The 1990 Mazda Miata was nothing less than the rebirth of the affordable two-seat sports car. Mazda fused the personality of the British sports cars of the 1950s and 1960s with near-faultless Japanese quality and reliability. From the first one out the door, the Miata delivered what the long-gone but still lamented English sports cars of an earlier generation had never quite managed: a delightful, fun, supremely capable, well-engineered car that started every time and ran forever. There are more Miatas on racetracks every weekend around the country than any other car.
It's been thoroughly updated twice, including a full remake in 2006. Quality, solidity and safety gear were upgraded in the 2006 re-do, but its lighthearted spirit was kept intact. This is a car to love.
Mazda is now downplaying the Miata name in favor of the alpha-numeric MX-5 moniker; apparently, this is intended to make emphasize the Mazda brand name.
For 2007, there are a few small changes and one major addition to the lineup that broadens both the MX-5's appeal and usefulness. The eye-opener is a new model featuring what Mazda calls the Power Retractable Hard Top, or PRHT, which features a solid roof that lowers in seconds at the touch of a button, just like those found on pricey two-seaters from Mercedes and Cadillac. It provides the advantages of a hardtop overhead, with reduced wind and road noise and a sense of increased security and solidity, yet folds down completely out of sight for stylish cruising. What's more, not a whit of the standard MX-5's delicious driving experience has been sacrificed by the addition of hardtop practicality.
Affordability has always been a cornerstone of Miata ownership, but over time more models and options have proliferated. The list now stretches to two basic body styles, across which spreads five exterior and interior trim packages, a more sporting suspension and a dozen stand alone options. All this can plump up the sticker to the $28,000 range. But choose wisely and you'll still get a rewarding sports car at an enticing price.
The MX-5 Miata, soft top or hard top, still puts a big grin on your face whether you're on a twisty road or just cruising down to the hardware store to pick up some molly bolts. Fun is what the Mazda MX-5 made its reputation on, and that's exactly what it delivers. Mission accomplished.
Mazda has done a masterful job designing the Mazda MX-5. This third generation evokes the themes of both the original 1990 car and the second-generation Miata (1999-2005). The current Mazda MX-5 is slightly larger in every measure from previous versions, from what's beneath the hood to the interior to the shadow it casts on the road.
Great designs evolve over time, but always hark back to a central theme that defines the brand. So it is with the third-generation MX-5. In fact, it looks more like the original Miata than the second-generation model. The overall design is somewhat slab sided and both taller and more rounded at the front end than previous versions. But the ovoid shape of the grille is pure Miata. (The grille on the hardtop models is brightened with a delicate chrome ring around its circumference.) This larger-than-before opening moves more cooling air through the radiator and around the larger engine and combines with a pronounced air dam across the bottom of the lower opening to give the Miata's face a strong chin. So what if it brings to mind a largemouth bass when viewed straight on? It does what it's supposed to do. Compound, projector-beam headlights live in small housings deeply recessed and near to the car's centerline, which emphasizes the Miata's diminutive size. The hood wears a mini-bulge in the center, simultaneously suggestive of a scoop and of a similar bulge on the RX-8.
The MX-5 design has definitely evolved since the beginning, especially when seen from the side. Sharply sculpted wheel flares appear directly adapted from the RX-8 in a form the company calls Mazda design DNA. Flared wheel arches also spread wide enough to cover the new-generation Miata's wider track. (Track is the distance between the left and right wheels). The MX-5's track is three inches wider in front, two inches wider in the rear when compared with the previous model. This gives the MX-5 a more athletic stance. The MX-5 looks more aggressive and less cuddly than its predecessors.
The soft top is the best yet, and one of the best in all sportscardom. The top, with its heated glass rear window, collapses into a well behind the seats cleanly and completely, in a way requiring no cover boot. That's good, because there are plenty of times when you'd like to drop the top but don't want to take time to snap on a cover. Now it looks neatly finished when it's down, with no additional effort. As with previous models, it's manually operated, but so light and easy to use you can do it with one hand while sitting in the driver's seat. You'll never wish for power assistance. This is distinctly different from, say, the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, whose tops are far more involved to raise and lower.
The folding hardtop is a mastery of good design. The PRHT is a cinch to operate, quick to fold, and a miracle of space efficiency. Stop the car, put it in neutral (or Park for the automatic). Pop a single handle at the top of the windshield, touch a button on the dash and in 12 seconds the top has contorted itself into the same well the soft-top uses. The hardtop is made of lightweight materials: sheet molding compound on the outside and glass fiber-reinforced polypropylene on the inside. The entire apparatus including electric motors adds less than 80 pounds to the featherweight car, thus maintaining the MX-5's wonderful agility and balance.
A rear panel aft of the front seats raises as part of this dance to allow the top to drop into the well, and covers it back up once it's snuggled in place. Trunk room is not impacted in any way, a blessing because the MX-5 has so little of it to begin with. (Note that even some of the luxury-class folding-hardtop sportscars suffer here, because their tops actually fold down into the trunk and eat up as much as half the available cargo space. Not so for the MX-5.) A slight ridge sculpted into the PRHT's top cover is the onl
This latest generation (2006 and newer) Mazda Miata grew in all dimensions and it is more accommodating than before, but it's still a snug fit for full-figured or tall sports car lovers. Rearward seat travel was extended by about an inch, and you can feel it. Before, a six-footer had the driver's seat all the way back. Now there's a notch or two left in the travel. The car's expanded girth yielded an additional 1.4 inches in hip room, and it too makes a difference.
The trunk's 5.3 cubic feet capacity is made for a few small, soft bags, just enough to get a couple through a weekend trip. The spare tire was left out more to save weight than to add space for golf clubs.
Overall, interior quality and appearance are way better than any past MX-5 Miata would have led you to expect. Fit and finish is tight and smooth. Trim panels on the center stack fit flush and look expensively made. Materials are mostly impressive grade; the shiny black trim across the width of the instrument panel has the high-end look of black lacquered furniture.
The headliner of the hardtop's roof is finished in a hard flat-black textured covering that, if not luxurious, is certainly tidy. Even the base cloth upholstery is nice, with lightly woven, smooth-finish bolsters and waffle-weave insets. Depending on the weather, the cloth upholstery's waffle-like weave can be more comfortable than leather. That's a good thing, because leather doesn't appear until the top-of-the-line Grand Touring model. The base SV's urethane steering wheel and shift knob wrappings are obviously not leather, but they're not offensive, either. Likewise, in ergonomics, the interior of the new Miata rates both pluses and minuses.
The soft top is an exemplar of simplicity and ease of use. Release a single latch at the center of the foremost bow and with one hand push the top back into its recess behind the seats. To reverse the process, reach back with one hand, grab the latch and pull, and the top rises out of its well and settles onto the top of the windshield. Tug down, engage the latch, and it's done.
Seats are neither overly firm nor too plush, properly bolstered for the type of driving the Miata invites but with only acceptable thigh support. Be ready for noticeable lumbar, too, for which there's no adjustment. Nor is there a seat height adjustment. The tilt steering wheel helps with this, at least a little. The properly stubby shift lever is where it should be. The hand brake sits on the passenger side of the drive tunnel.
A single set of power window buttons is located in the center console aft of the shift boot, behind which a neat retracting cover conceals two cup holders. The center stack hosts intuitively positioned stereo and air conditioning knobs, buttons and recessed toggles that are easy to grasp and manipulate. A power outlet conveniently placed at the base of the center stack waits for a radar detector or cell phone. Four air registers are spaced across the dash in the hard, shiny black panel that changes to brushed aluminum for the Limited Edition. They swivel with a surprisingly expensive feel.
All gauges are analog, with a large, round tachometer and matching speedometer straddling the steering column and shaded from all but trailing sunlight by an arched hood. Fuel level is reported in a small circle to the lower left, coolant temperature by one to the lower right and, thank you very much, oil pressure by a matching triplet positioned top center between the tach and speedo. It's the kind of engine monitoring panel that sports car drivers love. Headlights are managed by a stalk on the left side of the steering column, windshield wiper and washer by a stalk on the right side. On the Touring model and above, cruise and secondary audio controls utilize the horizontal spokes of the steering wheel. The on/off switch for the stability control system shares space with a pair of switch blanks in th
Mazda's engineers worked overtime to keep the third-generation MX-5 from gaining performance-dulling weight, and it shows. Liberal use of lightweight and high tensile metals, along with fresh thinking in such basics as mounting accessories to the engine and even how much a rearview mirror weighs, kept weight to within 22 pounds of the the second-generation Miata. Dropping the spare tire helped, but the MX-5's designated dieticians still faced added calories from the larger engine, the head-and-thorax side-impact airbags, more robust side-impact hardware, larger wheels and those stylish seatback hoops.
