Mazda's legendary MX-5 is evolving. First, it borrowed the pronounced fenders and angry, slanted headlights from its RX-8 big brother, and this year it's traded in its old cloth roof for a sleek, retractable hardtop. The 2007 MX-5 Miata PRHT (the acronym stands for "power retractable hard top") is a stylish roadster that looks equally good with the roof up or down. While its new plastic composite roof adds a few pounds to the curb weight, the hardtop Miata retains enough "zoom-zoom" to live up to its sporty heritage. Technophiles and connoisseurs of luxury interiors may find themselves feeling short-changed by the 2007 Miata hardtop, and tall people might find the cabin a bit too cozy for comfort, but for a sub-$30,000 roadster that doubles as a fine-looking coupe, you'd be hard-pressed to beat it. Test the tech
For our tech cabin test in the MX-5, we were limited somewhat by the scarcity of digital systems. One of the few tech options on our tester was its premium audio setup, comprising a Bose 7-speaker sound system with Audiopilot noise compensation technology. Audiopilot is designed to adjust the level of acoustic output according to the level of background noise; to do this, it makes use of a cabin-mounted microphone to monitor audio output, which it then compares to the music signal, making noise-mitigating alterations if necessary.
For our tech test, we planned to see if Audiopilot worked as advertised. Our intention was to set the stereo to a certain volume, open the top, and drive around at a set speed with Audiopilot on and then off, noting any effects. Using a sound meter, we would be able to determine whether there was any difference between the two settings. In short, we found no difference between the volume levels and EQ settings with Audiopilot on or off.
We did, however, find something very interesting related to the stereo output and the power retractable hardtop. When the hardtop canopy clasp is released--even before the button to deploy the top is pushed--the stereo automatically adjusts the audio output to be more appropriate for open-top driving. According to Mazda, a switch located in the clasp triggers a remapping of the Bose system's EQ tones, but does not adjust the volume. Our test, however, showed a significant difference in audio volume according to the sound meter: with the stereo volume set to 20, the audio output from one of our favorite Stone Roses tracks was 83dB with the clasp closed, and 90dB with the clasp open.
The Bose audio system delivers a louder audio output with the top down.
The bottom line is that while Audiopilot seems not to affect audio output, the Miata's built-in roof-activated sound adjustment will ensure that open-air drivers have a better chance of hearing their tunes.
In the cabin
The interior of the hardtop MX-5 Grand Touring is stylish, Spartan, and snug. We're not great fans of ocher plastic panels, but coupled with our test car's "saddle tan" leather seats, the effect was inoffensive, particularly as it was offset by some rather snazzy black lacquer material across the dash. While legroom with the seat fully back is adequate for those over 6-feet tall, the 2007 MX-5 poses a few problems for taller people. Firstly, with the driver's seat fully back, forward visibility is impaired by the rearview mirror, which takes up around a quarter of forward visibility. Secondly, the MX-5's clutch take-up is very high on the manual-transmission model, meaning that tall people will find their left knee wedged between the left door's handrail and the steering wheel before the clutch engages.
Finally, headroom is limited--your 6-foot-4-inch correspondent found that there was barely room to sit up straight with the top on. Rearward visibility is also significantly impeded with the hardtop up, and the stocky B-pillar on the driver's side means that all rear-left sight lines are non-existent. If the view is not great from the inside with the top up, then drivers can rest assured that the view from the outside is a lot better: the Miata PRHT differentiates itself from nearly all its competition by looking as attractive with the roof up as it does with the roof down.
Technologically speaking, there's not much to talk about in the Miata's cabin, aside from an unintuitive stereo and the two buttons that control the power roof. The latter are situated above the stereo head unit, and provide an easy, one-touch means of raising and lowering the roof. Watching the hardtop fold away is a real spectacle as the roof breaks into three panels, which take about 12 seconds to interleave and disappear behind the front seats. If only the stereo were as easy to operate.
