2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
November 30, 2012

If you want a light and lean open-top sports car that's fun at legal speeds, the 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata is it--and it's reasonably practical.

More than 20 years ago, the Miata kicked off a roadster renaissance, and it's become a motoring icon for those who like sports cars that are light, lean, and relatively simple.Today, if you want a convertible, and you want to enjoy the driving experience at lower speeds and out on narrow country roads, the 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata remains one of the best ways to get those thrills--and end up with a car that's also practical and fuel-efficient.

Mazda has very carefully evolved the MX-5 Miata design, now toward the end of its third generation, and it remains an icon. From the front, the look of the Miata has changed very slightly this year, with a new front fascia for all the models. All MX-5 Sport models now get fog lamps, while the Grand Touring gets a fresh 17-inch wheel design. Also new this year is a Club trim that slots between the base Sport and the top Grand Touring. Visually, its special graphics and badging on the outside help it standout, while the black cloth seats get red contrast stitching and there's a new body-color decoration panel across the dash.

A 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 167 horsepower, is what powers all Miata models. It's not exactly a powerhouse, but it is responsive and ready to rev, a perfect mate to the carefully-honed chassis. Quick steering, nimble responses, low weight (under 2,600 pounds in all guises) and nearly perfect 50/50 weight distribution all contribute to the car's predictable, balanced handling, both at low speeds and at higher track-worthy speeds.

Two core models constitute the range: a soft-top convertible and a Power Retractable Hard Top that packages a sleek folding hard roof neatly and attractively, effectively turning the MX-5 into a coupe on demand. In either case, the interior of the 2013 Mazda MX-5 is as snug and confined as you might expect from this small roadster. But what's a bit surprising is that the MX-5 uses its interior volume with surprising efficiency, allowing even drivers over six feet in height to comfortably fit. There's enough space to fit even those well over six feet tall, while cargo space is enough for a set of weekend bags (though you give up some cargo space in the hard-top versions.

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With its small size, light weight, and open-top construction, the Miata can feel anything but secure on a freeway surrounded by pickups and SUVs. Yet its balanced handling, rigid construction, and excellent braking can put it at a significant advantage in helping to avoid accidents.

The 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a simple, traditional sports car, and that's reflected in its feature set. New MX-5 Miata Club models get a dressed-up look plus the Suspension Package, for an even sportier look and driving feel, while Grand Touring models, with their leather trim, heated seats, automatic climate control, and more, can feel a bit more luxurious. One major option is a Bose audio system that changes its settings for better sound, depending on whether the top is up or down. But some shoppers are going to find it frustrating that Bluetooth connectivity is only offered as part of an option package, on the Grand Touring.

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2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Styling

The 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata holds true to its classic-roadster roots, with a charming simplicity inside and out.

The 2013 Mazda MX-5 has some modern details, but they don't get in the way of its lean, classic-roadster proportions. This two-seat roadster has a clean, classic look that's refreshingly straightforward today.

From the front, the look of the MX-5 Miata has changed very slightly this year, with a new front fascia for all the models. All MX-5 Sport models now get fog lamps, while the Grand Touring gets a fresh 17-inch wheel design.

Overall, Mazda has kept the MX-5 Miata just enough in pace with the rest of the model lineup, with a front-end design that has enough of the family look of Mazda's hatchbacks, sedans, and crossovers. It's a toned-down version of the brand's somewhat-smiley grille opening--and here it actually fits the MX-5's look. Add in the gently flared fenders, smooth surfaces, and lightly contoured hood, and you get an exterior that's just the right amount of classy and understated to go with the naturally flamboyant layout.

The Power Retractable Hard Top (PHRT, or just Hard Top) models add a different take to the MX-5's look, essentially turning it into a coupe with the top up, but retaining the classic roadster look with it down. A separate detachable hard top is available for the soft-top models.

It's probably not all that surprising that the MX-5 Miata is somewhat spartan inside, with cloth seats and simple (mostly dark plastic) surfaces. The steering wheel is leather-wrapped in all but the entry-level model. Climbing the trim range, however, can add heated leather seats, more chrome trim, and other aesthetic nods to greater prosperity--though some may view these changes as moving away from the minimalist sports car spirit of the MX-5.

New this year is a Club trim that slots between the base Sport and the top Grand Touring. Visually, its special graphics and badging on the outside help it standout, while the black cloth seats get red contrast stitching and there's a new body-color decoration panel across the dash.

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2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Performance

The MX-5 Miata feels lean and responsive, with sports-car handling, adequate power for its weight, and the classic roadster experience.

The 2013 MX-5 Miata is a sports car, but you don't have to drive it fast to enjoy it; in fact, it's immensely enjoyable at lower speeds, on zigzagging back roads.

Mazda has done a great job in keeping the MX-5 light and nimble, with just enough power to get the job done and be entertaining. Only the new Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S approach this keep-it-simple formula, and only the Miata offers a seemingly magical combination of sprightliness, rear-wheel drive, frugality, and affordability.

Nearly ideal 50/50 front-rear weight distribution makes handling predictable out of the box, and the quick, accurate steering is well-weighted. Go-kart-like is the most common epithet for the MX-5's low-speed handling, and at high speeds, such as those seen on track, the MX-5 is poised. Somewhat soft springs and relatively tall aspect-ratio tires make for a comfortable ride, but also induce more body roll than you might expect out of a sub-2,600-pound car. That's neutralized if you opt for any of the many suspension upgrades, however--including the new-for-2013 Club model, which adds a Suspension Package including Bilstein dampers, a shock-tower brace, high-performance tires, and a limited-slip differential.

