It's been thoroughly updated twice, including a full remake in 2006. Quality, solidity and safety gear were upgraded in the 2006 re-do, but its lighthearted spirit was kept intact. This is a car to love.
Mazda is now downplaying the Miata name in favor of the alpha-numeric MX-5 moniker; apparently, this is intended to make emphasize the Mazda brand name.
For 2007, there are a few small changes and one major addition to the lineup that broadens both the MX-5's appeal and usefulness. The eye-opener is a new model featuring what Mazda calls the Power Retractable Hard Top, or PRHT, which features a solid roof that lowers in seconds at the touch of a button, just like those found on pricey two-seaters from Mercedes and Cadillac. It provides the advantages of a hardtop overhead, with reduced wind and road noise and a sense of increased security and solidity, yet folds down completely out of sight for stylish cruising. What's more, not a whit of the standard MX-5's delicious driving experience has been sacrificed by the addition of hardtop practicality.
Affordability has always been a cornerstone of Miata ownership, but over time more models and options have proliferated. The list now stretches to two basic body styles, across which spreads five exterior and interior trim packages, a more sporting suspension and a dozen stand alone options. All this can plump up the sticker to the $28,000 range. But choose wisely and you'll still get a rewarding sports car at an enticing price.
The MX-5 Miata, soft top or hard top, still puts a big grin on your face whether you're on a twisty road or just cruising down to the hardware store to pick up some molly bolts. Fun is what the Mazda MX-5 made its reputation on, and that's exactly what it delivers. Mission accomplished.
The SV Special Value model ($20,435), is only available by special order through one of Mazda's regional offices. It's what once might have been called a stripper version, and it provides the basis for building a race car. It comes with a five-speed manual gearbox instead of the six-speed; 16-inch aluminum wheels; cloth upholstery; various interior storage pockets and bins; an AM/FM/CD sound system with four speakers; power mirrors; and dual front and side airbags. So it's a stripper in relative terms only.
The MX-5 Sport ($21,435) with the vinyl soft top comes with the five-speed manual gearbox, and the same basic equipment as the SV plus air conditioning and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. A tire puncture repair kit fills in for a spare tire, as it does on all MX-5s. The PRHT hardtop Sport ($24,350) also comes with a manual gearbox. The Sport model is also available with the Activematic six-speed automatic ($23,590) and the soft top; it comes standard with the 1CP Convenience Package consisting of cruise control, fog lamps, keyless entry system and power door locks.
The Touring ($23,240) soft top comes with a six-speed manual gearbox or six-speed automatic ($24,340) and adds fog lamps, cruise control, power door locks, keyless entry, cruise control, steering wheel mounted cruise and audio controls, with 17-inch alloy wheels and P205/45R17 performance tires. Run-flat tires ($515) are optional. The Touring hard top comes with the six-speed manual gearbox ($25,100) or automatic ($26,200).
The Grand Touring comes with a six-speed manual gearbox ($24,500) or automatic ($25,600), heated leather seats, faux leather door trim, a spiffy cloth soft top and Bose AM/FM/CD player system with seven speakers. Order the rich-looking tan leather and you get tan door panels to match. Handsome 17-inch aluminum wheels mounting 205/45-17 tires fill the wheel openings, and run-flat technology ($515) is available. The Grand Touring hardtop comes with the six-speed manual ($26,360) or automatic ($27,460).
Options include the Convenience Package ($1055) with cruise control, fog lamps, keyless entry and power door locks. The Premium Package 1 ($1600) packs the car with a theft alarm; dynamic stability control and a limited-slip rear differential; Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry (a credit-card sized key fob that you keep in your pocket; there's no actual key for the ignition) and xenon high-intensity headlights. Premium Package 2 ($1250) is the same as Package 1 minus the limited slip differential. The Suspension Package ($500) uprates the handling with Bilstein gas pressure shocks and the limited-slip differential. The appearance package ($1145) dresses the exterior in sporty duds including a front air dam, side skirts and rear under skirt. And the Interior Trim Package ($515) brightens up an already handsome cabin with brushed aluminum trim pieces on the dash and door switch panels and a handsome leather-and-aluminum gearshift knob. Also available: a cargo net, door edge guards, all-weather mats, chrome fuel filler door, splash guards a rear spoiler, satellite radio, an in-dash 6CD/MP3 changer, and wheel locks.
All MX-5s benefit from a comprehensive 3 year/36,000 mile warranty, a five year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty and a five-year/unlimited mileage corrosion warranty. And Mazda supplies 24/7 roadside assistance.
Safety equipment standard across the line comprises dual, two-stage frontal airbags; seat-mounted, side airbags designed to protect the chest and head; and anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. The passenger-side frontal airbag has an on/off switch, and that seat is fitted with child safety seat anchors, or LATCH.
Great designs evolve over time, but always hark back to a central theme that defines the brand. So it is with the third-generation MX-5. In fact, it looks more like the original Miata than the second-generation model. The overall design is somewhat slab sided and both taller and more rounded at the front end than previous versions. But the ovoid shape of the grille is pure Miata. (The grille on the hardtop models is brightened with a delicate chrome ring around its circumference.) This larger-than-before opening moves more cooling air through the radiator and around the larger engine and combines with a pronounced air dam across the bottom of the lower opening to give the Miata's face a strong chin. So what if it brings to mind a largemouth bass when viewed straight on? It does what it's supposed to do. Compound, projector-beam headlights live in small housings deeply recessed and near to the car's centerline, which emphasizes the Miata's diminutive size. The hood wears a mini-bulge in the center, simultaneously suggestive of a scoop and of a similar bulge on the RX-8.
The MX-5 design has definitely evolved since the beginning, especially when seen from the side. Sharply sculpted wheel flares appear directly adapted from the RX-8 in a form the company calls Mazda design DNA. Flared wheel arches also spread wide enough to cover the new-generation Miata's wider track. (Track is the distance between the left and right wheels). The MX-5's track is three inches wider in front, two inches wider in the rear when compared with the previous model. This gives the MX-5 a more athletic stance. The MX-5 looks more aggressive and less cuddly than its predecessors.
The soft top is the best yet, and one of the best in all sportscardom. The top, with its heated glass rear window, collapses into a well behind the seats cleanly and completely, in a way requiring no cover boot. That's good, because there are plenty of times when you'd like to drop the top but don't want to take time to snap on a cover. Now it looks neatly finished when it's down, with no additional effort. As with previous models, it's manually operated, but so light and easy to use you can do it with one hand while sitting in the driver's seat. You'll never wish for power assistance. This is distinctly different from, say, the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, whose tops are far more involved to raise and lower.
The folding hardtop is a mastery of good design. The PRHT is a cinch to operate, quick to fold, and a miracle of space efficiency. Stop the car, put it in neutral (or Park for the automatic). Pop a single handle at the top of the windshield, touch a button on the dash and in 12 seconds the top has contorted itself into the same well the soft-top uses. The hardtop is made of lightweight materials: sheet molding compound on the outside and glass fiber-reinforced polypropylene on the inside. The entire apparatus including electric motors adds less than 80 pounds to the featherweight car, thus maintaining the MX-5's wonderful agility and balance.
A rear panel aft of the front seats raises as part of this dance to allow the top to drop into the well, and covers it back up once it's snuggled in place. Trunk room is not impacted in any way, a blessing because the MX-5 has so little of it to begin with. (Note that even some of the luxury-class folding-hardtop sportscars suffer here, because their tops actually fold down into the trunk and eat up as much as half the available cargo space. Not so for the MX-5.) A slight ridge sculpted into the PRHT's top cover is the only noticeable difference between the hardtop and soft top cars' appearance when the tops are down.
With the top down, you'll notice rollbar-like hoops rising out of the body behind the seats; Mazda doesn't list them as safety features, calling them seat back bars, but they're certainly more than merely surfaces to which decorative trim can be affixed. A mesh windblocker fits between the hoops. Small quarter windows, like yesteryear's windwings, fill the acute angle where the doors meet the A-pillars. Door handles are finger-friendly full rounds, instead of the previous model's top-hinged pull-ups. The hardtop boasts a larger rear window than the soft top offers, substantially reducing the convertible's rear quarter blind spots.
Taillights retain the basic elliptical outline of Miatas past but, like the headlights, nestle a little closer toward the car's middle. Even the rear license plate housing's contours are round and crisply molded into the surrounding sheet metal. A horizontal, black panel beneath the rear bumper echoes the front end's air dam, only this one is braced by twin exhaust tips, adding a look of purposefulness to the tail end.
For 2007, there are two new paint colors in the palate: Stormy Blue Mica and Highland Green Mica and some additional bright work added to the nose of the car.
The trunk's 5.3 cubic feet capacity is made for a few small, soft bags, just enough to get a couple through a weekend trip. The spare tire was left out more to save weight than to add space for golf clubs.
Overall, interior quality and appearance are way better than any past MX-5 Miata would have led you to expect. Fit and finish is tight and smooth. Trim panels on the center stack fit flush and look expensively made. Materials are mostly impressive grade; the shiny black trim across the width of the instrument panel has the high-end look of black lacquered furniture.
The headliner of the hardtop's roof is finished in a hard flat-black textured covering that, if not luxurious, is certainly tidy. Even the base cloth upholstery is nice, with lightly woven, smooth-finish bolsters and waffle-weave insets. Depending on the weather, the cloth upholstery's waffle-like weave can be more comfortable than leather. That's a good thing, because leather doesn't appear until the top-of-the-line Grand Touring model. The base SV's urethane steering wheel and shift knob wrappings are obviously not leather, but they're not offensive, either. Likewise, in ergonomics, the interior of the new Miata rates both pluses and minuses.
The soft top is an exemplar of simplicity and ease of use. Release a single latch at the center of the foremost bow and with one hand push the top back into its recess behind the seats. To reverse the process, reach back with one hand, grab the latch and pull, and the top rises out of its well and settles onto the top of the windshield. Tug down, engage the latch, and it's done.
Seats are neither overly firm nor too plush, properly bolstered for the type of driving the Miata invites but with only acceptable thigh support. Be ready for noticeable lumbar, too, for which there's no adjustment. Nor is there a seat height adjustment. The tilt steering wheel helps with this, at least a little. The properly stubby shift lever is where it should be. The hand brake sits on the passenger side of the drive tunnel.
A single set of power window buttons is located in the center console aft of the shift boot, behind which a neat retracting cover conceals two cup holders. The center stack hosts intuitively positioned stereo and air conditioning knobs, buttons and recessed toggles that are easy to grasp and manipulate. A power outlet conveniently placed at the base of the center stack waits for a radar detector or cell phone. Four air registers are spaced across the dash in the hard, shiny black panel that changes to brushed aluminum for the Limited Edition. They swivel with a surprisingly expensive feel.
All gauges are analog, with a large, round tachometer and matching speedometer straddling the steering column and shaded from all but trailing sunlight by an arched hood. Fuel level is reported in a small circle to the lower left, coolant temperature by one to the lower right and, thank you very much, oil pressure by a matching triplet positioned top center between the tach and speedo. It's the kind of engine monitoring panel that sports car drivers love. Headlights are managed by a stalk on the left side of the steering column, windshield wiper and washer by a stalk on the right side. On the Touring model and above, cruise and secondary audio controls utilize the horizontal spokes of the steering wheel. The on/off switch for the stability control system shares space with a pair of switch blanks in the lower dash by the driver's door.
The premium sound system has a function Bose calls Audiopilot that goes beyond simple speed-sensing volume control by actually re-mixing in real time the sound coming out of the speakers to help the stereo punch through the ambient wind and road noises that accompany open-air motoring. Oversize speakers dominate the forward part of the door panels.
Water bottle holders are molded into the space between the speakers and the door pulls/armrests. There are no map pockets; Mazda officials say this is to make room for strengthened side impact protective hardware. For the most part, only the map pockets ready accessibility is missed, as other storage compensates. There's a lockable glove box that's surprisingly roomy for such a compact interior; a lockable, CD-size bin between the seatbacks; a pouch on the backside of the driver's seat; and bins behind each of the seats (sacrificed in the PRHT models).
Trunk capacity is limited, but is semi-functional, as Mazda says the floor is deep enough for a case of tall, 1.5-liter beverage bottles.
Just as significant from the driver's seat is how the car's mass is distributed. The lower the mass is in the car's chassis, the lower the car's center of gravity and the more stable its ride and handling. But especially important for a sports car, the closer weight is clustered around what engineers call the vertical yaw axis the better. Imagine a broomstick with two five-pound weights attached. It weighs about 10 pounds regardless of where the weights are positioned. Put the weights at the ends of the broomstick, and try to spin it like a baton. It's not so easy to get started, and once started it's difficult to stop. But move the weights next to each other at the center of the broomstick, and starting it spinning and stopping it requires much less effort.
This is a simplification because concentrating too much of the mass around the yaw axis can make a car unstable, but you get the point. And so did the Mazda engineers. The engine in this latest version was moved rearward more than five inches from its relative location in the previous (pre-2006) model. The gas tank was moved forward and lowered in the chassis. Relocating the battery from the trunk to under the hood positioned it closer to the yaw axis.
What all this has accomplished in pursuit of the ideal 50/50 front/rear weight balance is, well, if not perfection, then close, depending on how the Miata is loaded. With two people buckled in, Mazda pegs the new Miata's weight distribution at 50/50. With their luggage, it tends to a rear bias; empty, with a full gas tank, it tends to a front bias.
So much for what gratifies the left brain. What's so cool about all this shifting around of mechanicals and components is, it works.
The MX-5 is a blast to drive. The 166-hp, six-speed gearbox and a highly responsive throttle give it a nice kick in the back end. The wide track and low center of gravity enable it to corner flatter than should be possible. Balance is so close to perfect, with two people on board, of course, and with the sporty, asymmetrical-tread tires on the Sport and Grand Touring models, that it holds its line through corners like it was highway striping paint.
Quick, left-right-left transitions on a winding two-lane running along a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the Big Island of Hawaii succumb to nearly perfect steering response: light but not twitchy, with good feel regardless of the speed. Crank in more steering to keep it off the rock wall on the outside of a tight switchback, and the rear tires step tentatively sideways. A touch of counter steer and a soft feathering of the gas and the tires stick again, and away you go. What a rush. This is with the electronic stability control deactivated. With it active, the new Miata's still fun, just not as much.
We didn't have the opportunity to drive any models with the 16-inch wheels and standard tires and five-speed manual, but from experience with last year's Miata, we'd expect a similar experience, albeit at lower thresholds.
The new Miata cruises well, too, though on the Interstate it wanders slightly in response to pavement irregularities or when passing a heaving semi. When it must, the MX-5 can crawl along with stop-and-go traffic with no complaint. Clutch effort is so light, your left leg never gets tired.
Ordering the sports suspension buys a firmer ride and increased feel of the road, but not to the point of discomfort.
Brake feel is solid, thanks to improved brake system rigidity and strengthened brake hoses, making repetitive and smooth stops a breeze. But the pedal pressure required is very light around town, necessitating a get-used-to-it period before your right foot knows to tread lightly on the center pedal.
Shifting gears is a delight. The Miata historically offered about the best-shifting manual gearbox on the planet. Its crispness and light effort were pretty much the gold standard in manuals. The MX-5's six-speed doesn't quite match the previous version's effortlessness, but it's close. The throws are delicate and light, and the lever goes just where you want it, as if wired to your brain.
The automatic transmission felt right at home in the stop-and-go. In Activematic mode, gears are selected either by tapping the shift lever forward or back or with steering wheel-mounted paddles. Shifts are smooth, but noticeable, in either mode. In Activematic mode, the automatic transmission works as it should, too, declining to shift up even with the engine zinging along at its electronically limited 7000 rpm or to shift down no matter how hard you stomp the gas pedal.
Playing with the gears in a sports car should entertain not only in how the car moves down the road and through curves, but also aurally, in what you hear as well as what you feel. The new MX-5's exhaust was less than satisfying, sounding more buzzy than throaty, except under hard acceleration, when it finally generated sounds approaching entertaining. The exhaust note was something Mazda's engineers worked very hard at for the original Miata and we miss that classic sports car sound.
With the top up, there's a little flutter of the unlined fabric at extra-legal speeds. Wind noise is well muted, although the rear window shivers a bit. Cowl shake, which afflicts most convertibles, is virtually nonexistent, a benefit of bolting the tower struts' bar to the cowl instead of to each other across the engine bay.
As for wind bluster with the top down, we'll take Mazda's word that the small quarter windows inboard of the outside rearview mirrors do in fact keep the interior calmer, but we could discern no difference with or without the mesh blocker panel in place between the seatback bars.
A 2007 PRHT hardtop model we tested on Michigan's rutted roads proved quieter than the soft top version. The solid roof pays sound-deadening dividends; the radio is a lot easier to hear than in the convertible when its fabric top is up. The extra measure of top-up quiet enables you to enjoy the growl of the MX-5's exhaust when accelerating through the first three gears. Still, the hardtop's cabin isn't nearly as hushed as the average sedan's cabin is; road noise emanates from the rear wheels and comes up through the top's storage well behind the seats, and there's some wind flutter around the rear corner of the side windows. But the roof is squeak-free, and adds to the sense of solidity in what is already a very stout-feeling automobile.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard reported from Kona, Hawaii, with Rich Ceppos reporting from Detroit, Michigan.
Model as tested
Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring ($26,600)
3 years/36,000 miles
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested
Options as tested
Premium Package 1 ($1,600) includes xenon HID headlights, dynamic stability control with traction control, Smart Key keyless ignition, and anti-theft alarm; run-flat tires with tire-pressure monitor system ($515)
Model Line Overview
Mazda MX-5 SV ($20,435); Sport ($21,435); Touring ($23,240); Grand Touring ($24,500); Sport PRHT ($24,350); Touring PRHT ($25,100); Grand Touring PRHT ($26,360)
Safety equipment (standard)
dual, two-stage front airbags (with passenger-seat deactivation switch); seat-mounted side-impact airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
2.0-liter, double overhead cam, 16-valve inline four-cylinder
Specifications as Tested
air conditioning; cruise control; power windows, mirrors and door locks; leather-covered seats, steering wheel rim and shift knob; and Bose AM/FM/6CD stereo with seven speakers
Engine & Transmission
2.0-liter, double overhead cam, 16-valve inline four-cylinder
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
166 @ 6700
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
independent, multi-link, gas-pressure shocks, coil springs, stabilizer bar
independent, double wishbone, gas-pressure shocks, coil springs, stabilizer bar
independent, multi-link, gas-pressure shocks, coil springs, stabilizer bar
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear