By KBB.com Editors - Updated Date: 4/28/2011
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.You'll Like This Car If...
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.You May Not Like This Car If...
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.What's New for 2011
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 It 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.Favorite Features
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.Notable Standard Equipment
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.Notable Optional Equipment
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.Under the Hood
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)
The three MX-5 trim levels - Sport, Touring and Grand Touring - range in price from about $24,000 (5-speed Sport) to almost $29,000 (Grand Touring automatic), plus whatever port or dealer-installed accessories the consumer would care to add. The Power Retractable Hard Top has its own price schedule, spread over three trim levels: Touring, Grand Touring and Special Edition. Here, entry level is approximately $28,000 (6-speed Touring) and tops out at over $32,000 (PRHT automatic Special Edition). Be sure and check kbb.com's Fair Purchase Price for what consumers are paying in your market area. Historically, Miata resale has been consistently strong, a testament to both its long-term reliability and desirability to successive generations of car buyers.