic ($900) is optional; and a 6-speed manual ($650) is optional on LS models.

For 2001,the Miata takes on a more aggressive look with a new front fascia, and a grille opening that adopts Mazda's five-point shape. Headlights are larger with projector beams and multi-surface reflector lights. Taillights are redesigned as well and echo the appearance of the headlights.

In spite of these changes, Miata remains a classic-looking roadster. Miata was redesigned (and re-engineered) for 1999 with exposed projector-type headlamps that replace the old pop-up units, more sculpturing along the sides, and a little raised bump at the rear of the trunk lid reminiscent of the third-generation Mazda RX-7.

For 2001, interior trim has been upgraded. Mazda has gone to the white-faced gauges that have been in vogue the past couple of years. New high-backed seats come covered in new black cloth or new leather. A new center console features covered cupholders and relocated power window switches. The driver's footrest is improved. Door trim is revised, and LS comes with new chrome inside door handles. Fancy, fancy.

This car only seats two, and the cockpit is reminiscent of the British roadsters of the 1950s and '60s. It feels snug to folks over six feet tall and those who sit tall in the saddle are likely to find the top brushing against their hair. But it's perfect for those of standard or smaller stature. The bucket seats are comfortable and supportive. The mirrors are bigger and more effective than those found in BMW's more expensive Z3. The trunk is tiny, but you can wedge in a couple of golf bags back or enough luggage for a weekend excursion.

Miata's cockpit remains traditional and familiar despite a complete overhaul for 1999. The switches were relocated, the instrument panel was redesigned, rotary knobs replace the old climate control sliders and audio systems are now stacked above the climate controls. After years of big, padded four-spoke steering wheels, the leather-wrapped Nardi steering wheel is a refreshing return to traditional three-spoke steering wheels; besides lending a spiffy appearance, it affords a good view of the tachometer and speedometer.

The top drops with one hand and couldn't be easier. A boot covers the folded top for an improved appearance, but isn't necessary. An optional Windblocker is designed to keep cabin turbulence to a minimum when the top is down. You still get wind in the hair, but without having your hair standing straight up. A glass rear window complete with an electric defogger is standard and preferable to plastic windows that become foggy and distorted with age.

Like all convertibles, the Miata is a little noisy inside. When the tires pick up sand or small rocks, you hear them hit the fender wells. But the exhaust sounds great and it's all part of the traditional sports car experience. If extended Interstate droning is on the menu, the Miata is far from ideal. Like its British ancestors, this car is designed for driving fun, as distinct from mere transportation. The destination is unimportant; getting there is everything. Viewed from this perspective, the Miata is just about perfect.

Driving Impressions
Miata is the contemporary embodiment of the 1950s sports car spirit, minus the irritations that went with the MGs, Triumphs and Austin-Healeys of the day.

Handling is excellent. Miata reacts to the driver's input just like a Formula Ford race car: Lift off the throttle in the middle of a fast corner and you'll feel the chassis rotate as the car turns in tighter. Step on the gas again and it straightens out as weight is transferred to the rear and the rear tires gain grip. It's just perfectly balanced. Unlike most front-wheel-drive sports coupes, the rear-wheel-drive Miata does not mask poor driving technique. By the same token, it really rewards good technique. A good driver will become a better driver in this car.

For 2001, Mazda's engineers added a wider gusset at the rear of the transmission tunnel, added reinforcements behind the cockpit, and strengthened the side sills, all of which increased the rigidity of the chassis. As a result, the 2001 Miata turns in sharper. It also feels more solid and secure. Turn in to a corner and the car responds instantly. In fact, the steering is so quick, that you may find yourself turning in a little too early or a little too much for corners until you get used to it.

Miata now comes standard with P195/50VR15 high-performance tires on 15-inch alloy wheels; P205/45WR16 tires on 16-inch alloys come standard on LS.

An optional Suspension Package ($395 for LS, $1025 for base model) includes a front strut-tower brace, 16-inch alloy wheels with P245/WR16 tires, and a Torsen limited-slip rear differential. Miata LS also gets a set of Bilstein shock absorbers in this package.

Miata rides like a traditional sports car. It shudders over bumps like an old MG. When you run over ripples in the pavement, you feel them. But like the noise, it's all part of the experience.

