CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

2012 Mazda Miata PRHT Special Edition review: 2012 Mazda Miata PRHT Special Edition

2012 Mazda Miata PRHT Special Edition

Antuan Goodwin Reviews Editor / Cars
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
Expertise Reviewing cars and car technology since 2008 focusing on electrification, driver assistance and infotainment Credentials
  • North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) Awards Juror
Antuan Goodwin
8 min read

How do you introduce rarity and desire to a nameplate that's been in production for over 23 years with over a million examples rolling off of the assembly line during that time? With a special edition, that's how. There may be millions of Mazda Miatas on the road around the globe, but there will only be 450 of the 2012 Mazda Miata Special Edition on American roads.

2012 Mazda Miata PRHT Special Edition

2012 Mazda Miata PRHT Special Edition

The Good

The <b>2012 Mazda Miata Special Edition</b> offers one of the purest driving experiences available in a new car today. The PRHT lowers in under 12 seconds. Fuel economy is reasonable even when driving with zest.

The Bad

Navigation, Bluetooth A2DP streaming, and USB/iPod connectivity are still missing from the Miata's option list.

The Bottom Line

The 2012 Mazda Miata PRHT Special Edition adds rarity to one of the best drivers' cars of this generation, but the omission of the most basic cabin-tech options severely hurts its score.

Underneath this special package that adds a unique color scheme and an additional cost is the 2012 Mazda Miata PRHT Grand Touring that you've been able to buy for years now. This little roadster offers one of the purest drives that I've ever experienced, but the price that you'll pay for that level of simplicity is frustration when it comes time to spec some tech.

Driving purity
Under the 2012 Mazda Miata's aluminum hood breathes a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine. Power is rated at 167 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. That may not seem like a lot of grunt in a world where a Civic Si is pushing 200 ponies and the base Mustang outputs 305 horsepower, but the Miata's strength lies not in its brute force, but in its light and nimble chassis. With a curb weight of only 2,593 pounds (with the hard top), that 2.0-liter engine doesn't have much car to get going when hustling away from a traffic light.

2012 Mazda Miata Special Edition

The Mazda MX-5 Miata's been in production for over 23 years.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

More importantly, the Miata's grippy, tossable chassis means that you don't have to sacrifice much of that speed to go round a bend. A low center of gravity means that the Miata remains relatively flat as you guide it toward apex after apex and a nearly 50/50 weight distribution between the axles creates a very neutral character that, while just as understeer-prone as any other mass-produced passenger car on the market when pushed too hard, makes it just as easy to initiate controllable oversteer with gratuitous levels of throttle.

The six-speed manual transmission that our model was equipped with featured a shifter that was certainly good, but not the best that I've tested. Subjectively, the Honda Civic Si and Mini Cooper S have shifters that seem much snappier, with a slightly more positive, mechanical engagement than the Mazda's. The Miata's gears are tightly spaced, which means that you'll be doing a lot of shifting to stay in the sweet spot of the powerband. Your revs will be at about 3.5K while cruising at 65 mph, which means that the sporty exhaust note can begin to drone on for longer trips. However, the Miata's lack of storage space already precludes it from being an optimal road trip car.

With the optional suspension package in place, the Miata is upgraded with a limited-slip differential, Bilstein shocks, and sport-tuned Mazda springs. These upgrades join the hard-top Miata's standard front strut tower bar, front and rear stabilizer bars, disc brakes, and high-performance tires to create one of the purest driving experiences that I've ever had. Few cars put as little between the driver and the road as the Miata does. There's never a question of where the vehicle's corners are -- you can easily see them from the driver's seat. The steering wheel is extremely communicative and responsive, giving you an almost telepathic connection with the front wheels.

2012 Mazda Miata Special Edition

Disable the traction control and the MX-5 will happily do smoky doughnuts with a blip of the throttle.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

True, the Miata may not be the best car for doing massive burnouts -- it's simply not powerful enough -- but the rear-drive configuration and its willingness to rotate about its center axis mean that you're just a tap of the traction control button and a blip of the throttle away from epic and smoky doughnuts. While sliding around an empty parking lot, I was pleased by how easy it was to power-slide the little roadster, controlling the radius of the bend with countersteering and modulation of the throttle, every input eliciting a nearly instantaneous response from the vehicle that was felt through the steering wheel and the seat. I'm not saying that you should hoon your Miata around the local mall parking lot, just be sure to turn the traction control back on before you get back on the road.

But it gets better. While the Miata shows great potential as a track and autocross car, the roadster's chassis truly shines when you're only driving at seven-tenths of its ability. On my favorite back roads, with the top down and a good song on the radio, the Miata was a grin-inducer, but I was most impressed by the ease with which the Miata and I tackled those winding roads. I felt more relaxed and my inputs were smaller than usual. Mazda calls this effortlessness Jinba ittai, which translates as "rider and horse as one." I didn't have to think about every little input made, the entry speed of each corner, or whether it was too early to get back on the throttle because the car was constantly communicating these things to me. And since I wasn't constantly struggling for control of the car, I was free to look down the road, set up my next few corners, and, most importantly, enjoy the drive.

Lightweight, low-power fun translates also into efficient driving. At the end of my week with the Miata, I'd averaged 24.4 mpg, which is in line with the EPA's 24 mpg combined, 21 mpg city, and 28 mpg highway estimates. A driver with a lighter foot and more relaxed driving style could definitely do better.

Cabin tech? What cabin tech?
The MX-5 Miata is pretty archaic by modern standards where dashboard tech is concerned. At its best, which the Grand Touring and Special Edition trim levels represent, you're looking at single-line monochromatic screen that displays data from a six-disc in-dash CD changer with MP3 decoding, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, AM and FM broadcast reception, and an auxiliary input located at the base of the dashboard. Audio comes through a seven-speaker, Bose-branded premium stereo system with a feature called AudioPilot 2 that automatically adjust the volume to compensate for the vehicle's speed and whether the top is down or not.

There's also Bluetooth hands-free calling, but it's only the most basic of systems. There is no phone book sync, so caller ID isn't supported, and neither is dial by name ("Call Antuan Goodwin") without first manually setting a voice tag. You can press the voice command button and speak a number ("Call 123-456-7890") but unless you've memorized the numbers of your contacts, you'll want to take a minute (or 10) to set up a few speed-dial voice tags before you embark on a trip.

Missing from the 2012 Miata's infotainment option list are a navigation system, Bluetooth A2DP audio streaming, and an USB/iPod port. These may seem like simple omissions that can be overcome with a smartphone and an auxiliary audio cable, but without USB/iPod connectivity or Bluetooth A2DP, you lose steering-wheel transport controls, so you'll be stuck fiddling with your phone if you decide to change playlists or just skip tracks. Additionally, any trip that lasts longer than your phone's battery will require that you plug in not only that aux-audio cable, but also a 12-volt charger. And since the only place you can comfortably stow your phone in the Miata is either in a cupholder or in a cell phone slot near the back of the center console, you'll be draping both of those cables awkwardly across your shifter.

The Miata is in desperate need of a tech upgrade -- these days, even an entry-level Hyundai Accent comes better equipped -- but in the interim, there are stopgap solutions available now. By day 2 with the Miata, I found myself turning to an aftermarket product to address my issues with tech. By simply plugging a Scosche MotorMouth II into the MX-5's auxiliary input, I was able to add Bluetooth audio streaming, which eliminated the need for one of the two cables, and use my smartphone's own voice dialer at the touch of a button, making it easier to place calls.

2012 Mazda Miata Special Edition

The 2012 Mazda Miata Special Edition's PRHT is painted in contrasting Gloss Black paint, pictured here with more doughnuts.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Cabin comfort
Interestingly, while the MX-5 Miata is lacking in dashboard tech, it is available with a few creature comforts, not the least of which is its optional power-retractable hard top (PRHT). This motorized "z-fold" roof collapses into the Mazda's chassis with the release of a locking lever and the touch of a button in just a hair under 12 seconds. Raising the roof is slightly slower, but not so much so that you'll really notice it.

What you will notice is how much quieter in the cabin the hard-topped Miata is than its fabric-roofed twin. If you spend much time at highway speeds or in the rain with the top up, the PRHT is a must-have feature. It's only about an 80-pound increase in curb weight, which you probably won't notice outside of instrumented testing, and your eardrums will thank you for making this miniscule sacrifice.

Even with the top up, the Miata isn't unbearably windy at highway speeds. I was even able to receive an incoming call using the Bluetooth speakerphone at 50 mph without shouting.

A Premium package adds an advanced keyless entry and start system with an antitheft alarm. The halogen headlights get bumped up to HID Xenon projectors and, in the cabin, the standard HomeLink audio-dimming rear mirror is joined by the aforementioned Bluetooth hands-free calling and SiriusXM receiver.

2012 Mazda Miata Special Edition

At the Grand Touring and Special Edition levels, the Miata gains heated leather seats.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

At the Grand Touring trim level, the Miata is fitted with heated leather seats, automatic climate controls with modes dedicated to top-down driving, and the Bose Audio System.

The Special Edition MX-5 Miata comes with a PRHT that's painted in Gloss Black mica to contrast with its Crystal White pearl mica or Velocity Red mica body. The 17-inch alloy wheels and wing mirrors also get recolored in Gunmetal Black and Gloss Black, while the cabin is finished with a Gloss Black dashboard, black trim on the steering wheel, shifter, and brake lever, and alloy sport pedals. Additionally, the Special Edition models have every optional package available as standard features, including the Sport Suspension package. Only 450 Special Edition models will be sold in the U.S., at only a $235 premium over a fully loaded Grand Touring model.

2012 Mazda Miata Special Edition

The 2012 Mazda Miata Special Edition is one of those cars that every enthusiast should drive once. Too bad it will drive techies mad.

Antuan Goodwin/CNET

In sum
The 2012 Mazda Miata with the Power Retractable Hard Top starts at $27,540 for the Touring model. Jump up to $28,950 for the Grand Touring, and add $650 for the Suspension package, $1,390 for the Premium package, and a $795 destination charge to reach a fully loaded price of $31,785. Or get your hands on a $32,020 Special Edition to get all of that plus the nicer paint job in one fell swoop. Add $1,100 if you don't want to shift your own gears.

Either way you do it, you'll end up with an awesome little sports car with one of the crappiest cabin tech setups on the market, so here's how I'd spend my bucks. I'd skip all of the tech that Mazda offers and stop at the $27,540 Touring level, add $650 for the Suspension upgrades, invest in a suction-cup mount for my smartphone and a Bluetooth receiver like the Scosche MotorMouth II for about $100 total, and roll off of the dealership with a $29,085 car. Can you live without the hard top? Go ahead and shave $1,710 off of the bottom line and use that to upgrade to an aftermarket stereo system to create my optimal MX-5 roadster.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT Special Edition
TrimSpecial Edition
Power train2.0-liter, inline 4-cylinder
EPA fuel economy21 city, 28 highway, 24 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy24.4 mpg
Bluetooth phone supportYes
Disc player6-disc, in-dash CD changer
MP3 player supportstandard analog 3.5mm auxiliary input
Other digital audioSiriusXM Satellite Radio
Audio system7-speaker Bose premium audio with AudioPilot 2
Driver aidsn/a
Base price$31,225
Price as tested$32,020
2012 Mazda Miata PRHT Special Edition

2012 Mazda Miata PRHT Special Edition

Score Breakdown

Cabin tech 2Performance tech 7Design 7


See full specs Trim levels MiataAvailable Engine GasBody style Convertible