2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
September 29, 2009

If you want that classic roadster feel—and to feel like you’re going fast without having to break triple digits—the 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata delivers it with surprising frugality and practicality.

TheCarConnection.com has researched available road tests covering the Mazda MX-5 Miata to find some of the most useful information from reviews elsewhere on the Web. That information is combined with firsthand impressions from TheCarConnection.com's editors, who have driven the 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata and bring their own expert opinion here.

The 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata brings the classic roadster look into the modern age with excellent reliability, great handling, and a weather-tight optional power-folding hardtop. For more than 20 years, the Miata has charmed those interested in a back-to-basics sports car that brings thrills but not necessarily a lot of frills.

From the outside, the Miata gets a more aggressive front end and a revised rear bumper last year, along with new lightweight 16- and 17-inch wheels. Overall, however, it keeps with a very classic roadster appearance, featuring a long hood, short cockpit-like cabin, and rear decklid.

The 2010 Miata’s four-cylinder engine is very responsive and rev-happy, with sports car-perfect handling, quick short-ratio steering, and short-throw manual transmissions that are a joy to run through the gears. Beginning in 2009, the combination became even more enjoyable with redline for the engine pushed up and new carbon-coated synchros for the gearbox.

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At the top of the Miata range is a PRHT (power retractable hardtop) model, which is very well executed; when the hardtop is retracted and folded away, the Miata still has 5.3 cubic feet of trunk space. While that’s much smaller than any sedan, it’s large enough for most overnight bags or a couple of duffels. The PRHT model adds very little extra weight, and the top stows away in just 12 seconds; unlike some other hardtop convertible models, it doesn’t hamper the fun.

The standard soft top is easy to use and surprisingly weather-tight. Just flick the header latches and flip it over the shoulder (most will be able to use one arm) into a shallow holding area. The only downside of the soft top is noise; it’s not as well-insulated as some pricier soft tops, and you’ll get a fair amount of wind and road noise on the highway.

Inside, the MX-5 is small but roomier than you might think. The seats provide both better comfort and support, while the center console has more storage space; the tallest drivers will want to double-check for enough headroom and legroom, though. The interior is neatly trimmed with high-quality materials, and it's even a little more spacious than before, though no one will complain about too much shoulder room in a Miata.

The 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a mixed bag for safety. There aren’t any crash-test results to draw on and verify occupant protection, and the Miata doesn’t include all the standard safety features that most other sports cars now include. Side airbags and anti-lock brakes are standard, but electronic stability control is only offered as part of a $1,650 Premium Package.

In its lower Sport or Touring forms, the 2010 Miata is strictly a no-frills sports car. Standard equipment, at least in terms of comforts, is about on par with that of budget-conscious small cars; features on all models include power windows, power mirrors, a CD player, and tilt steering. Touring models include upgraded wheels and tires, a trip computer, keyless entry, and cruise control, while Grand Touring models add leather trim, heated seats, and automatic climate control, among other features. Options include the six-speed automatic, Sirius Satellite Radio, steering-wheel audio controls, and a sport suspension.

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2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Styling

Neat and not too aggressive, the 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata is hard to fault for carrying on the classic roadster look in near perfect proportions.

The Mazda Miata gets generally favorable reviews from a wide range of sources for its classic roadster styling. Yes, it’s a little conservative and maybe a little on the soft side, but few people can deny that it’s about the purest sports car design there is.

The 2010 Miata is available in two models: a soft-top roadster and a Power Retractable Hard Top model. The hardtop edition is good-looking too; Car and Driver says, “raised, the body-color bubble looks stubbier than the soft-top but is still attractive.”

Reviewers tend to mull over the idea that the Miata rides a sort of middle ground between aggressive, soft, and accessible. The New York Times says, “It doesn’t have side pipes or a hood scoop or a name that conjures images of bloodlust and rage.” In fact, Car and Driver calls it a “cutie pie,” though Edmunds returns some dignity when it reports that the Miata has “more aggressive styling, without bumping up the price or diluting its perky personality.”

Jalopnik says it "resembles a lightweight power lifter" and describes it as follows: "flared wheel arches rising out of the hood and the trunk, aggressive swells around the headlights and dual pipes poking out of a chiseled, muscular derriere." Cars.com points out that this version of the Miata “retains the fixed headlights but returns somewhat to the original shape, with fewer curves—except for the accentuated wheel arches that recall the Mazda RX-8.”

Inside the 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata’s cabin, the seat shape is refined for better comfort and lateral support. The center console has more flexible storage, and a padded armrest provides better comfort. “The interior is highlighted with chrome and silver accents, and the driver faces a three-spoke tilt steering wheel,” Cars.com notes of its test car.

The New York Times criticizes the $515 interior trim package, which “consists of a few bits of ‘aluminum look’ trim on the door panels and dashboard. Mind you, this isn’t aluminum trim—it’s plastic. For that price, on a per-ounce basis, I’d think you could trim your doors and dash in anything from titanium to sashimi-grade tuna belly.”

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2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Performance

Light, nimble, and immensely satisfying to drive beyond its specs on paper, the 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata behaves like a true sports car.

Just as the 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata carries on the look and feel of a classic British roadster, it delivers those wind-in-hair thrills with even better-than-expected performance. Thanks to incremental improvements—especially some engine, gearbox, and transmission tweaks last year—the MX-5 only stands to get better.