The 5-speed manual transmission shifts smoothly. It features short throws from gear to gear. It is excellent and a big part of the fun of driving the Miata. You only have to push the clutch in part way to change gears. The LS model's optional 6-speed manual tightens up the ratios, allowing the skilled sports car driver to keep the engine revving more in the optimal power band for better performance. Fifth gear on the 6-speed is the same 1:1 ratio that fourth is on the 5-speed gearbox. Both use an overdrive ratio for the top gear; the achieve identical EPA fuel economy ratings of 23/28 mpg city/highway. The optional 4-speed automatic erodes the sports car driving experience considerably and drops fuel economy by 1 mpg in the EPA city cycle.

Throttle response is instant. Acceleration is brisk, and the new exhaust note conjures up visions of Watkins Glen and roots of American sports car racing. In fact, Miatas have won a number of Sports Car Club of America national championships. It's one of the most entertaining and one of the most reliable cars in SCCA Showroom Stock (unmodified) competition. Compared with the more expensive roadsters and some of the front-drive compact coupes, the Miata's little 1.8-liter engine does not provide a lot of torque. But it loves to rev and there's plenty of power to satisfy all but the hungriest sports car enthusiast.

For 2001, power has been increased to 155 horsepower at 7000 rpm (redline) and to 125 foot-pounds of torque at 5500. The increase comes from a new cylinder head that uses variable valve timing (VVT) on the intake camshaft, and raises the compression ratio to 10:1 (from 9.5:1). This system allows the driver to rev the engine right to the 7000-rpm redline, yet it increases torque throughout the rev range for improved flexibility when driving around town.

The exhaust system delivers a spirited tenor bark to go with the engine's increased bite. It's a high-tech echo of the '50s, and sounds exactly what sports cars are supposed to sound like. The Mazda engine isn't as smooth as a Honda, but its roughness somehow makes the Miata more endearing and adds to its sports appeal.

If you're a hard-driving enthusiast, opt for the Torsen limited-slip ($395), which comes standard on the LS model. Without it, you may encounter rear wheel spin when accelerating hard out of tight corners. On the other hand, if you're buying the Miata simply for its carefree open-air motoring and won't drive it real hard, then you may not need to spend the money on the limited-slip.

Braking performance is excellent in this sports car, primarily because of its light weight (2387 pounds with 5-speed, 2447 pounds with 6-speed). Models with 16-inch wheels benefit from bigger brakes, with larger discs, a larger brake master cylinder, a larger brake booster, and higher friction brake pads; add all that to the wider 16-inch tires and you should see shorter stopping distances and less brake fade. Anti-lock brakes ($550) are an option for LS models and a good idea because ABS helps the driver to maintain steering control in an emergency stopping situation. ABS comes with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), which varies the front-to-rear brake bias according to load. Slam on the brakes, and it transfers more braking force to the front wheels as the weight transfers forward. EBD reduces stopping distances and enhances stability under hard braking.

Like all pure sports cars, the Miata is a recreational implement rather than a transportation device. Practicality doesn't apply here. There are many sports cars that deliver a lot more performance. But the new Miata is far from slow, and its agility measures up with the best for far less money.

Like everything else in life, the Miata hasn't gotten any cheaper. As it enters the new millennium, the base price has crept up from what it was a decade ago, about $14,000. Still, with a base price of $21,180, it costs a lot less than a Porsche Boxster.

In terms of automotive recreation, the Miata delivers a lot of value. The Miata is extremely reliable. Just check the oil and it'll run forever. Most people who sell their Miatas do so only because they need a bigger car.

Model as tested
Miata LS ($23,930)
Basic Warranty
3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in
Hofu, Japan
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
ABS ($550); 6-speed manual transmission ($650)
Model Line Overview
Model lineup
base ($21,180); LS ($23,930)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual de-powered airbags standard (with key-operated passenger-side deactivation switch), safety belt pretensioners and force limiters ; ABS optional
Safety equipment (optional)
1.8-liter dohc 16v inline-4
5-speed manual
Specifications as Tested
air conditioning, AM/FM/CD stereo, rear window defogger, intermittent wipers, power windows, power mirrors, aluminum alloy wheels, roadside assistance, Windblocker anti-draft panel, fog lights, floor mats
Engine & Transmission
1.8-liter dohc 16v inline-4
Drivetrain type
front-engine, rear-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
155 @ 7000
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
Brakes, front/rear
disc/disc w ABS, EBD
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear
Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear
Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight
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