2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata

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2020
The Car Connection
2020
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Anthony Sophinos Anthony Sophinos Contributor
July 22, 2020

Buying tip

If you plan on autocrossing, get the Club trim, which comes with mechanical enhancements like a limited-slip differential and a slightly stiffer suspension.

features & specs

100th Anniversary Automatic
100th Anniversary Manual
Club Automatic
MPG
26 city / 35 hwy
MPG
26 city / 34 hwy
MPG
26 city / 35 hwy
MSRP
$33,195
MSRP
$32,670
MSRP
$30,890

Affordable fun remains the 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata’s calling card, and we can’t get enough of it.

For enthusiasts the world over, few cheap cars get our hearts racing like a 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata. It doesn’t have prodigious horsepower, outright speed, or dazzling good looks. The Miata’s appeal is largely the opposite of all that. It’s so endearing because it distills the essence of the sports car: two seats, lightweight, simple, affordable. The 2020 Miata continues that heritage of putting fun before frills, and earns a 5.8 out of 10 overall in our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)

Why the seemingly mediocre score? The Miata inevitably falls short in the practical categories, what with its two seats, small trunk, and lack of room for tall passengers. 

For 2020, the $27,500 MX-5 Miata Sport, $31,210 Club, and $32,590 Grand Touring have added features. All but the base model now have standard blind-spot monitors; all models now have automatic emergency braking. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard on Club and Grand Touring Miatas, while manual-shift Grand Touring cars get a limited-slip differential, a sport suspension, Bilstein shocks, and front shock tower braces.

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Last year, the Miata made news with a big injection of horsepower that came from a freer-revving 2.0-liter inline-4. That powertrain is again the only one offered, with the choice of either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. Get the auto if you must, but the manual is a true joy, notching through the gears with a lovely mechanical romp. 

This latest Miata, which debuted for 2016, has made marked improvements in livability. There’s better materials, nicer appointments, and a modern—if frustrating—infotainment system. The Grand Touring trim is particularly nice as an affordable, optioned-up roadster, but we like the performance-focused Club the best.

Whatever trim you opt for, the Miata dances along roads with the immediacy and intimacy of a go-kart. You sit low, but the whole car is impossibly low, so sightlines are excellent, especially once you flick back the manually operated canvas top (a power-retractable roof is available as well). Every input feels like a direct analog connection.

By keeping it cheap and primitive, Mazda has made the Miata into something special. It remains an entertaining sports car with its heart—and its wallet—in the right place.

8

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Styling

The 2020 Miata is as handsome and recognizable as ever.

The Miata has a classic roadster shape, with its long hood, tidy trunk, and low-slung body. We give it an 8 out of 10 for styling, with two points for an exterior that’s immediately recognizable and another point for its well done interior.

The latest Miata has been given a little attitude. From the front, it no longer wears the smiley-faced grille of the past version. In profile, it’s appropriately racy. The back is the only part that doesn’t have us smitten; it’s a very tall-looking rear end, for such a small car. But the attractive round little taillights are at least a little redemptive. 

The classic canvas top is standard, and with a couple of quick motions you can have it folded back while you wait for the light to turn green. If you want better all-weather protection, the RF is available. An abbreviation of Retractable Fastback, the RF is the best of three worlds: full convertible, partially-enclosed targa top, or fully enclosed hardtop. In either hardtop or targa-top position it gives off surprisingly premium vibes.

Move inside and you’ve stumbled into the nicest Miata cabin yet. Don’t interpret that as lavish, though—this is still a Miata. But there are body-colored door sills, soft-touch material, and a no-frills design. It might not be ergonomically perfect, but it is sports-car appropriate.

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8

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Performance

It’s no powerhouse, but at this price point it’s more fun than anything on four wheels has a right to be.

Last year,l the Miata boosted its power from 155 hp to 181 hp. Along with the extra power came a revised engine that was more eager to rev. That newfound athleticism is immediately apparent. We give the Miata an 8 out of 10 for its performance.

Just one stab at the throttle and you can tell this revised engine is something else. For the first time, it feels eager and spry. 

A 6-speed automatic can be matched up to this powerplant, but the 6-speed manual is a far more appropriate choice. After all, this is a car that is all about simplicity and driver involvement. Every gear falls into place with a satisfying snick. Grabbing a higher or lower gear is simply a matter of taking hold of the stubby but perfectly placed shifter and notching it up or down through the short-throw, double-H pattern. The clutch is a bit firm but remains light enough to not tire you out in stop-and-go traffic. 

If you must, the automatic works well enough. This is no commuter car, though. This is a car for sunrise romps and for summer evenings thanks to its lightweight form and telepathic handling. On a sharp, technical road, the Miata might impress a good driver more than something three times its price, thanks to its precise handling and communicative steering. 

To get the best setup from the factory, you’ll want the Club or a manual-equipped Grand Touring. These models come standard with stiffer springs, a slightly lower ride height and larger front strut tower, and a limited-slip differential.

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3

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Comfort & Quality

The 2020 Miata is no paragon of ergonomics, but is livable enough for us.

Make no bones about it: The Miata is not a practical car and it doesn’t pretend to be. Because it sacrifices usability to the performance gods, we give it a 4 out of 10 for comfort.

If you’re no more than 6 feet tall, you’ll be able to clamber into the Miata with only the mildest of awkward body motions. Over that 6-foot mark, though, and you better hope the top is down. This is a tight car that wasn’t built to accommodate the fringes of the height and BMI percentiles, though a new-for-last-year tilt-and-telescope wheel is a welcome touch.

Most Miatas will be fitted with a cloth upholstery that’s comfortable and durable but not the most friendly for all-day cross-country driving. Leather seats are available but they don’t particularly impress. Both seats are supportive and well-bolstered for spirited driving.

If you buy a Club, you can opt for more heavily bolstered Recaros that are ideal for track days and autocrossing. We’d still stick with the base seats, however, as these Recaros are a pricey option and not well suited to everyday driving. For the casual enthusiast, they are overkill.

Whatever seats you get, the Miata promises to be a satisfying weekend tourer. With the top down you can easily carry a conversation with your riding buddy and not have to scream. A nice, subtle burble on the exhaust fits the spunky image of the Miata. A 4.6-cubic foot trunk isn’t big enough for a week’s worth of groceries, let alone a full-size suitcase, but it’s perfect for carrying a weekend duffel bag or two.

Our biggest complaint is with the general interior layout. The dial controller for the infotainment is awkwardly placed just below the shifter. Cupholders are far out of reach. A 12-volt outlet might take new owners months to find. It all works, but it's not elegant.

No matter. We still love the Miata, warts and all.

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2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Safety

The 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata has not been tested for crashworthiness.

As the NHTSA and the IIHS have yet to crash-test the Miata, we abstain from issuing it a safety rating. If this changes, we’ll update this space.

It’s easy to write off the Miata as unsafe, being as small and exposed as it is. And it’s true we would rather not hit an F-150 with one. But its small size and big windows make for exceptional outward vision with the top down; top up, the view out still isn’t bad, though the thick sides of the canvas top can create a decent blind spot. Luckily blind-spot monitors now come standard. 

For 2020, low-speed automatic emergency braking has been made standard on base and Club trim levels; it was already standard on the Grand Touring. In other Mazdas, this low-speed auto-braking system was rated as “Advanced” by the IIHS and successfully avoided forward crashes at 12 mph or less. However, the system does not meet federal criteria for forward-collision warnings.

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5

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Features

Even fully loaded, there’s not a lot here to play with.

If you were expecting a litany of luxury options here, think again. The Miata is downright spartan in its base guise; even the top-spec Grand Touring is hardly anything to write home about. We’ve given it a 5 out of 10 for its features.

Our biggest gripe is with the infotainment. It has a 7.0-inch screen that’s controlled by a rotary knob located just below the shifter. It’s an awkward spot that only makes sense if you’re a contortionist. Once you do bend your arm so to use it you’ll find it takes more scrolling and pressing than it should for even basic commands—this is not an intuitive system. At least Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have finally come aboard for 2020, though only on Club and Grand Touring trims. 

Everything else passes muster with the Miata, even if it isn’t particularly luxurious in any trim. Base models, known as Sport, start at $27,500 and come with cloth upholstery, 16-inch wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel that tilts and telescopes, and two USB ports. Six-speaker audio, keyless entry, and LED lights are all standard as well. 

Move up to the $31,210 Club trim and you get the aforementioned go-fast goodies: limited-slip differential, stiffer springs, bigger front tower brace, a lower ride height. Seats and upholstery are also upgraded over Sport models, and 17-inch wheels replace the 16-inchers. If you want heated Recaro seats, expect to pay $4,000, though you also get improved brakes thrown in as well. If you just want those improved brakes and leather upholstery, you’ll pay $3,700.

The closest thing to a luxury Miata is the Grand Touring. It costs $32,590 and includes leather upholstery, heated seats, navigation, adaptive headlights, and traffic sign recognition. Manual-equipped versions get the Club’s performance hardware as well.

The RF hardtop is only available in Club and Grand Touring trim levels and costs roughly $2,700 more than comparably equipped convertibles.

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5

2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Fuel Economy

The Miata is lean and thrifty.

Thanks to its focus on light weight and simplicity, the Miata is one of the more efficient sports cars on the market.

When equipped with a 6-speed manual, the EPA rates the MX-5 at 26 mpg city, 34 highway, 29 combined. Those numbers are for both the convertible and RF hardtop and are good for a high 5 on our scale. The numbers are slightly better with an automatic, which are rated at 26/35/30 mpg.

All MX-5 Miatas are rated for premium fuel.

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$26,580
MSRP based on Sport Manual
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5.8
Overall
Expert Rating
Rating breakdown on a scale of 1 to 10?
Styling 8
Performance 8
Comfort & Quality 3
Safety N/A
Features 5
Fuel Economy 5
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