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    Fun Cars for Serious Times

    By Philip Ruth–

    Home stretch! It’s been a long political slog, and now we’re within shouting distance of having our vote on the matter. Amid this electoral tension, I had relief with two press vehicles that are unquestionably focused on fun. 

    This Mazda MX-5 Miata Club (about $33,000 as tested) is an iconic fun convertible for two and their luggage. It’s quaint to remember the revelation the Miata was when it debuted for 1990, because pretty much up to that point, pint-sized drop-tops were made by makes like Fiat and Triumph, and they needed a lot of wrenching—and a lot of pushing, as in the case of my beloved Fiat Spider 2000. 

    They were worth the trouble, because few other vehicles could provide their open-air thrills. Then the Miata came along and started every day just like other Mazdas, and the game, as they say, had changed. 

    The 4Runner sprouted about five years earlier as a version of Toyota’s small pickup truck. The 4Runner also had a wide skyward view, at least for rear passengers, when you removed the rear roof cap. You bought the Toyota pickup for serious utility, and the 4Runner lifted the lid on it. 

    This 4Runner TRD Pro is the top trim of a bewildering nine 4Runner trims available, and you’d need a pinch more than $50,000 to drive off in a 4Runner TRD Pro—and in a nod to the first 4Runner, the tailgate window motors down for flow-through ventilation.  

    In the decades since, many models have shifted identities; the ever-renamed Lincoln lineup is Exhibit A, but the Miata and 4Runner never strayed from their original formulas.

    Most fortunately, they are the best they’ve ever been. This MX-5 Miata Club came with the “Brembo/BBS Recaro Package,” which costs a stiff $4,470 but includes names that are music to an enthusiast’s ears. Brembo means high-tech front disk brakes with red calipers, BBS refers to the forged 17-inch wheels in Dark Gunmetal, and Recaro calls out the heated black sport seats that hold you in place without cramping your style. Sill extensions around the bottom of the body add some visual sizzle. Altogether, this package applies a more serious approach to driving to the Miata’s typical happy-go-lucky demeanor. 

    “Serious” applies to the tested 4Runner TRD Pro as well—after all, “professional” is in the name. TRD stands for Toyota Racing Development, which first got its name back in 1979. Racing improves the breed, and the off-road rallies in which Toyota competes so ferociously directly influence the development of models like these. Granted, a lot of the 4Runner TRD Pro’s distinction lies in styling nuggets like embossed headrests and a TRD shift knob. But there’s substance as well, with FOX-brand front shocks and knobbly Nitto Terra Grappler tires. 

    The 4Runner’s TRD Pro heavy-duty hardware made it feel strong, but the ride didn’t knock me around. Likewise, the Miata was extremely nimble but never felt harsh. Let’s hope for the same for us all as November approaches.

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant with an automotive staging service.

    Published on October 22, 2020