One million Miata buyers can't be wrong. As Mazda's traditionalist roadster hits a production milestone and approaches its 30th birthday it still remains true to its original principles of affordable simplicity, nimble handling, and open-air fun while adapting to contemporary demands – and getting even quicker and better in the process.

Pricing and Equipment

The Mazda MX-5 Miata – technically its full name, although no one except Mazda ever includes the "MX-5" part – is a two-seat convertible or, starting this year, a coupe topped with a targa-style folding roof. A 2.0-liter inline-four sends a maximum of 155 horsepower to the rear wheels through a six-speed manual or (if absolutely necessary...) a six-speed automatic. EPA mileage estimates for manual-transmission Miatas are 26 mpg city, 33 mpg highway, and 29 mpg combined. The highway number improves by two mpg with the automatic, but the city and combined ratings are unchanged.

The Miata roadster is available in three trim levels. The base model is the Sport, with a starting MSRP of $25,790 (all prices listed here include an $875 destination charge). Choosing the automatic transmission adds $1,480. Standard equipment includes modern essentials like air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, remote locking, and a multifunction steering wheel. The Club stickers at $29,675 for the manual and $30,405 for the automatic and is intended for more serious drivers demanding more agility. Manual-gearbox Clubs get a healthy set of upgrades over the Sport, including:

  • Stiffer springs and Bilstein shocks
  • A limited-slip differential
  • A front shock tower brace
  • 17-inch wheels with P205/45 R17 tires
  • Mazda's Connect infotainment system with Bose speakers and voice control

Automatics do without the revised suspension pieces, brace, and differential. The Grand Touring tops the range, with standard lane departure warning, automatic climate control, and heated leather seats for an asking price of $30,940 manual or $32,145 automatic.

The big news for the Miata in 2017 is the introduction of the RF, which replaces the fabric top with a power-operated folding roof panel, a retractable rear window, flying buttresses, and a fastback-like silhouette. Weight goes up by 113 pounds, which sounds more drastic than it feels.

The RF is available in Club or Grand Touring trim levels identical to the roadster versions. The RF Club's MSRP is $32,430 manual and $33,160 automatic, while sticker for the RF Grand Touring is $33,495 or $34,700 depending on transmission.

The options list follows traditional Mazda practice – there aren't many. Buyers of manual-transmission Clubs can add a somewhat overpriced $3,400 BBS wheel/Brembo brake package. A $130 Advanced Keyless Entry system is optional on manual-transmission cars (it's standard on automatics). A few port-installed trim and security items are also available.

Performance Pros

Mazda MX-5
  • Handling in the subjective sense – response, directness, controllability – is brilliant, and the Miata's accessible limits make spirited driving more genuinely fun than most high-dollar, high-power performance cars.
  • The Miata may put down modest power numbers on paper but it makes the most of what it has due to its light weight and aggressive gearing.
  • The manual transmission remains the industry reference for shift action.
  • The RF's added weight does little to damage the Miata's feel.

Performance Cons

  • The suspension is intentionally tuned to allow noticeable body roll. Mazda insists that this helps the driver sense what the car is doing in corners, but it adds a slight lag to rapid left-right transitions.
  • The electrically-assisted power steering is a bit light and short on feel.

Interior Pros

  • Primary control layout – the positioning of and relationship between driver's seat and steering wheel and shifter and pedals – is close to ideal.
  • The seats feature an interesting hammock-like structure that combines lightweight construction with good comfort and support.
  • The RF's hard top lives up to functional expectations, providing an extra measure of soundproofing and temperature control when up.

Interior Cons

Mazda MX-5
  • To state the obvious: this is a small two-seat roadster. Interior space is unavoidably on the tight side, although there is ample head and leg room.
  • Those close dimensions trickle down to awkward placement for the cupholders and the command knob for the infotainment system on the Club and Grand Touring.
  • The trunk-space situation is not completely hopeless, but packing for trips will require some careful consideration.
  • The RF's '70s-chic flying buttresses result in not-so-chic blind spots to the rear.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

Provided your needs can fit in the snug cabin and trunk there is exactly zero reason not to use the Miata as an all-around daily driver. It rides well on lumpy streets (even with the Club suspension); the seats are comfortable and capable of managing all but the tallest drivers; it gets good fuel mileage. Fit snow tires and it will even face off against winter weather with surprising competence. This is not a car to keep as a weekend toy – this is something to drive and enjoy as much as possible.

The Least Pleasant Surprise

In spite of Mazda's efforts to make the Miata communicative and direct, the electrically-assisted steering rack suffers from the muted sense of road feel common to that efficiency-minded system. People who learned to drive on video games won't notice, but old-timers will find that a valuable source of handling information is being filtered.

The Bottom Line

It's not that the Miata is irrational; it's as thoroughly considered and developed as any vehicle on the road. It just uses that consideration and development as a means to its own quick, economical, very enjoyable ends. If you can take it for what it is, the Miata proves that driving can mean much more than just going from place to place.