When Mazda first unveiled the current generation MX-5 Miata back in 2014, it signaled a radical shift in focus, with Mazda designers breathing newfound life into a car that some thought had lost its way since it was first introduced in 1989. With bolder exterior styling, and a renewed emphasis on weight shedding, the newly rejuvenated MX-5 promises to blaze its own chapter in the sports car ranks. Our last sampling of the MX-5 was out on the track, but can it succeed out in the real world?
The exterior styling of the MX-5 embraces newfound levels of sportiness, and also retains the subtle simplicity that has come to define prior MX-5 models. The front fascia is a bold example of this assertiveness with the grille ditching the previous generation’s “happy face” look in lieu of a much meaner looking mug that boldly broadcasts the car’s sporting nature. The headlights of my Ceramic Metallic tester also get into the act, and are similar to equally bold headlight designs that have made their debut on recent Jaguar models. The side profile is relatively tidy, and nicely transitions to the rear fascia which features rounded taillamps as well as faux vents in the rear bumper.
The interior of my test car has a design that still embraces driver centric controls as well as a straightforward layout that is simple to understand. Much of the design is very similar to the Mazda3, and that includes the dash mounted upright infotainment screen, more soft touch materials, as well as push button start for models like my Grand Touring grade test car. My tester also featured leather sport seats, and they offered great levels of support though I would have personally liked a little more bolstering in the lumbar portion of the seat. The steering wheel is just the right size, and the manually operated soft top can be quickly raised or lowered without exiting the vehicle which is an advantage that some of its more powerful rivals don’t have.
Despite its small dimensions, the MX-5 offers surprising amounts of room with a tilt steering wheel that helps accommodate taller drivers but lacks a telescoping feature. The convertible top fits very well when in place, and offers occupants decent amounts of headroom. Curiously the slot for the CD player is located between the seats, an interesting choice when compared to other convertible rivals, but sound quality from the stereo was good with the headrest mounted speakers (a trick borrowed from the 80’s era Pontiac Fiero) standing out in particular.
Performance for my tester comes from Mazda’s SKYACTIV-G 2.0 liter four cylinder engine that makes a commendable 155 horsepower. While this modest amount of power means that the MX-5 will not be a good choice for weekend trips to the drag strip, it makes up for it by offering drivers two key attributes. The first of these is its all new 6-speed manual transmission. Shifts are on the short side with light action that makes this gearbox an easy unit to master. Clutch input is also spot on and it’s a blast rowing through the gears. A six speed automatic (if you must) is also available, but take my word for it and stick with the manual, you will not regret it.
The MX-5’s trump card however is its sharp handling characteristics, with the car tackling corners like a Ginsu knife going through hot butter. This car thrives on twists and turns, and will reward the driver with handling that is secure, composed, and direct though some freeway on-ramps on my route did make the rear end squirm a bit when going over road joints. The steering is also quick and accurate with exception to on-center where a slight dead spot reveals itself at times. The suspension is on the firm side, but it is not excessively jarring, and still retains an impressive level of comfort especially for a two seat roadster. Out on the freeway, the loud exhaust note and high levels of wind noise do get tiresome, but the MX-5’s agile reflexes allow it to squirt through heavy traffic with ease.
During my time with the MX-5, I also had the opportunity to visit my local Fiat/Alfa Romeo dealer where my tester had a chance to spend some quality time with its Italian themed sibling the Fiat 124 Spider. Whereas the MX-5’s exterior styling focuses on sharp angles and curves, the 124 embodies retro elements and slightly more elegance into its lines. The front fascia is a love it or hate it affair, but the rear fascia features Maserati-esque taillights as well as a more conventional design for the rear bumper. My Classica grade photo car boasted a $27,340 price tag and featured goodies such as a leather wrapped steering wheel, dual exhaust tips, and a special “touring suspension.”
Meanwhile my Grand Touring grade tester had a base price of $30,065 with the $135 keyless entry system and the $820 destination fee pushing the final price to $31,015. This pricing allowed my tester to be slightly less expensive than the Ford Mustang EcoBoost Premium, though the Mustang does hold an advantage in both raw power and engine displacement. Another contender is the Subaru BRZ Limited which boasts a lower $28,190 MSRP and also slightly more horsepower (205) from its 2.0 liter Boxer four cylinder engine. However, the BRZ lacks a convertible option, and its interior appointments fall short of the MX-5’s when compared side by side.
Overall, Mazda engineers did an excellent job helping the car re-embrace the finer points of its heritage, and we look forward to sampling the recently unveiled RF to see if it allows the MX-5 to conquer all aspects of the sports car market.
*Special thanks to Golling Fiat/Alfa Romeo in Birmingham Michigan for allowing me to photograph the 2017 124 Spider Classica featured in this article.