By Matt Degen
The Mazda MX-5 reinvented itself just last year, becoming smaller, lighter and even more efficient than its beloved predecessor. What it didn't lose is what made it so celebrated upon debuting nearly three decades ago: nimble, zesty driving manners that can't help making anyone with a pulse smile. Long known simply as the Miata, Mazda has perfected the formula for a modern-day roadster: It's small, lightweight, rear-wheel drive and has one of the best manual transmissions money can buy (an automatic is optional, and to some devotees, sacrilegious). Even with almost no direct competitors in its price range outside the platform-sharing Fiat 124, the 2017 Mazda MX-5 continues to improve, now offering the MX-5 RF with its retracting hardtop roof.
If you've ever dreamt of owning a lithe, responsive 2-seat roadster with the spirit of a classic British roadster -- but that's thoroughly modern, safe and reliable -- look no further than the 2017 Mazda MX-5.
For all the MX-5's enviable traits, roominess and roaring power are not among them. A larger competitor like the Mustang or Camaro has both, while the Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86 compact-sports coupes have athletic manners and a modicum of rear-seat space.
Just one year after arriving in all-new form as a traditional soft-top convertible, the MX-5 RF -- for retractable fastback -- debuts for 2017. The RF features a hardtop roof that tucks below the rear deck and looks similar to a Porsche 911 Targa. Club models receive blind-spot monitoring as standard.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata has never been about gobs of power that enable it to drag race. This Mazda's magic lies not in straight lines, but when...
... the road twists and turns. That's when it's at its best, or when simply cruising along a coastal highway with the top down. The MX-5 lives for these experiences and will make you feel alive when doing so. With 155 horsepower sent to the rear wheels, the power is enough to make the new Miata a joy, while its rear-wheel-drive (RWD) layout distinguishes it from other sporty soft-tops like the Mini Convertible and Fiat 500 Cabrio. The 2017 MX-5's suspension helps this roadster stick to corners, but isn't so stiff as to rattle your teeth. Steering feel is quick, and while the electric assist suffers from a slight dead spot on-center, it actually helps make the MX-5 feel less nervous than its predecessor.
NEW MX-5 RF MODEL
While the last-gen Miata was available as a retractable hardtop, the new RF is even more different, and dare we say stylish. Geared toward drivers who prefer mostly top-up driving, the RF is a sleek and secure coupe when the roof is in place, and a head-turning, open-air fastback with it down.
EXTRA RECLINE CLICK
They say life's a battle of inches, and Mazda found an additional smidge of room in the new MX-5 in terms of the seatback recline. It's just one additional click on the recline mechanism, but for tall drivers, that single click is huge.
The 2017 Mazda MX-5 roadster has a simple, straightforward and modern interior. It's similar to the Mazda3 sedan and hatchback, with an upright infotainment screen on the dash, a push-button start button, and a surprising amount of soft-touch materials. Mazda says it literally designed the car around the driver, and the MX-5 offers excellent steering-wheel, pedal and shifter placement, though we wish the steering wheel telescoped in addition to tilting. Despite the small size, it's surprisingly accommodating for tall drivers, offering good headroom. There's even a usefully sized trunk, but as with the previous-gen model, interior space is at a premium.
Compared to the previous version, this 4th-generation MX-5 is the most radical departure from the original Mazda Miata since pop-up headlights disappeared in the 2nd-generation car. At just over 154 inches in length, the latest MX-5 is actually three inches shorter than its former self. The tiny headlights are LEDs, complemented by taillights that look like miniaturized versions from the Jaguar F-Type. The profile keeps the classic long-hood/short-deck proportions. With top in place, the MX-5 RF is a sleek coupe. With the power-operated center panel tucked away, it looks like nothing else new on the road outside of a Porsche 911 Targa.
The 2017 Mazda MX-5 lineup is divided into three different models for the standard convertible -- Sport, Club and Grand Touring -- while the new MX-5 RF retractable fastback is divided into two -- Club and Grand Touring. All new MX-5 convertibles come with LED headlights, push-button ignition, air conditioning, power windows and the world's easiest-to-use folding cloth top. Also standard is a 6-speed manual transmission. The 6-speaker AM/FM/CD audio system includes Bluetooth and a USB input. Cruise control is also standard, and the little steering wheel is packed with audio and cruise-control buttons.
While even a base MX-5 is a hoot, we recommend stepping up to the Club trim, which nets extra amenities and safety features, including the Mazda Connect infotainment system with its touch-screen display and multifunction knob, Bose premium audio system with HD Radio and a secondary USB audio input. Manual-transmission versions come with sport-tuned suspension and limited-slip differential. New for 2017 Club models is blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Grand Touring models get leather upholstery, navigation, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated seats, and lane-departure warning. A 6-speed automatic transmission is optional on all versions. Club models can be had higher-performance Brembo brakes.
The sole engine in the new Mazda MX-5 is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 155 horsepower. It comes standard with a slick 6-speed manual transmission, and even if you don't know how to drive stick, it's worth learning just so you can enjoy this one. The action is light, the shifts are short, and the clutch operation is simply spot-on. If you must, a 6-speed automatic is available, and it's the sole carryover component from the last-gen model. It also adds a notable amount of weight, and despite the manual-shift mode, we still think it's worth getting the manual. Either way, you'll fill it with premium unleaded, but with up to 35 mpg on the highway, you won't do it often.
155 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
148 lb-ft of torque @ 4,600 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 26/33 mpg (manual), 26/35 mpg (automatic)
Note: Due to changes in EPA testing to more effectively reflect real-world conditions, some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel-economy scores than their 2016 versions.
Yes, you can put a price on fun, and we're happy to report it's within reach. A base 2017 Mazda MX-5 convertible has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting at $25,750 for a manual-transmission Sport model. Midtrim Club versions start higher at $29,635, while the Grand Touring model begins at $30,900. The new Mazda MX-5 RF starts at $32,390, while a Grand Touring RF goes for $33,455. An automatic transmission adds roughly $700 to $1,500, depending on model. The MX-5's closest rival, the MX-5-based Fiat 124 Spider, has more classical looks and a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine. The Fiat starts just slightly higher at $25,990. Though somewhat apples and oranges, a Mini Convertible starts at $26,800, while a Toyota 86 coupe begins just over $27,000. Before buying, check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others are paying. The MX-5's resale value is expected to hold up well.