The MX-5 isn't exactly quick, but provided you get the manual transmission its revvy 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, rated at 167 horsepower, gathers speed well, with short gearing. Five-speed cars have slightly longer gearing down low, but they settle in well at freeway speeds. Zero to 60 mph times vary by the trim and soft or hard top choice, but the range gets to 60 mph in about seven seconds.

Throughout the model line there's a six-speed automatic transmission on offer; you get steering-wheel shift paddles, but we can in no way recommend it over the manual gearboxes, which have light clutches, short, precise lever throws, and levels of driver involvement that really enhance the open-top experience.

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2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Comfort & Quality

The 2013 MX-5 Miata is relatively practical--with enough space for a weekend trip--but it may be too noisy inside for the commute.

Yes, the interior of the 2013 Mazda MX-5 is as snug and confined as you might expect from this small roadster. But what's a bit surprising is that the MX-5 uses its interior volume with surprising efficiency, allowing even drivers over six feet in height to comfortably fit.

Headroom can be tight with the top up, but top-down, it's very enjoyable in the front seat, even for those well over six feet tall. The seats are well-contoured, supportive, and bolstered for sporty driving, and there's plenty of space for long legs to extend ahead. Our only complaint has been with the optional leather seats, which are just a bit too slippery when you're carving around tight canyon roads.

For a roadster, there's a lot of storage space in the Miata; and in general, storage space is better than you might think. Glove box space is fair, if not voluminous; there's a center console cubby that doubles as a dual drink holder; two more cupholders can be found in either door; a larger center cubby between the seats can be locked for secure storage; and two larger cubbies behind each seat complete in-cabin storage. The shallowness of the trunk is essentially a limiting factor, making it a top-loader and limiting the number of things that will fit; there's plenty of space for weekend bags, though.

There's no reason to shy away from the standard soft top in the MX-5; it's a cinch to raise and lower, even from within the car. You simply flip the latch and drop it back--or reverse it to get the top back up.

The Power Retractable Hard Top models offer a well-designed, quick, and secure folding hardtop that weighs just 80 pounds more than the soft-top model, however, effectively allowing the owner to convert between roadster and coupe at will. The power hard top's only disadvantage is that it steals away with some of the trunk space (there's just 5.3 cubic feet, but it's still enough for some overnight bags if they're small). On the other hand, its 12-second raise/lower time make it the even easier, refined choice. 

Out only complaint--and what will keep you from wanting to take the Miata on a long trip or make it your car of choice on a rigorous commute--is that there's a fair amount of road and wind noise in the cabin, even with the top up. Get the power hard top and it's a little better-isolated.

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2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Safety

Both crash-test ratings and advanced safety features are missing from the 2013 MX-5 Miata, but its excellent handling may help avoid some accidents.

Neither the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) nor the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) have crash-tested the 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata, but it has a respectable feature set as well as excellent balanced handling, which helps make up for some of the natural vulnerabilities of a convertible.

With its small size, light weight, and open-top construction, the Miata can feel anything but secure on a freeway surrounded by pickups and SUVs. Yet its balanced handling, rigid construction, and excellent braking can put it at a significant advantage in helping to avoid accidents.

Roll hoops are included, and they're designed to deliver rollover protection, although they're not all that high. Anti-lock brakes, front and seat-mounted side airbags, and stability control are all standard in the Miata.

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2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Features

The MX-5's feature list is ample--though not quite luxurious--and Bluetooth connectivity isn't widely offered.

The 2013 MX-5 Miata is more of a traditional sports car in many ways--and like a classic roadster, it doesn't go all-out with modern technology, advanced interfaces, or opulence.

Standard equipment on the MX-5 remains pretty impressive, though, with power windows, locks, and mirrors; a CD player with AM/FM radio; and tilt steering. Touring models add cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls, trip computer, and keyless entry all included.

New for 2013 is the Club trim. MX-5 Miata Club models get a special front air dam and rear diffuser, plus a seat-back bar garnish in glossy dark gray, while they have the six-speed manual transmission and the Suspension Package, for a sportier driving feel. Special graphics and badges are also included, as are dark gunmetal 17-inch alloys.

Grand Touring models, with their leather trim, heated seats, automatic climate control, and more, can feel a bit more luxurious. Optional extras include a six-speed automatic transmission, satellite radio, and a sport suspension--plus a Bose audio system that changes its settings for better sound, depending on whether the top is up or down.

We do think it's a little odd that Bluetooth hands-free connectivity is very difficult to get in the Miata; it's only offered with the Premium Package, optional on the Grand Touring, and packaged with xenon headlamps, advanced keyless entry, and Sirius Satellite Radio.

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2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Fuel Economy

The 2013 MX-5 Miata is greener than many sports cars, although it's not nearly as fuel-efficient as a most small hatchbacks that are otherwise about the same size.

The 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata has a rather small four-cylinder engine, and it weighs only about 2,600 pounds in its heaviest form, with the hard top; that considered, you might expect the Miata to top 30 mpg on the highway. But because it's geared more for performance, it's not quite that fuel-efficient.

Models with the five-speed manual transmission score 21/28 mpg city/highway in EPA testing, for 25 mpg combined. The six-speed manuals also score 21/28 mpg, but 24 mpg combined. The six-speed automatic likewise scores 21/28 mpg, but rates 23 mpg combined.

In real-world driving, we've done better, however, with some of our editors' drives managing more than 32 mpg on the highway.

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April 20, 2015
For 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata

A fun ride

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This is a great fun in the sun California care. It handles and drives like a true sports car should. It is not great in snow or long freeway drives. Fit and finish are okay. I had to replace the seat material... + More »
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