2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Mazda MX-5 Miata still a champ


Price: $34,525

Pros—Fun to drive. Exotic styling. Fast. Sharp handling. Retractable hard top available.

Cons—”Drop in-Climb out” cabin. Snug interior. Occasional bumpy ride.

Bottom Line—Can more than a million buyers worldwide be wrong?

The 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Grand Touring 6MT two-seat sports car has the basic simplicity and reasonable price of the original 1990 Miata but looks as if it could have been designed by Ferrari stylist Pininfarina.

The front-engine, rear-drive Miata comes as a regular convertible or with a power retractable hardtop that deftly lowers with the press of a switch in 13 seconds and disappears into the trunk area, without taking up trunk space. Dedicated convertible lovers may object to the retractable model’s rear flying buttresses, which restrict rear vision, but I hardly noticed them while driving my test RF Grand Touring with the top lowered.

The hardy Japanese Miata was a copy of the unreliable British Lotus Elan, which few Americans knew about, and revived the affordable convertible sports car market in America. More than one million have been sold worldwide. It’s nice that the Miata—Mazda just calls it the “MX-5”— is still around with the vehicle market now dominated by SUVs, pickup trucks and the like.

The Miata found only 3,763 buyers in the first six months of 2021, up from 2,412 in the same year-ago period. It’s nice to know that some folks still buy a car for sheer driving fun, which the Miata abundantly delivers.

Miata prices start at $26,830 for the cloth-top convertible, while my top-line MX-5 RF Grand Touring with a six-speed manual transmission listed at $34,525. The bottom line price was $36,365 with options including striking Soul Red Crystal paint, which really brought out the car’s sinuous lines, and white Nappa leather upholstery.

Power comes from a high-revving 2-liter four-cylinder engine with 181 horsepower and 151 pound/feet of torque. The 0-60 m.p.h. time is just 5.7 seconds although there’s isn’t much grunt off the line unless you take off with lots of revs. A decent six-speed automatic transmission is available, but this is basically a no-frills sports car that most auto buffs will insist be equipped with a manual. The 0-60 m.p.h. time is almost identical with the automatic.

About that manual: It’s shifter is a bit stiff but has very has short throws and works with a firm long-throw clutch I found tiring after awhile in heavy traffic. Many younger folks don’t know how to use a “stick shift” and might be best off with the automatic, especially if they spend lots of time in traffic. However, I enjoyed playing around with the gears as part of the Miata’s true sports car driving experience.

Fourth and fifth gear are good most of the time, with third gear best for quick moves in traffic. Sixth is an overdrive gear for fast highway cruising. At 60 mp.h., the tachometer is registering 2,500 r.pm and a quick downshift to fourth gear results in quick 65-75 m.p.h. passing..

Estimated fuel economy is 25 miles per gallon the city and 34 on highways. Figures are almost identical with the automatic.

The Miata RF Grand Touring is quite low at 49 inches and has a “drop-in/climb out” interior. It’s best to be limber if you own this car, although the doors open widely.

The driver’s seat is set quite low, and shorter drivers might feel a little buried. However, the driver’s seat slides back a lot for long-legged motorists, and the adjustable steering wheel slides in and out and up and down for those of various heights.

Still, the interior of this small 91-inch-wheelbase car is snug, with a large console, and there’s little storage space. Moreover, the two awkwardly positioned cupholders are near the shoulders of occupants. However, Apple CarPlay and Android are newly standard. The touchscreen infotainment system with a 7-inch color display is OK if you take some time to master it, and there are hard control buttons on the console.

Upscale features include a push-button starter, heated front sport seats, power windows with a one-touch-down feature, Bose AM/FM sound system, effective climate control system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, parking brake and shift handle, nice stitching and piano black trim.     

The trunk has a high opening, but is deep and nicely shaped. However, it’s quite small, although it will swallow two soft bags or a moderate amount of groceries. Fortunately, the very cleverly designed retractable top doesn’t eat into its room.

Steering is very quick. My test car handled superbly partly because it had a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers, a front shock tower brace, limited slip differential, front/rear stabilizer bars, 45-series high-performance tires on 17-inch alloy wheels, rear multi-link suspension, dynamic stability control, anti-lock brakes with linear brake-pedal action and a nearly perfect 50/50 weight balance.

However, the Miata MX-5 RF Grand Touring 6MT has a stiffer suspension and thus has a firmer ride than the base Miata. The ride occasionally gets choppy on bumpy roads but isn’t uncomfortable on most pavement. But this is not a  long-distance car.

Safety items include a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning system, traffic sign recognition, “smart city” brake support and front and side-impact air bags.

Pop the hood at the low front end and you’ll see a surgically neat engine compartment with fluid filler areas within easy reach for those who want to check the engine oil or brake fluid levels.

After all these years making Miatas, Mazda hardly misses a trick with its latest model.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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