2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Mazda's been selling the Miata in the U.S. for about 23 years now. The roadster, now in its third generation, has been largely unchanged since the last face-lift in 2008.
Jinba ittai translates roughly as "rider and horse as one" and describes Mazda's performance benchmark for every generation of the Miata. The automaker wants its drivers to become one with their vehicles. I have to say, it's remarkably successful in this endeavor.
Sports car configuration
The Miata uses a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive configuration: the classic sports car setup. A limited-slip differential on the drive axle keeps the roadster from spinning its wheels...until you want it to.
The Mazda is suspended over 17-inch alloy wheels and summer tires by sport-tuned springs and Bilstein shock absorbers at all four corners. The MX-5 is kept relatively flat in the turns thanks to front and rear stabilizer bars, and a shock tower brace firms up the chassis.
The PHRT trim level designates that this Miata is equipped with a Power Retractable Hard Top, rather than the standard fabric top. This Crystal White Pearl Special Edition's top and side mirrors are painted in a contrasting glossy black.
With the flip of a lever and the touch of a button, the motorized PRHT retracts and tucks away in just 12 seconds. (Raising the roof takes a few seconds longer, but it's hardly noticeable.)
The wind isn't too brutal when driving the MX-5 top down at highway speeds. However, the hard top cuts down on wind and rain noise dramatically versus the standard fabric top. With only a 75-pound difference in weight, I'd say the hard top is the model to get, if you don't mind paying a bit extra.
The wheel wells are filled with 17-inch rollers shod in high-performance tires that are also painted black for the Special Edition model. Disc brakes are fitted at all four corners, but the front rotors are ventilated.
The MX-5's 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine outputs 167 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. That's enough power to make the roadster's light chassis feel sprightly (and do some awesomely tight doughnuts), but it's by no means a neck-snapping amount of grunt.
Driving the Miata fast is more about maintaining momentum when the road gets twisty and snapping through the six-speed manual gearbox's ratios to keep the revs high. The short-throw shifter and well placed pedals do their part to help you here.
The Special Edition trim level rolls in all of the cabin tech goodies available on the MX-5 Grand Touring trim level...which is to say: almost none. You do get keyless start and entry, heated leather seats, and automatic climate controls, but not much in the way of infotainment.
The Miata's cabin is designed to be simple and driving-focused, although it's absolutely littered with buttons when compared with the first-generation model's cabin. However, the lack of what should be basic cabin-tech features seriously hurt the 2012 roadster's overall score.
The Special Edition's steering wheel isn't home to many audio controls, but the entry-level Sport model's wheel is even more sparse. However, when it comes to doing what a steering wheel is supposed to do (steering the vehicle and communicating what the front wheels are doing), the MX-5's wheel is top-notch.
The all-inclusive Special Edition basically checks all of the options for the MX-5, but the standard Miata doesn't even come with Bluetooth hands-free calling. That feature, like most of the Miata's goodies, is part of a premium package that you can only get at the Grand Touring trim level. Even then, it doesn't support dial-by-name or caller ID.
Cruise control is standard on Touring, Grand Touring, and Special Edition models, but not the Sport.
Clear and simple instrumentation includes a digital trip computer that monitors fuel economy information. The roadster averaged 24.4 mpg over the course of our testing, which included quite a bit of backroad cruising, a few long highway trips, and a few "impromptu autocrossing" sessions.
The Special Edition model comes standard with the Miata's best infotainment system: a rather basic Bose audio system. The system automatically adjusts its output depending on whether the roof has been raised or lowered and is plenty loud enough to sound quite good with the top down.
Available audio sources include a six-disc CD changer, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, AM/FM radio, and an auxiliary input. Notably missing are a USB/iPod connection and Bluetooth A2DP audio streaming. Without them, users who carry all of their audio on a smartphone will need to drape two cables across the compact cabin (power and audio) for long trips.
Special Edition and Grand Touring models are equipped with heated leather seats. Space is at a premium in the minuscule Miata's cabin, but my 5'10" frame never felt cramped. (An open top goes a long way to dispelling any feelings of claustrophobia.)