By KBB.com Editors
KBB Expert Rating: 8.1
In its 22nd year of production, Mazda's MX-5 Miata has firmly established itself among the iconic sports cars of all time. For each successive decade after World War II there have been one or two sports cars that spoke to a specific generation. In the '40s it was MG's TC, and in the '50s Corvette and Healey. Beginning with its 1990 introduction it has effectively been the MX-5, especially in the affordable sports car segment. And while refinements - and additional safety upgrades - have been added, the recipe remains essentially the same: A modestly responsive four-cylinder engine, precise manual transmission, a well dampened, fully independent suspension, and minimalistic bodywork. The package has excited one generation, and is now exciting the newly licensed children of its first ownership group. The MX-5 hasn't lost its way, and America hasn't lost its affection for it.
If you enjoy an immediate connection between steering wheel and roadway, you'll revel in the performance of the MX-5 Miata. There is absolutely nothing extraneous to the architecture, and while its footprint may be an expansion on the '60s-era Lotus that inspired it, there are few cars today - and virtually none in the U.S. market - that better combine fun, efficiency and affordability. And its hardtop (now about 2/3 of sales) makes the Miata amenable to most climes.
If - because of area, financial circumstance or proclivity - yours is a one car household, the MX-5 may not be your cup of sake. It remains a diminutive two-seater, providing comfortable accommodation for two adults of average size in combination with two briefs of average size. To its credit, the accommodation is much better than that offered by its one-time competitor, the Pontiac Solstice. But that will be little consolation when you're trying to get your new living room from Ikea back to the casa.
At this year's Chicago Auto Show in February, Mazda took the wraps off of a Special Edition. Built in limited volume (750 units), this special Miata commemorates the production of 900,000 MX-5 Miatas since 1990. Two unique colors, and built in Grand Touring spec, the Special Edition will only be available with the Miata's Power Retractable Hardtop. Beyond this, there are no changes to the MX-5 in the 2011 model year.
Driving Impressions In a word, responsive. As Mazda's PR team puts it, the Miata provides a "driver-focused powertrain." A well-developed 2.0-liter DOHC four provides strong performance that can be appreciated for both...its innate responsiveness and visceral feedback. The Miata's all-independent suspension and almost 50:50 weight distribution provide both a comfortable ride (within the limits of a 92-inch wheelbase) and immediate turn-in. And while its development over twenty years has necessarily accommodated new safety and emission legislation, the tight, lithe platform continues to deliver an almost innate connection with the asphalt and (hopefully) fresh air. It's more than mere transport; it's transport to another place.
2.0-liter DOHC Four
This, ladies and gentlemen, is a simple sports car propelled by a simple powertrain. And while that path to simplicity is necessarily sophisticated, Mazda has resisted the urge to install more cylinders, which all-too-typically require a heavier structure. The die was cast in 1990, and while that die may have been broadened ever so slightly, it's still immediately recognizable - and immediately enjoyable.
To look at the Miata's spec sheet, you'd think the starting price was mid-$30s (or $40s) rather than mid-$20s, as the structure is chock-full of this lightweight alloy. Hood, trunk, front control arms, rear suspension uprights and rear brake calipers are all crafted in a material many carmakers have yet to discover - in any application. It keeps the Miata commendably light, and to briefly channel Camelot, "light makes right."
We have room for over 100 words, but need only two: It's tight. With that, we'll add the following: While its dimensions remain small, the end result is a passenger compartment more personal than confining. The Miata's beauty is in its balance - enough room to be a daily commuter, and enough stowage to enjoy the occasional weekend furlough, but never so much that you and your passenger are isolated from your immediate environment. Despite its (modest) consumption of fossil fuels, this may very well be the most eco-sensitive transport on four wheels; you will feel everything around you. And while the appointments are appropriate to its price and segment, they recede in importance to what you've just seen, and what the next trip will bring.Exterior
We have room for over 100 words, but need only three: It's a Miata. With that, we'll add the following: While its proportions remain classic, the MX-5 Miata has evolved over the course of its two-plus decades. Short overhangs front and rear combine with a widened track to create a very athletic presence. The sheetmetal itself is "of a piece," with little - if any - extraneous additions to distract. We prefer the more traditional profile provided by the soft top, but unlike some hard top convertibles, the Miata's Power Retractable Hardtop (PRHT) supplies few (if any) negatives. And while our take on the Mazda3's recently acquired edge is purely subjective, we thank a Superior Being every day that he (or she) spared the Miata its stylistic extravagance.
Despite an entry-level price tag, the base Sport is comprehensively equipped. A 5-speed manual transmission, power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, 16-inch alloy wheels, a/c, leather-wrapped steering wheel, adjustable-height driver's seat and AM/FM/CD with MP3 playback capability are but a few of the highlights. In short, despite a relatively (under $25K) price tag, the entry-level Miata is almost elegantly spec'd.
