2014 Mazda MX-5

By July 23, 2014
2014 Mazda MX-5

Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Mazda MX-5 Miata still defines what a pure sports car should be: A two-seat roadster with rear-wheel drive that's fun on the street and on the track. Mazda Miata is attractively priced, relatively easy to maintain, and won't break you at the gas pump. Adding to its attractiveness, the MX-5 Miata is a superbly engineered sports car when it comes to acceleration performance, braking, gearbox operation, suspension actions, and cornering behavior.

Except for new color options, nothing has changed for the 2014 model year. For 2013, the MX-5 earned a mild refresh, including redesigned front and rear ends. A new Club trim level replaced the prior Touring version, joining the Sport and Grand Touring editions. An all-new MX-5 Miata is scheduled to debut in the first quarter of 2015 as a 2016 model.

Miata was launched in 1989 as an early 1990 model and in all those years its character has not changed. Although Mazda has improved the Miata (while adopting the MX-5 designation, in accord with other models in the lineup) and updated the sports car over the years, its spirit remains intact. Most notably, this two-seater will still leave its drivers grinning.

The Mazda MX-5 rewards its driver with loads of satisfaction and excellent value. In fact, it remains the standard by which affordable sports cars are judged. With a weight distribution of 51 percent over the front wheels and 49 percent over the rear in the power hardtop model (52/48 in the convertible), the MX-5 offers marvelous agility and balanced handling.

The 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata is powered by a 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine that makes 167 horsepower (at 7000 rpm) with manual transmission and 158 hp with automatic. Both powertrains are good for 140 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy is about average for this league, with an EPA-estimated 22/28 mpg City/Highway for the 5-speed manual. Both automatic and manual 6-speed transmissions are rated 21/28 mpg.

Roof choices on the MX-5 include a simple vinyl or cloth top, which operates manually; or a Power Retractable Hard Top (PRHT), which features a composite roof that lowers in seconds at the touch of a button. The hard top offers reduced wind and road noise over the soft top, as well as increased security and a sense of solidity. Drivers concerned with weight should note that it does add about 80 pounds to an otherwise very light car.

A variety of MX-5 models, along with two suspension setups and dozens of dealer-installed options and accessories, allow for plenty of personalization. Track-day warriors might opt for a basic Sport model with cloth upholstery, manual air conditioning, a simple stereo, and 5-speed manual transmission. Those looking for a more luxe experience might choose leather upholstery, automatic climate control, the automatic transmission, and the upgraded Bose audio system, which remixes sound in real time to compensate for ambient noise with the top down.

It's tough to name any direct competitors to the 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata. This car offers the fun of more expensive roadsters such as the BMW Z4, but without the hefty price tag. Size-wise, the MX-5 has an edge over the Mini Cooper Convertible and the Fiat 500C. Both of those have a small back seat, while the MX-5 Miata is strictly a two-seater. Also, those other cars are front-wheel drive whereas the Miata is rear-wheel drive, which is why it is so much fun to drive.

On another level, enthusiasts might also want to look at the Ford Mustang V6 convertible, which offers track-worthy performance with larger dimensions and greater mass for a very different driving experience. Those who aren't attached to a topless sports car might also consider the Scion FR-S or Subaru BRZ, rear-wheel-drive coupes that are the closest to the MX-5 in terms of driving fun.

Model Lineup

The 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata is available with a manual folding soft top or a power-retractable hard top. All variants are powered by the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Sport models come standard with a 5-speed manual gearbox, while Touring and Grand Touring models get a 6-speed manual. A 6-speed automatic transmission with shift paddles is optional on all models.

The MX-5 Sport ($23,720) comes with a vinyl soft top and a 5-speed manual transmission. Standard features include air conditioning, power windows, cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, single-CD audio with six speakers, power mirrors, various interior storage pockets and 16-inch aluminum wheels. All MX-5s come with a tire-puncture repair kit, as opposed to a spare. MX-5 Sport is available with a 6-speed automatic ($25,980), which also includes a Convenience Package. Available as a separate option for the manual-shift Sport, the Convenience Package ($1,080) adds fog lamps, power locks with window operation from the remote key fob, a trip computer, cruise control and steering steering-wheel audio controls. Among the few options are an Appearance Package ($650), clear-film front/rear paint protection ($595), and Sirius satellite ratio ($430).

