Mazda has done a masterful job designing the Mazda MX-5. This third generation evokes the themes of both the original 1990 car and the second-generation Miata (1999-2005). The current Mazda MX-5 is slightly larger in every measure from previous versions, from what's beneath the hood to the interior to the shadow it casts on the road.
Great designs evolve over time, but always hark back to a central theme that defines the brand. So it is with the third-generation MX-5. In fact, it looks more like the original Miata than the second-generation model. The overall design is somewhat slab sided and both taller and more rounded at the front end than previous versions. But the ovoid shape of the grille is pure Miata. (The grille on the hardtop models is brightened with a delicate chrome ring around its circumference.) This larger-than-before opening moves more cooling air through the radiator and around the larger engine and combines with a pronounced air dam across the bottom of the lower opening to give the Miata's face a strong chin. So what if it brings to mind a largemouth bass when viewed straight on? It does what it's supposed to do. Compound, projector-beam headlights live in small housings deeply recessed and near to the car's centerline, which emphasizes the Miata's diminutive size. The hood wears a mini-bulge in the center, simultaneously suggestive of a scoop and of a similar bulge on the RX-8.
The MX-5 design has definitely evolved since the beginning, especially when seen from the side. Sharply sculpted wheel flares appear directly adapted from the RX-8 in a form the company calls Mazda design DNA. Flared wheel arches also spread wide enough to cover the new-generation Miata's wider track. (Track is the distance between the left and right wheels). The MX-5's track is three inches wider in front, two inches wider in the rear when compared with the previous model. This gives the MX-5 a more athletic stance. The MX-5 looks more aggressive and less cuddly than its predecessors.
The soft top is the best yet, and one of the best in all sportscardom. The top, with its heated glass rear window, collapses into a well behind the seats cleanly and completely, in a way requiring no cover boot. That's good, because there are plenty of times when you'd like to drop the top but don't want to take time to snap on a cover. Now it looks neatly finished when it's down, with no additional effort. As with previous models, it's manually operated, but so light and easy to use you can do it with one hand while sitting in the driver's seat. You'll never wish for power assistance. This is distinctly different from, say, the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, whose tops are far more involved to raise and lower.
The folding hardtop is a mastery of good design. The PRHT is a cinch to operate, quick to fold, and a miracle of space efficiency. Stop the car, put it in neutral (or Park for the automatic). Pop a single handle at the top of the windshield, touch a button on the dash and in 12 seconds the top has contorted itself into the same well the soft-top uses. The hardtop is made of lightweight materials: sheet molding compound on the outside and glass fiber-reinforced polypropylene on the inside. The entire apparatus including electric motors adds less than 80 pounds to the featherweight car, thus maintaining the MX-5's wonderful agility and balance.
A rear panel aft of the front seats raises as part of this dance to allow the top to drop into the well, and covers it back up once it's snuggled in place. Trunk room is not impacted in any way, a blessing because the MX-5 has so little of it to begin with. (Note that even some of the luxury-class folding-hardtop sportscars suffer here, because their tops actually fold down into the trunk and eat up as much as half the available cargo space. Not so for the MX-5.) A slight ridge sculpted into the PRHT's top cover is the onl
This latest generation (2006 and newer) Mazda Miata grew in all dimensions and it is more accommodating than before, but it's still a snug fit for full-figured or tall sports car lovers. Rearward seat travel was extended by about an inch, and you can feel it. Before, a six-footer had the driver's seat all the way back. Now there's a notch or two left in the travel. The car's expanded girth yielded an additional 1.4 inches in hip room, and it too makes a difference.
The trunk's 5.3 cubic feet capacity is made for a few small, soft bags, just enough to get a couple through a weekend trip. The spare tire was left out more to save weight than to add space for golf clubs.
Overall, interior quality and appearance are way better than any past MX-5 Miata would have led you to expect. Fit and finish is tight and smooth. Trim panels on the center stack fit flush and look expensively made. Materials are mostly impressive grade; the shiny black trim across the width of the instrument panel has the high-end look of black lacquered furniture.
The headliner of the hardtop's roof is finished in a hard flat-black textured covering that, if not luxurious, is certainly tidy. Even the base cloth upholstery is nice, with lightly woven, smooth-finish bolsters and waffle-weave insets. Depending on the weather, the cloth upholstery's waffle-like weave can be more comfortable than leather. That's a good thing, because leather doesn't appear until the top-of-the-line Grand Touring model. The base SV's urethane steering wheel and shift knob wrappings are obviously not leather, but they're not offensive, either. Likewise, in ergonomics, the interior of the new Miata rates both pluses and minuses.
The soft top is an exemplar of simplicity and ease of use. Release a single latch at the center of the foremost bow and with one hand push the top back into its recess behind the seats. To reverse the process, reach back with one hand, grab the latch and pull, and the top rises out of its well and settles onto the top of the windshield. Tug down, engage the latch, and it's done.
Seats are neither overly firm nor too plush, properly bolstered for the type of driving the Miata invites but with only acceptable thigh support. Be ready for noticeable lumbar, too, for which there's no adjustment. Nor is there a seat height adjustment. The tilt steering wheel helps with this, at least a little. The properly stubby shift lever is where it should be. The hand brake sits on the passenger side of the drive tunnel.
A single set of power window buttons is located in the center console aft of the shift boot, behind which a neat retracting cover conceals two cup holders. The center stack hosts intuitively positioned stereo and air conditioning knobs, buttons and recessed toggles that are easy to grasp and manipulate. A power outlet conveniently placed at the base of the center stack waits for a radar detector or cell phone. Four air registers are spaced across the dash in the hard, shiny black panel that changes to brushed aluminum for the Limited Edition. They swivel with a surprisingly expensive feel.
All gauges are analog, with a large, round tachometer and matching speedometer straddling the steering column and shaded from all but trailing sunlight by an arched hood. Fuel level is reported in a small circle to the lower left, coolant temperature by one to the lower right and, thank you very much, oil pressure by a matching triplet positioned top center between the tach and speedo. It's the kind of engine monitoring panel that sports car drivers love. Headlights are managed by a stalk on the left side of the steering column, windshield wiper and washer by a stalk on the right side. On the Touring model and above, cruise and secondary audio controls utilize the horizontal spokes of the steering wheel. The on/off switch for the stability control system shares space with a pair of switch blanks in th