Pros—Blast to drive. Quick steering. Sharp handling. Fast. Fairly fuel thrifty. New features. Retractable hardtop.
Cons—Snug interior. Small cargo area. Drop in/climb out interior. Not really suited for long trips.
Bottom Line—Legendary reputation.
The Mazda Miata arrived as a 1990 model and was a modern, reliable version of the popular, affordable sports cars of the 1950s and 1960s, such as the British MG and Triumph. It was designed mainly for the U.S. market, when automakers had essentially given up on affordable, popular two-seat convertibles.
Wrong call. More than a million Miatas have been sold. Score a big one for Japan.
The rear-drive Miata starts at $27,650, and there are various models with either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. It comes with an easily used convertible soft top or nifty power retractable hardtop that gives it a sexy fastback roof that opens and closes in just 13 seconds at the press of a switch. The top vanishes into the trunk area and doesn’t take up trunk space.
I drove the higher-line $35,350 RF Grand Touring RF model with the retractable top, manual transmission and new-for- 2022 Platinum Quartz Metallic paint that enhances the car’s racy lines. It also had ($300) leather upholstery.
Miata models have a high-revving 2-liter 181-horsepower engine, which propels the small, light, 91-inch-wheelbase Miata from 0-60 m.p.h. in about 6 seconds with either the manual or automatic transmission.
Estimated miles per gallon with the manual is 26 city and 34 highway. The automatic’ s numbers are nearly identical.
Strategically improved over the years, the current, fourth-generation Miata has sleek styling, more power and better handling than its predecessors.
New for 2022 are the Platinum Quartz Metallic paint and a “Kinematic Posture Control” (KPC) suspension feature. It sharpens handling by applying small amounts of brake pressure on the inner rear wheel while cornering to cut body roll and improve stability and steering response. It also enhances effectiveness of the Miata’s limited-slip differential.
There was nothing wrong with the handling of earlier Miatas—its quick steering, sharp handling and short-throw manual shifter made it a blast to drive.
My test Miata had a nearly 50/50 weight distribution for improved handling, along with a sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein shock absorbers and 45-series high-performance tires on 17-inch alloy wheels. It also had front/rear stabilizer bars, rear multi-link suspension, limited-slip differential, dynamic stability and traction controls and the new KPC. Pop the hood and you’ll see the immaculate engine compartment’s front tower brace that further enhances handling.
However, although it had genuine sports car handling, my test car’s body leaned a bit more than expected when taking curves fast. The car never felt unsettled, but I expected completely flat cornering.
The Miata’s electronic power-assist steering is firm, quick and accurate, and the ride is 1960s-style Buick smooth on freshly paved roads. However, some bumps can be felt, and deep potholes jolt occupants. That’s one reason this is not—and never has been—a good long-distance car.
The brake pedal controls the antilock brakes and has a nice light linear action and “smart city” brake support.
The interior is snug, with a large console and has mostly high-quality materials with attractive stitching. The heated front “sport” seats are supportive, gauges are easy to read quickly and there is a tilt/telescopic steering column, which is a good feature because a driver sits very low.
There’s also a push-button starter, power-down windows, automatic air conditioning, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and a Bose AM/FM 9-speaker audio system. The 7-inch color touchscreen display is fairly easy to work, and there are dials and hard control buttons on the console.
But the driver’s cupholder is awkwardly placed near his/her shoulder because of the tight cockpit. Also, I found it impossible to turn the rotary dial on the lower left of the driver’s seat that adjusts the seat’s bottom half, no matter if I was in or out of the car. (A burly car delivery man who picked up the Miata from me managed to turn the dial a little with a grunt from outside of the car.)
The small trunk has a high opening but is deep and nicely shaped. It’s good for, maybe, just two tightly packed overnight bags or a light grocery load..
The Miata is only as high as the sleek, classic 1955 Austin-Healey sports car, so one must “drop in” (preferably butt first) and “climb” out, and there’s no back seat. The new Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ entry level sports car coupes are easier to enter and have a small back seat and more available cargo room. But they lack the reliable Miata’s devil-may-care personality.
The Miata is best with its manual transmission because the car is all about driving fun, although the automatic works well and is welcome in congested traffic. Although it allows quick shifts and fits the Miata’s personality, the manual calls for a firm push and can get notchy. It works with a stiff long-throw clutch that I found tiring in stop-and-go driving. I grew up shifting manual transmissions and often just shifted the Miata from second to third gear with no apparent engine lug. Third is best for quick traffic moves, while sixth is an overdrive gear for highway cruising.
Safety features include rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, rearview camera, lane-departure warning system, traffic sign recognition, high-beam control, front side-impact air bags and power heated side mirrors that fold against side window glass and thus don’t stick out when the car is locked to prevent parking lot damage.
The Miata has prompted Toyota and Subaru to introduce rivals to the Miata, but they’re not convertibles or the pure sports car that the MX-5 Miata continues to be.