New & Used Mazda MX-5 Miata: In Depth
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The Mazda MX-5 Miata has given the world three generations of sporty, affordable driving and has created an iconic namesake along the way. The Miata was partly influenced by British roadsters, but it was manufactured with Mazda’s attention to value-oriented detail. The Miata has an undeniable fun-to-drive factor.
With Japanese reliability and the personality of something like the legendary Lotus Elan (not to mention its hideaway headlights in the first generation), the Miata was nothing short of a revolution.
The latest generation of the MX-5 is larger and a bit heavier, but it remains one of the smallest, lightest cars on the market, as well as the back-to-basics sports car in a market offering many heftier, high-tech roadsters and convertibles that are simply less nimble and less engaging to drive. Preferably with the top remaining down.
The 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata should be at the top of the shopping list--and perhaps the only entry--for drivers who relish affordable open-air fun, razor-sharp handling, and a serious racing pedigree. Well into in its third decade and its third generation, the MX-5 Miata long ago became one of the world’s truly iconic sports cars. Its fuel-efficient nature makes it an easy car to justify for two-seat commuting, but whether your preferences run more towards top-down motoring at legal speeds or hot laps on local road course, the MX-5 won’t disappoint you. It's that good.
The MX-5 Miata—or Miata, as it’s more often called in the U.S.—is a small, two-seat sports car and the epitome of the classic roadster, with a long hood and short cabin, a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout, and a design that keeps it lean and simple, sometimes at the expense of some comfort. That said, the Miata has maintained a reputation for being one of the most enjoyable vehicles to drive, without resorting to horsepower figures and 0-60 times.
The Mazda MX-5 Miata has seen three generations over its 20-year span on the market, starting in 1989 as a 1.6-liter four-cylinder rear-wheel-drive roadster available with a choice of five-speed manual or automatic transmissions, growing slightly with each new generation. In 1993 the engine was enlarged to 1.8 liters, and in 1998 the second-generation car was introduced. The same 1.8-liter engine powered the second MX-5 Miata, though it gained a slight increase in power. The second-generation Miata offered a Mazdaspeed version in 2004 and 2005, which boosted power via the addition of a turbocharger to the 1.8-liter engine, increasing output from 130 horsepower to 178 horsepower.
Originally brought out for 1990, the MX-5 Miata was the only vehicle of its kind in the U.S. market for several years--save for a few especially low-production vehicles and the then-aging Fiat Spider. With the look and driving feel of the small British roadsters that were somewhat trendy—combined with the reliability of a well-engineered Japanese car—the Miata struck the right balance in appealing both to a certain type of enthusiast and to those who wanted an inexpensive, economical fair-weather machine.
But the Miata wasn’t alone in the market for long; in the mid-1990s the BMW Z3, Porsche Boxster, and Mercedes-Benz SLK Class arrived over the next decade. Those German models, though they started out with as more stripped-down machines, quickly went upmarket, with the BMW and Mercedes trading in four-cylinder engines for sixes. Over the past 10 years, the only direct rivals for the Miata have been the short-lived Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky.
The third generation car was introduced in 2005 for the 2006 model year. It again gained a larger engine, up to 2.0-liters and 160 horsepower standard (167 horsepower in 2009-2010 models), with a five- or six-speed manual transmission, or a six-speed automatic, though the engine is detuned to 158 horsepower when paired with the automatic. Six-speed manual models are available with a limited-slip differential.
Thankfully weight was carefully kept down and the original light-and-lean formula has been maintained. A 2.0-liter four powers the Miata, along with five- or six-speed manual transmissions or an automatic, though the automatic tends to take some fun out of it. And while the Miata maintains a go-kart-like handling feel, with a low-to-the-road driving position that tends to exaggerate the feeling of speed without breaking the speed limit, the tight cabin can lend a feeling of vulnerability (there’s a lack of crash-test information on the Miata).
The base cloth top isn’t power-operated, but it remains easy to open and close with a single hand. For the 2007 model year, however, a clever power-retractable hard top (PRHT) version of the Miata was introduced. Thanks to smart design, the hard top opens and closes quickly, preserves headroom, takes up no more trunk space than the cloth top, and creates a tight, quiet cabin environment that makes driving in cold weather considerably more civilized.
Five models of the Miata MX-5 are currently available, including the Sport, Touring, Grand Touring, and the Touring and Grand Touring Power Retractable Hard Top models.
Mazda's MX-5 Miata Sport trim is the bare-bones sports car, though unlike some previous versions of the MX-5, all current Miatas come standard with air conditioning. The base spec car also gets a choice of a five-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, sixteen-inch alloy wheels, halogen headlights, a black vinyl convertible top, and a six-speaker stereto system. The Touring adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a six-speed manual transmission option, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, and in-dash six-disc CD changer among other features.
The Grand Touring is the luxury model, adding a choice of black or beige cloth convertible tops, advanced keyless entry, leather-trimmed heated seats, automatic climate control, a Bose audio system, satellite radio and Bluetooth phone connectivity. The Power Retractable hardtop versions of the Touring and Grand Touring models incorporate all of the same features as their soft-top counterparts, with the addition of a folding hard roof. The Grand Touring models are also the only models with standard dynamic stability control and traction control systems.
A MX-5 Miata Club trim is new for 2013. With a special front air dam and rear diffuser, plus a seat-back bar garnish in glossy dark gray, special graphics and badges, and dark gunmetal gray alloys, plus the six-speed manual transmission and the Suspension Package, this model has a sportier look and somewhat sharper driving feel. All 2013 Miata models got a slightly refreshed front-end appearance.