Mazda's little convertible still offers one of the most joyful driving experiences on the road today.
What can I say about the Mazda MX-5 Miata that hasn't been said before? It's the best-selling two-seat sports car in history, with more than 1 million sold around the world. It's been called the answer to everything and the greatest car ever made. We at Roadshow like it so much we have five in our personal-car fleet, and I own two: a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata and Buddy, my lifted 2001 Miata. Suffice it to say, I love this car.
But the Miata isn't perfect. If you value the latest tech, ergonomic comfort or oodles of storage you'll definitely be disappointed. If you're taller than 6 feet, you'll have a hard time living with one. But if you've made it past these hurdles and are still good to go, you're rewarded with a driving experience like no other.
Weighing in at a svelte 2,339 pounds, the 2021 Miata pushes 181 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque out of its 2.0-liter naturally aspirated engine. Power runs exclusively to the rear wheels, and while you can opt for a six-speed automatic transmission, as far as I'm concerned you are required by law to buy a Miata with the six-speed manual. It's just better.
With its tight gearbox and perfect clutch, I want to row through the manual's gears as much as I can. But hop on the highway and plunk it into sixth gear, and you'll cruise at 70 mph low in the engine's rev range. My older Miata sounds like an angry bumble bee on the freeway, and the gas mileage reflects it. The 2021 Miata, meanwhile, is cool and collected, and can return up to 34 mpg highway, which I have no problem seeing in regular use.
The Miata begs to be revved high at all times, and peak horsepower arrives at a lofty 7,000 rpm. Although this fourth-gen Miata is the most powerful yet, it's still not exactly a high-powered sports car. Instead, it's what we call a momentum car, something you can keep on boil all the time. Never lift, use the brakes sparingly and you can attack corners at speeds that'll make Mustangs weep.
The Club trim is the best way to experience the Miata, with its limited-slip differential, Bilstein suspension, front shock-tower brace, Brembo brakes and 205/45-series Bridgestone Potenza summer tires wrapped around 17-inch forged BBS wheels. All things considered, the MX-5 is easy to drive at the limit. Sure, its back end will step out every now and then, but it's all in good fun and a quick flick of the steering wheel fixes any playful skid.
On my favorite back roads I can keep the Miata in third gear, winding through curves without a care in the world. On a few straightaways I can grab fourth gear for a bit, but then brake, downshift back into third, float through the turn and accelerate out with all the engine's torque easily accessible right under my foot. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
There are no drive modes, either. The shocks are stiff all the time, the electric power steering is fairly heavy and chatty and the throttle tip-in is consistently good. The Miata is set up from the get-go for maximum driving fun and I am totally here for it. You're not going to break any records on the drag strip, though. It takes nearly 6 seconds to hit 60 mph, which can seem like an eternity when modern sports cars can do the same sprint in half the time.
Still, the experience is pure joy. Better yet, it's affordable joy. My Club trim starts at $31,285 including $995 for destination, and if you don't need all the performance extras, a base MX-5 Sport costs $27,825.
As I mentioned before, the MX-5 does have its foibles. I don't expect massive amounts of space in a little two-seater car, but the fact that the Miata doesn't even have a glove box is crazy. There is a lockable storage cubby built into the vertical space between the seats, but it's awkward to access when seated.
The trunk has a tiny 4.5 cubic feet of space, hampered by a small opening. However, I'm able to fit my carry-on luggage in there with a bit of room to spare. Pro tip: It's always easier to pack a Miata trunk with soft-sided containers or using no containers at all, stuffing single cans of Diet Dr. Pepper into any small available space rather than leaving them in a 12-pack box.
There are only two USB-A charging ports, but then again, there are only two seats. The cup holders are removable and drivers will inevitably want to use the passenger-side holder that attaches to the center console rather than the arm-bending position on the driver's side. Wireless charging isn't here and only a few driving aids are offered. Lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring are the only driver-assistance systems offered, and the latter is especially sensitive.
The Mazda Connect infotainment system comes on a 7-inch display and it's undoubtedly the worst thing about the Miata. When stopped, I can control it via touchscreen, but as soon as I start moving I have to use an awkwardly placed rotary knob on the center console. The menu layout is tough to navigate and the graphics are less than impressive. However, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now standard and any incoming text messages are read through the headrest speakers. Sounds like a good idea until I crank the tunes, which are played through the door speakers. Siri doesn't adjust the volume automatically and blasts those words right into my ear drums.
As for overall driving comfort, taller folks will have a hard time in the MX-5. I'm 5 feet, 9 inches tall and I wouldn't want to be much bigger. My tester's heated Recaro seats are supportive, but some folks might find it difficult to extract themselves. Me? I've got a patent-pending lean-out-and-cross-one-leg-in-front system that I've perfected over the years.
The manual soft top is easy to use, even from a seated position, and while it certainly keeps more road and wind noise out of the cabin than in previous years, you'll still have to speak up to have any kind of conversation with your passenger. If you want a quieter ride, look to the MX-5 Miata RF with its power-retracting hardtop.
The Miata is arguably one of the best cars on the road today, even if it's not perfect. But if it's pure driving pleasure you want, in terms of smiles per dollar, it's hard to beat the MX-5.