The three-piece composite plastic hardtop folds away in about 12 seconds.
As we found in our review of the 2007 MazdaSpeed 3, Mazda could do with taking a serious look at its in-car stereo set ups. The Miata's single-disc CD player is about as basic a system as we've seen: unable to play either MP3 or WMA discs, and without any provision for connecting portable audio players, Miata drivers will struggle to play any digital-age audio sources. As if to mock those wishing to play a variety of audio sources, a legacy Media button on the head unit is neither useful nor ornamental.
While the optional Sirius Satellite radio looks like a mitigating factor, in practice, it is maddeningly frustrating to use. The Miata's single-line monochrome LCD head unit display does not appear to show any text information for Sirius stations, leaving drivers to select music by ear or--in the unlikely event that they are familiar with Sirius station numerical designations--by number. Even when navigating CDs and AM/FM radio, the stereo controls are less than intuitive: for example, drivers skip tracks and stations with the use of a vertically mounted toggle switch, requiring an up-and-down movement rather than a more typical left-and-right action.
The Grand Touring Miata's seven speakers (two in each door, with one center fill) are more than adequate for delivering an engaging audio experience into the car's small cabin. The Bose sound system is tuned to be bass-heavy, even with flat EQ settings--an effect that is enhanced when the roof clasp is released.
On a positive note, the car's 5 cubic feet of trunk space, while hardly generous, gives the Miata a real, accessible trunk with as much room and access with the roof up as with it down--more than can be said for either the 2007 Saturn Sky or the 2006 Pontiac Solstice.
Under the hood
Mercifully, our test car was not optioned with the $1,100 automatic transmission, so we had the pleasure of motivating our Miata with the standard 6-speed manual gearbox with short-throw shifter. While we enjoyed the snappy gear changes that this box allowed, we noticed a degree of notchiness in the shifter, which appeared reluctant to slot into the gates at times, especially in low gears. The hardtop MX-5's 2.0-liter, in-line four-cylinder mill doesn't scream performance, but our tester felt extremely nippy, especially through the middle gears, and there was plenty of usable power right up through the range. From standing, the 166-horsepower Miata breezes its way to 60mph in a shade over 7 seconds, making it quicker than both the Pontiac Solstice and the Saturn Sky, both of which have larger engines and more horsepower.
The view from the Saturn on the drag strip.
The primary reason for this performance premium is the Miata's weight advantage: with a curb weight of 2,573 pounds, the MX-5 is almost 300 pounds lighter than the Solstice, even with the 70 pounds of additional ballast for the hardtop. Our Grand Touring test model came with a respectable array of performance tech, courtesy of the Suspension package (Bilstein shocks, limited slip differential, sport-tuned suspension), and the Premium 2 package, which added dynamic stability control and traction control. Despite the sport tuning of the suspension, we found the ride surprisingly soft, and the Miata damped speed bumps and broken pavement at speeds that would have shook the teeth out of our heads had we attempted the same thing in the 2007 Honda S2000.
Even with the extra weight in the back, courtesy of the hardtop and its associated electrical systems, the Miata displayed a touch of understeer when pushed hard through some winding roads, perhaps partially due to its arch-filling 17-inch, 10-spoke alloy wheels, but more likely due to its over-officious stability control, which intervened with the slightest provocation. With stability control off, the Miata lives up to its reputation for fun, feeling balanced and responsive. In our week with the car we carved our way through 200 miles of highway, city and canyon driving, posting an average fuel economy of 24mpg, which is toward the low end of the EPA's estimates.
Our tester 2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring was the highest trim-level model and came with a base price tag of $26,360. To that we added the Suspension package ($500) and the Premium 2 package (which, along with the DSC, added keyless entry and ignition, an alarm, and xenon headlights). All told, our car weighed in at $28,670 including delivery. For that kind of money, the Miata PRHT finds itself up against the naturally aspirated versions of the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky.