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The Mazda Miata was originally introduced in 1989 as a return to the roots of open-top sporting cars. During a time when automakers were competing to cram all varieties of useless technology into cars that were skyrocketing in price, the simple and inexpensive Miata was an instant hit. Ten years later, Mazda engineers have stayed true to their original formula of simplicity and efficiency as they unveil the second generation Miata. Numerous changes were made to the Miata for its evolution, and after 20,000 miles with the 1999 edition of this wonderful sports car, it is clear that these changes only made a exceptional car even better.

The second-generation Miata sports significantly curvier lines. From certain angles, it brings back fond memories of the RX-7. While still small in dimension and light in weight, the new 99 has a larger-than-actual presence than the toy-like first generation Miatas. However, beauty is only skin deep. What lies beneath this new sheet metal is a completely updated power train and suspension. The engine has gained a variable-intake plenum that opens up extra runners for better flow above 4000 rpm. Other revisions such as solid lifters and reworked ECU help bump the output of this durable little engine to 140 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. The entire torque band is broader than before, and the engine pulls even more eagerly to a 7000-rpm redline. Paired to the updated engine are either a wonderfully precise 5-speed manual transmission with short and positive throws or a horrid automatic transmission that completely defeats the purpose of owning such a car. The suspension has revised pick-up points for the A-arms and retuned spring and shock rates that allow the second-generation car to be more stable in quick maneuvers while gaining more grip and controllability. The interior is upholstered in higher quality plastics and a very pleasing fabric pattern. A lockable armrest, map pockets in the doors, and a big lockable glovebox make this Miata more usable in real life, even though the shallow trunk is still a joke and not practical for anything more than a week’s worth of groceries.

However, putting all these revisions together in one compact and attractive package gives very impressive results. On the road, the Miata responds to driver input as if the controls were wired directly to one’s brain. There is no slop in the steering, no vagueness in the shifter, no hesitation for the engine to rev when bid upon by the right foot, and absolutely no uncontrolled or unexpected motions from the beautifully simple suspension. The driver feels at one with this machine in every sense of the word. The ripping wind through the hair, and the staccato bark from the exhaust, the lusty resonance from the intake are all frostings on a delicious cake. This car begs to be driven, and rewards the driver, skilled or not, with the most enjoyment for his money. Sports car fans everywhere can rest easy knowing that this second-generation makeover was not a dilution of the original appeals of this little convertible, but only made them better.