Kia Motors

The Power to Surprise'

Earlier this year, 1 attended the spring show put on by seniors at San Francisco's Academy of Art University at the invitation of Tom Matano, the chair of the school's industrial design department. As we looked over the student portfolios, Matano, a former head of Mazda design who headed the MX-5 Miata project, casually remarked that the ear turns 20 this year.

I was floored. Twenty years. The Miata is as fresh as ever—it seems only yesterday 1 was taking my daughter Amy, who was 2, for a ride, enjoying her reaction to open-air motoring as much as the car itself. Time surely Hies—this past June, she graduated from collegc. i regard the Miata as something akin to looking in the mirror, acknowledging the changes that time has wrought, but still seeing yourself as the same. The Miata may have matured, but it's never lost its essential nature, and that's the innate ability to make you feel one with (he car.

It's no small feat being able to connect oil such an intimate level. There arc few cars that feel as if the front wheels arc your fingertips, sensing every wrinkle, dip and bend in the road-pure motorized sensory overload. The scenery around you, the smells in the air and the sound of the engine are somehow more vivid. It's the wheeled equivalent of what athletes experience when they're in the zone.

Unfortunately, most cars treat the driving experience as an cud to a means—it's more important getting from Point A to Point 13 rather than enjoying that time in between. Or more important, making that time "productive" As the automobile has evolved as a technological marvel, drivers tend to attain oneness not with the car, but apart from it. The myriad of safety, communications and entertainment systems, from stability control to hands-free Bluetooth connectivity, allow you to get into a different kind of zone, one where the least of your concerns is actually driving the ear and more about communicating with the outside world while you rush from place to place.

That's precisely why cars like the Miata should be celebrated. While adapting to the realities of the day (like adding a retractable hardtop), the MX-5 has remained true to its mission of providing an engaging driving experience. That fidelity, along with realistic sales expectations on the part of Mazda, is the key to its longevity. The Miata is a survivor because it was the right car at the right time when it was launched for the 1990 model year.

Proving the point, it has outlived the Alfa Spider, the Lotus Elan and Mercury Capri, the reincarnated MR2 Spyder and Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky. Of course, the Alfa was Hearing the end of its life cycle (and the Italian automaker's U.S. presence), but the Elan and Capri, while their hearts were in the right places as open-top 2-seaters, their driving wheels weren't. There's something about a front-drive roadster that just isn't right. And while the Solstice/Sky was a noble effort by General Motors, the width and weight of the Kappa platform didn't have the same lithe athleticism that the Miata has maintained even as it's grown in size and performance.

The other thing I love about the car is its ability to survive as a name in a world that seems hell-bent on using alphanumeries for everything. While Mazda has officially tried to shorten its 2-seater's handle to just MX-5, it's still known as the Miata, always has been, and hopefully, always will be. At this year's Frank flirt show, Mazda demonstrated just how much life is left in the Miata concept with a lightweight sport concept designed by the company's European studios {see Ampersand). Shedding the windshield and sporting swoopy bodywork, the MX-5 Superlight is a fitting 20th anniversary tribute to a car that promises to keep the thrills coming.

Whole Miata Love

"I regard the Miata as something akin to looking in the mirror, acknowledging the changes that time has wrought, but still seeing yourself as the same."

Eevved-Up

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