Powering both the roadster and hardtop convertible models is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 167 hp. Car and Driver observes of the hardtop convertible, “at 2560 pounds, it was 135 pounds heavier than our last MX-5 soft-top and did the 60-mph dash 0.3 second slower (7.0 seconds).” Impressive acceleration is matched with deft use of power via the 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata’s rear-drive chassis. Kelley Blue Book says the weight balance "allows the car to perform remarkably nimble maneuvers that would be more difficult if the car had more of its weight biased to either end." Cars.com also notes that “the roadster has a 50/50 weight distribution (front/rear) and precise rack-and-pinion steering for legendary handling and predictability. The Miata is one of the most fun-to-drive cars around, despite its relatively modest engine power.”

The 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata comes with either a five- or six-speed manual transmission, depending on the trim level; a six-speed automatic is optional. “The six-speed manual has especially short throws,” and the manual shifter is a delight, reports the New York Times. “The shifter feels as though a team of engineers spent months working on its action, and a flick of the wrist rewards you with the rare feeling of metal engaging metal, a precision machine at work,” they wax. Cars.com points out that the six-speed automatic “includes steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles for manual operation.”

It all comes together extremely well; reviewers are almost unanimously beaming about the overall performance package. Mazda has created a vehicle that "changes direction like a go-kart, communicates clearly to the driver and accelerates with an inspiring inline-4 growl," raves Edmunds. The New York Times says, “On paper it seems unremarkable, but a mere spec sheet won’t divulge the essence of this car. Its 167-horsepower engine doesn’t make face-melting power, but it seems to have no flywheel whatsoever, and a blip of the throttle results in an instant, melodic zing that begs you to match revs on your next downshift.”

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2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Comfort & Quality

The 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata isn’t built to be particularly comfortable or convenient.

The 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata does pretty well considering its very compact exterior, yet the cabin is quite short. Also, interior appointments are a bit on the simple and cheap side.

Seating space is one area where the 2010 Miata isn’t going to please many. As ConsumerGuide points out, "those over six feet tall may want more legroom," and "those under 5-foot-6 may have trouble seeing over the high dashboard." Mazda tries to remedy this issue; Cars.com notes that with the Miata, Mazda adds a new driver's-side seat height adjustment, allowing shorter drivers to achieve maximum vision and comfort.

The Miata isn’t overflowing with extra space. “The cockpit is wider than the prior generation's and has greater hip room, shoulder room and elbowroom,” Cars.com says, “but the difference isn't as great as we'd hoped when Mazda set out to redo this model.” As with any sexy two-seater, Kelley Blue Book points out, "If this is going to be your only mode of transport, you're not going to win many friends when it's your turn to drive the co-workers to lunch."

Cars.com observes, “Because there's no backseat, the two occupants get more legroom than you might expect”—a statement that runs counter to other notes about short legroom, including TheCarConnection.com’s own observations of limited legroom. There’s a little more room for the driver; the "driver's-side foot well has been widened by running the exhaust down the right side of the transmission tunnel," Kelley Blue Book notes.

When the available hardtop is retracted and folded away, the Miata has 5.3 cubic feet of trunk space—more than enough for the typical overnight bag, but not an excess of room. Whether or not this makes a practical car depends on the beholder. Jalopnik says the 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata is "anything but practical," while ConsumerGuide comments on its "surprising practicality."

Mazda Miatas have long been known to accelerate and handle well, but the 17-inch tires are an option than can sully its usually smooth ride. ConsumerGuide says the "ride is choppy and borderline harsh with the less-compliant combination of the Suspension Package and 17-inch tires." Car and Driver also notes, “Tire roar can still be tiring on long drives.”

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2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Safety

Crash-test data is lacking for the 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata, and safety equipment fails to wow.

The 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata hasn’t been crash-tested by either of the major agencies, which leaves a gaping hole for those concerned about occupant protection.

Feature-wise, the Miata has just enough to satisfy most shoppers, but it lacks some items, depending on the trim level. Anti-lock brakes, along with seat-mounted side airbags, are on the standard-equipment list, but electronic stability control—now thought of as an essential safety feature, especially on cars that might be driven in a spirited fashion or ones that aren’t as secure on slippery roads—is only offered as part of a Premium Package.

According to ConsumerGuide, the 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata features front driver and passenger airbags, as well as side airbags that "provide head and torso protection.”

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2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Features

Basics-minded sports car enthusiasts will be happy with the keep-it-simple attitude of the 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata, but some buyers will find some expected tech features like Bluetooth sorely missing.

With respect to features, the 2010 Mazda Miata continues to lack some popularly requested features that are out of place in a basic roadster, like a navigation system, but also some necessary tech ones, like a Bluetooth hands-free interface.

One of the most clever features available on the Miata line continues to be the Power Retractable Hard Top (PRHT), a separate model that weighs just 80 pounds more than the standard soft-top roadster. The top takes just 12 seconds to fold away, so the effect on performance is minimal. Jalopnik gives this advice: "just push the button, count twelve Mississippis and do some donuts."

The standard soft-top model includes a vinyl top on base cars and a fabric one on mid-scale models. The soft top is easy to use; just flick the header latches and flip it over the shoulder into a shallow holding area. You'll still have enough luggage room for a short weekend trip. As Kelley Blue Book points out, "the top, for example, can be operated from inside the car with just one arm and, when retracted, collapses into a small well behind the seats.”

Kelley Blue Book notes that the optional Bose audio system available on the MX-5 has many adjustments. "Bose has created an optional sound system that adjusts equalization"—it changes according to whether the top is up or down, allowing the driver and passenger to hear the best-quality sound in either environment.

Standard features cover most of the bases but don’t include any surprises. Power windows, power mirrors, a CD player, and tilt steering are all on the standard-equipment list. Optional features include the six-speed automatic, Sirius Satellite Radio, steering-wheel audio controls, and a sport suspension.

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