Mazda’s Miata and I have a sordid past. In brief: I’ve owned one, wrecked a different one, driven dozens and loved them all. I’ll leave the remaining details for a future roman a clef.
Being such a fan, when Mazda showed up with a new roadster for 2006, I threw myself into the pool of doubters. The first generation was perfect; the second, a little chunkier and less Lotus-like, but still a spunky charmer, a willing little Mary Lou Retton of a performer.
But in 2006 there were big changes afoot. First, they pushed the Miata name out to pasture in favor of the global MX-5 tag, which always sounded like some top-secret spy agency or a new drug making the clinical trial rounds. Then they restyled it with a moto-Japanese influence that cast it far, far away from the billboard-headlamp model I called my own (1990, red, plastic rear window and all).
The killing blow seemed to be when Mazda raised a power hard top over the car’s light, essential body. Everyone knows hardtop convertibles are heavy, slow and expensive — a total contradiction to the Miata’s mission of being light, quick and relatively cheap. Right? It hurt us Miata fans when the pop-up headlamps went away. Now they were turning it into a Skydome?
As it turns out, that Skydome is the best thing to happen to the MX-5 since they exchanged those crackle-prone plastic rear windows for zip-out glass panels. The new Power Retractable Hard Top (PRHT) edition of the Miata — sorry, MX-5 — is my new favorite Miata of all time.
The MX-5 PRHT (kids, don’t abbreviate at home without an adult present) is one of the most pleasant Miatas to drive and I assume, to own, because of its top. Three pieces fold away in twelve seconds to expose you to sunshine or other elements — and there’s no chance of ripping through canvas after eight years of bleaching it in the sun.
It’s as simple as releasing a latch and pushing a button, to stow the lid — or to raise it. And that transforms the MX-5 (that name drops with a clunk, doesn’t it?) into a ten-month car here in sunny, sometimes winter-silly
As if the roof weren’t enough to differentiate the new model, Mazda adds some tasty chrome-ish garnish to the grille, headlamp surrounds and door handles. Subtlety is a skill, and Mazda has it. The hard top even improves on the roadster’s shape, since its body-color decklid continues the shoulder line of the car better.
All the fantastic pieces that make the Miata’s soul so stirring are standard on all editions. The 2.0-liter in-line four-cylinder engine is sewing-machine precise and its engine note, tuned to be ear-friendly, is half the fun of driving. You won’t be ripping off five-second 60-mph in any stock Miata — but you can pretend to do so by rowing its five- or six-speed manual gearbox with a quick hand and a deft left foot.
Those manual gearboxes are divvied up between various trim levels, by the way. A six-speed automatic with paddle-shift switches is an option on some models. And it might be very nice, but it doesn’t seem very Miata to me.
Ride, handling, steering, and braking are the remaining part of the Miata’s definition. With its double-wishbone front suspension, multi-link rear, rack and pinion steering, and anti-lock disc brakes, the MX-5 positively revels in its smallness. Bigger than before but still teensy, it craves sweeping turns and sharp kinks and rewards small inputs with big-sportscar responses. Nothing handles like a Miata, period. Any true enthusiast needs to know its feel and use it as a reference point.
The PRHT Miata comes in three trim levels. The Sport model has lots of great features, from that snicky five-speed manual transmission to anti-lock disc brakes to a CD player with Sirius prewiring, power locks and windows. The Touring edition adds on a six-speed manual, 17-inch wheels and an optional six-speed automatic, more speakers and a leather shift knob. The Grand Touring throws in heated leather seats and a Bose audio system on top of Touring trim.
Options include Sirius satellite radio; a sport suspension package with a limited-slip differential; tire pressure monitors; and an anti-theft system.
It’s getting hard to resist the charms of the MX-5 again — its animated little face, cheerful attitude, and unflinching reliability — even with the price creep that’s accumulated over the past 15 years. And yet, the base tag of $24,530 seems entirely reasonable when some big minivans top out at $40,000 and even a Honda Civic nudges $20,000.
It’s not too much for a piece of automotive inspiration.
2007 Mazda MX-5 Power Retractable Hard Top
Base price: $24,945, Sport; $25,695, Touring; $26,955, Grand Touring
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Engine: 2.0-liter in-line four, 166 hp/140 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual; six-speed manual; six-speed automatic with paddle shifters; rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 157.3 x 67.7 x 49.0 inches
Wheelbase: 91.7 inches
Curb weight: 3075 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 25/30 mpg (five-speed); 24/30 mpg (six-speed); 22/30 mpg (automatic)
Safety equipment: Dual front and side airbags; anti-lock brakes
Major standard equipment: AM/FM/CD player; air conditioning; cruise control; power door locks; rear window defogger; remote keyless entry; steering wheel audio controls
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles