The EPA estimates that the MX-5 Grand Touring with the six-speed-manual gearbox will average 21 city and 28 highway mpg, but if you drive like we do, then you can expect to hover around 23 mpg combined. Oddly, the MX-5 Sport with its "lesser" five-speed-manual transmission actually gains a single city mpg over the more expensive model, possibly because of taller gearing.
Where the Mazda MX-5 Miata really shines is in the corners. The chassis' light weight is distributed at a perfect 50/50 ratio between the front and rear axles. The vehicle is extremely easy to rotate through the turns thanks to its short wheelbase, sport-tuned suspension, and direct steering.
Tightening up the already firm ride is an optional Suspension package that swaps in stiffer springs and Bilstein dampers for a firmer ride. A limited slip differential is also added as part of the package, which makes sure that the power is transmitted to the rear wheel with the most amount of grip.
The name of the game here is balance. The chassis doesn't understeer when pushed, yet is also reticent to oversteer; it simply goes where you point it.
Driving the Mazda MX-5 keeps the driver close to the road, literally and figuratively. The vehicle gives good feedback through the steering wheel, the pedals, the shifter, and the seat bottom. All of the driver's inputs have an immediate effect on the vehicle.
On a twisty mountain road, we were able to make the MX-5 shine. Keeping the revs up with the short throw shifter, the MX-5's low power isn't much of an issue once the vehicle is moving. Approaching hairpin switchbacks, the MX-5's four-wheel disk brakes shaved speed off with drama-free repeatability, while the balanced chassis allowed us to power the rear-wheel-driven roadster out of the turns without fear of spinning off of the mountain.
At low speeds around town, the MX-5 is surprisingly docile and well behaved. However, the short wheelbase, stiff suspension, and relative lack of sound deadening make the soft-top Miata a loud and bouncy ride over highway expansion joints and potholes.
To the point, the 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata is quite possibly the purest sports car experience you'll find this side of a $50,000 Lotus Elise.
It's not a high powered vehicle, but it is impeccably balanced and extremely tossable, resulting in a high performance score. With almost no advanced cabin technology available, the MX-5 doesn't earn many points for features. Bluetooth hands-free calling earns back some credit, but not enough to achieve better than mediocre features score.
Say what you will about the MX-5's goofy grinning face, but it is well put together. All of the cabin controls fall nicely into the hand and the retractable soft top is ingeniously designed and remarkably simple to use, resulting in a high design score.
Starting at $22,500 for an ultrabare-bones SV model, it's also one of the cheapest real sports cars available. Our Grand Touring model starts at $26,350 and includes the Bose audio system, leather interior with heated seats, and a canvas folding roof (instead of the vinyl on lower models). Add $1,650 for the Premium package to get Bluetooth hands-free and SmartKey entry and start, and $500 for the upgrades suspension components. Oddly, the Premium and Suspension packages must both be added at the same time and cannot be added separately. Add it all up with a $670 destination fee and you come to our as-tested price of $29,170.
There's not much in the North American market that can compare to the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky come close, but they lag in overall quality. The Honda S2000 matches the MX-5 in quality and slightly exceeds in performance. However, the Solstice, Sky, and S2000 have all been discontinued, which leaves the MX-5 Miata in a class of its own.
|Model||2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata|
|Powertrain||2.0-liter 4-cylinder, 6-speed manual|
|EPA fuel economy||21 mpg city/28 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||22.9 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||part of optional Premium package|
|Disc player||6-disc CD changer w/ MP3, WMA playback|
|MP3 player support||Auxiliary analog input|
|Other digital audio||Sirius satellite radio|
|Audio system||7-speaker Bose premium audio|
|Driver aids||DSC with traction control|
|Price as tested||$29,170|