News Column

Bigger On the Inside, Still Fun to Drive: Mazda MX-5 Miata

May 1, 2008

Ralph Gray

Mazda MX-5 Miata

The Miata (minus the MX-5 name addition) has always been snug . . . very snug. Past models couldn't be driven in manual transmission mode by the lanky.

Joy is almost reigning supreme with the Mazda MX-5 Miata. The car with the MX-5 tag is a little bit bigger on the inside.

And, oh, it now can be had with a power retractable hardtop (PRHT) in addition to the soft-top convertible.

That's nice . . . but that the Miata can be driven by the moderately tall without opening the door to accommodate the leg that operates the clutch calls for rejoicing. (It is untrue that you can tell older Miatas by the missing driver door).

You can usually tell a Miata driver by the beatific smile on his or her face. Miata, hard or soft top, defines "fun to drive."

Insert yourself into the well-bolstered driver's seat and tuck the three-spoke steering wheel under your chin. The wheel feels as close as it does in a NASCAR racer. There's a good, on-center feel.

There's almost no fidget room--remove anything you may need from your pockets before settling in.

The accelerator pedal feels a little too far left. The clutch is smooth. The six-speed manual transmission snick-snicks its way through the gears.

The Miata handles curves like its running in a slot. It's glued to the road--and the road signals back with every ripple felt, not disguised. Adding to the quick steering and alert response is a suspension that's firmer.

The fun in the Miata is the driving--not playing with automotive gadgetry. So there are actual round dials for the radio (and steering wheel controls), a tachometer and full engine gauges.

The 2L I-4 engine drives the rear wheels--a layout that provides the great road hugging for the Miata. The four banger develops 166 horsepower in a hardtop that's some 80 pounds heavier than the soft top.

So the Miata manages to get to 60 mph in 8 seconds or so. It's forte isn't hot rod acceleration but sporty driving. There's no lack of power in traffic or at highway speeds.

The Miata does get to 60 mph a little faster than the time it takes the hardtop to open or close (about 12 seconds).

Unlike many hardtops, the Miata doesn't lose luggage space. The hardtop retracts into the same cubbyhole used by the soft top.

The hardtop also adds the PRHT designation. The center-mounted brake light also receives a white lens. There's more chrome inside, too.

This helps the Miata to show a more U.S. look--a refined muscle car. So Miata is moving away from its roots of a British two seater.

But the top still goes down for wind-in-your-face exhilaration.

Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT

•Engine: 2L I-4

•Dimensions: 91.7" wheelbase; 157.3" length.

•Base price: $26,760/tested $28,800.

•Fuel economy: 21/28 mpg

Source: (c) 2008. All rights reserved.

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters