2002 Best Sports Car Under $40,000

02 02x Allstar Mazdamiata

Seasoned readers of this magazine are well aware of our longtime admiration for the Mazda Miata, a car that was our very first Automobile of the Year, in 1990, and which has since been a perennial All-Star. Few automobiles remain as perfect after a dozen years and only two generations, and few hew so closely to their original design and engineering briefs.

Why mess with success? The Miata's concept and brilliant execution as an attainable, approachable, and utterly fantastic sports car are as relevant in 2002 as they were in 1989. Indeed, cars that give their drivers such joyful sensations are perhaps more important now than ever.

The essence of the Miata has remained the same lo these many years: a lightweight, rigid, rear-wheel-drive chassis; quick steering and athletic reflexes; a finely calibrated manual transmission; and a modest yet refined four-cylinder engine. Throw in a couple of bucket seats and an exposed sky, and you have a stellar sports car, one that's immensely rewarding to drivers of any skill level. No competitor has equaled the Miata's pureness of spirit, at least not at this price.

The Miata is still the best formula for a roadster that puts driving pleasure before all else, with reliability, practicality, and beauty in the bargain. So slide behind the wheel, and throw back the lightweight top: Even a fully loaded Miata LS costs less than $30,000, which helps to make it an obvious shoo-in for our All-Star award for Best Sports Car under $40,000.

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