Just as significant from the driver's seat is how the car's mass is distributed. The lower the mass is in the car's chassis, the lower the car's center of gravity and the more stable its ride and handling. But especially important for a sports car, the closer weight is clustered around what engineers call the vertical yaw axis the better. Imagine a broomstick with two five-pound weights attached. It weighs about 10 pounds regardless of where the weights are positioned. Put the weights at the ends of the broomstick, and try to spin it like a baton. It's not so easy to get started, and once started it's difficult to stop. But move the weights next to each other at the center of the broomstick, and starting it spinning and stopping it requires much less effort.
This is a simplification because concentrating too much of the mass around the yaw axis can make a car unstable, but you get the point. And so did the Mazda engineers. The engine in this latest version was moved rearward more than five inches from its relative location in the previous (pre-2006) model. The gas tank was moved forward and lowered in the chassis. Relocating the battery from the trunk to under the hood positioned it closer to the yaw axis.
What all this has accomplished in pursuit of the ideal 50/50 front/rear weight balance is, well, if not perfection, then close, depending on how the Miata is loaded. With two people buckled in, Mazda pegs the new Miata's weight distribution at 50/50. With their luggage, it tends to a rear bias; empty, with a full gas tank, it tends to a front bias.
So much for what gratifies the left brain. What's so cool about all this shifting around of mechanicals and components is, it works.
The MX-5 is a blast to drive. The 166-hp, six-speed gearbox and a highly responsive throttle give it a nice kick in the back end. The wide track and low center of gravity enable it to corner flatter than should be possible. Balance is so close to perfect, with two people on board, of course, and with the sporty, asymmetrical-tread tires on the Sport and Grand Touring models, that it holds its line through corners like it was highway striping paint.
Quick, left-right-left transitions on a winding two-lane running along a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii succumb to nearly perfect steering response: light but not twitchy, with good feel regardless of the speed. Crank in more steering to keep it off the rock wall on the outside of a tight switchback, and the rear tires step tentatively sideways. A touch of counter steer and a soft feathering of the gas and the tires stick again, and away you go. What a rush. This is with the electronic stability control deactivated. With it active, the new Miata's still fun, just not as much.
We didn't have the opportunity to drive any models with the 16-inch wheels and standard tires and five-speed manual, but from experience with last year's Miata, we'd expect a similar experience, albeit at lower thresholds.
The new Miata cruises well, too, though on the Interstate it wanders slightly in response to pavement irregularities or when passing a heaving semi. When it must, the MX-5 can crawl along with stop-and-go traffic with no complaint. Clutch effort is so light, your left leg never gets tired.
Ordering the s
The Mazda MX-5 Miata remains the quintessential affordable two-seater, and holder of the sales record for two-door, convertible sports cars. The latest generation is spectacularly good, both sweetly rewarding to drive and an excellent value. New for 2007, the ingenious PRHT hardtop model extends the MX-5's allure beyond the previous class borders. The Miata formula has been copied by a pair of competitors, the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. They're good, but the MX-5's all-around capability and grin-per-mile factor is still what all comers will continue be judged against.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported from Kona, Hawaii, with Rich Ceppos reporting from Detroit, Michigan.
Build and price your dream Mazda MX-5 Miata in just a few easy steps.
|Build & Price|
2011 MAZDA MIATA$22,995 | 15,351 mi
2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata$20,977 | 13,348 mi
2008 Mazda Miata MX-5$13,971 | 75,079 mi
2008 Mazda Miata MX-5$16,391 | 54,042 mi
2008 Mazda Miata MX-5$16,950 | 31,422 mi
2008 Mazda Miata MX-5$17,995 | 43,179 mi
2008 Mazda Miata MX-5$18,500 | 47,494 mi
2008 Mazda MX-5 Miata$18,992 | 15,067 mi
2006 Mazda Miata MX-5$12,995 | 99,775 mi
2006 Mazda MX-5$13,970 | 51,953 mi
2006 Mazda MX-5 Miata$14,995 | 43,322 mi
2006 Mazda Miata MX-5$17,995 | 27,702 mi
2005 Mazda Miata MX-5$10,884 | 117,500 mi
2005 Mazda Miata MX-5$12,995 | 48,034 mi
2005 Mazda MX-5 Miata$15,400 | 69,403 mi
2003 Mazda Miata MX-5$9,995 | 86,782 mi
2002 MAZDA MIATA$9,995 | 67,243 mi
2000 Mazda Miata MX-5$11,950 | 65,344 mi
1996 Mazda Miata MX-5$5,950 | 93,526 mi