Most of the Miata's available options are packaged in its trim level upgrades. Touring and Grand Touring models add a sixth gear to the manual transmission; all three trim levels offer an available 6-speed automatic as an option. The Touring - and by extension, Grand Touring - receives 17-inch alloy wheels, a chrome grille surround, power door locks and windows, an in-dash 6-disc CD changer and remote keyless entry. To the Touring spec the Grand Touring receives a black or beige cloth top (in lieu of the Sport and Touring black vinyl top), automatic air conditioning, leather seating and a Bose audio system. A more aggressive Sport suspension (with Bilstein shocks and limited slip differential) can be added to both Touring and Grand Touring models equipped with manual transmission.
With 167 horsepower (@ 7,000 rpm) from its 2.0-liter displacement, the MX-5's powertrain is merely middle-of-the-pack in terms of horsepower to displacement. But what it provides in driving enjoyment puts it solidly in pole position, with feedback - both mechanical and aural - fully appropriate to the classic sports car experience. And much of that has been engineered in. One example: The engine's plastic composite intake manifold is designed to transmit - rather than mask - certain frequencies that duplicate a sports car's "audio." Both 5-speed and 6-speed manuals are short in their throws and precise in their actuation. And as noted, a 6-speed automatic is optional across the board, but only truly appropriate if you've lost your left leg in a racing accident.
2.0-liter in-line 4
167 horsepower @ 7000 rpm (manual), 158 horsepower @ 6700 rpm (automatic)
140 lb.-ft. of torque @ 5000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 22/28(5-speed manual), 21/28 (6-speed manual), 21/28 (6-speed automatic)
By Chris on Sunday, March 30, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 60,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Light, fast, sporty, more fun than anything!"
Cons: "Limited space for people or luggage"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"The Miata is the best car I have ever owned...though not the most practical. It is small, but that means it is sporty, powerful and handles like a Lotus. As a daily driver, it is amazing...it makes me want to get in and drive somewhere, even when I have no place to go. This is the best selling sports car of all time, and once you drive it, you will understand why. Space is an issue, so it is best as a second car, or for someone who understands the limitations up front. Quality and Reliability are a 10...fun is a 10, and even the looks are a 10. Forget the whole "girl car" stuff...this is a car for people who are true drivers."
6 people out of 8 found this review helpful
By feeder on Friday, March 28, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 20,000overall rating 9 of 10rating details
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 9
"handling, exhaust is tuned so perfectly. Not being a turbo it is pretty adequate for performance. Drive it year round with a good snows is very good in a snow storm. Just a great car to drive"
1 person out of 2 found this review helpful
By donagirl on Wednesday, March 26, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 14,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Great price, fun to drive."
Cons: "Battery (life and placement) some cheap interiors"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"I test drove every sports car under the sun, most 2-3 times more expensive than the Mazda Miata, but none felt as right as this car. It was light, fast and nimble. It hugs the road and feels completely balanced unlike many of the other sport cars, though most with more horsepower and a little more guts, felt front heavy. I am a small woman, and often have trouble getting up high enough to see comfortably over the dash without a cushion, but this car has a perfect driving position for me; like a perfectly designed cockpit. My 6"2 boyfriend however, is less than pleased with the head height unless the top is down. Oh well! It does fine in rain, scarey in snow so i try not to get caught which is difficult here in the northeast, but as impractical as owning one here may be, this is one lease that I do not want to return. I can't wait to see the redesign in 2015 which is supposedly a collaboration between Mazda and Alfa Remeo. If you want a fun, reasonably priced sports car, this is it, hands down."
3 people out of 5 found this review helpful
By Joe on Wednesday, March 19, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 97,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "Handling is awesome. Very responsive."
Cons: "Firm ride, interior not plush."
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"The most fun for the price car out there. Have not had any problems in 97K. Starts and drives like the day I bought it. Replaced the struts at 70K. Regular service and the usual tires, front brakes."
By Allen on Saturday, January 25, 2014
I owned and sold this car
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 6
"It's a great car for the suitable person, but I made the mistake of buying a car in a rush. It's a great fun car to drive, except it can't take your daughter's friend when you pick her up at a school chorus practice; you can't take anyone to golf because the trunk won't accomodate a single golf bag, grocery shopping is out as you can't fit two bags of Charmin in the car. It looks too cute people thought it more of a female car. Getting in and out is a chore even for someone with a small figure."
6 people out of 9 found this review helpful
By OC_Brian on Wednesday, January 15, 2014
I own this car - My approximate mileage is 52,000overall rating 10 of 10rating details
Pros: "It's a hoot to drive"
Cons: "Seats could be a bit more supportive"
Likely to recommend this car? (1-10): 10
"Due to the 6-speed manual and Southern California traffic, I feel the car is not the best choice for everyday driving. Drive on a twisty mountain road, however, and a smile will come over your face. The car is not fast but sure is fun! Reliability has been excellent; have only replaced the thermostat in over 50,000 miles (outside of normal maintenance). Comfort is acceptable; cabin is a bit noisy. The body structure is quite good for a convertible and has far fewer squeaks and rattles than my previous sports car. Looking into installing a supercharger as I'd like to have about 60 more hp; the power is adequate for "normal" driving though. I just want a little more power."
1 person out of 1 found this review helpful