The MX-5 Club ($26,905) upgrades to a 6-speed manual transmission and comes with a Suspension Package, cloth soft top, 6-CD changer, and 17-inch wheels with summer performance tires. The MX-5 Club also is available with a 6-speed automatic transmission ($27,505).

The MX-5 Grand Touring ($27,550) adds heated leather-trimmed seats, a nicer fabric soft top, automatic climate control and a Bose audio upgrade with subwoofer. The MX-5 Grand Touring may be fitted with a 6-speed automatic transmission ($28,650). A Premium Package ($1,390) includes Xenon HID headlights, keyless ignition and anti-theft alarm, Bluetooth connectivity and Sirius satellite radio capability.

MX-5 PRHT Club ($28,665) and Grand Touring ($29,450) come with the Power Retractable Hard Top. Automatic-transmission versions are offered, too: Club ($29,265) and Grand Touring ($30,550).

Option groups for the Grand Touring include the Suspension Package ($650) with a sport-tuned suspension, Bilstein gas pressure shocks, and a limited-slip differential. The Appearance Package, for Sport or Grand Touring ($650) dresses the exterior in a front air dam and rear under skirt. Dozens of port- and dealer-installed options range from a cargo net to door edge guards, all-weather mats, chrome fuel filler door, splash guards, a rear spoiler, and wheel locks. (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Prices, which do not include destination charge and may change at any time without notice.)

Safety equipment includes two-stage front-impact airbags; seat-mounted, side-impact airbags designed to protect the chest and head; anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution; dynamic stability control; and a tire-pressure monitor. The passenger-side front airbag has an on/off switch, and that seat is fitted with LATCH child safety seat anchors. Traction and stability control are standard on all models.

Walkaround

In general, Mazda has done a masterful job designing and updating the MX-5. This third-generation Miata evokes the themes of the original 1990 model as well as the second-generation car of 1999-2005. Yet, the current MX-5 is slightly larger in every measure than previous versions, from what's beneath the hood to the interior to the shadow it casts on the road.

The MX-5 design has definitely evolved since the beginning, especially when seen from the side. Sharply sculpted wheel flares appear to be adapted from the high-performance RX-8 coupe, in an example of what the company calls Mazda design DNA. The flared wheel arches also spread wide enough to cover the current Miata's wider track. (Track is the distance between the left and right wheels). It's three inches wider in front, two inches wider in the rear when compared with the previous-generation MX-5. This gives the car a more athletic stance, making the MX-5 look more aggressive and less cuddly than its predecessors.

The convertible soft top is Mazda's best yet, and one of the best anywhere. The Sport model's standard vinyl top, with its heated glass rear window, collapses into a well behind the seats cleanly and completely, requiring no cover boot. The top looks neatly finished when it's down, with no additional effort. It's manually operated, but so light and easy to use you can raise or lower it with one hand while sitting in the driver's seat. No one is likely to pine for power assist, though we do appreciate the upgrade from the base vinyl roof to the woven fabric that comes on the Grand Touring model.

The Power Retractable Hard Top is a cinch to operate, quick to fold, a veritable miracle of space efficiency. Stop the car and 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 an impressively light car.

Other weight-saving measures include an aluminum hood and trunk lid, aluminum suspension components, and extensive use of high-strength and ultra high-strength steel in the basic body shell. These design features help maintain a sports-car appropriate weight balance of 51 percent over the front wheels and 49 percent over the rear (with the hard top). That, in turn, promotes the MX-5's wonderful agility and handling balance.

Interior Features

The MX-5 cockpit has no significant changes for 2014. Fit-and-finish is tight and smooth, and materials are richer than in previous generations. Trim panels on the center stack fit flush and look expensively made. The base cloth upholstery is nice, with lightly woven, smooth-finish bolsters and waffle-weave insets. Depending on the weather, the cloth upholstery can be more comfortable than leather, which comes standard in the Grand Touring models. The hardtop roof's headliner is finished in a hard, flat-black textured covering that, if not luxurious, is certainly tidy. Overall, interior quality and appearance are way better than old-time Miata faithful will expect.

The MX-5 is roomier than it looks. The current generation grew in all dimensions, and it's more accommodating than ever, even if it can still be a snug fit for full-figured or really tall drivers. Rearward seat travel was extended by about an inch, and you can feel the difference. In a previous-generation MX-5, a six-foot-tall driver would have to slide the driver's seat all the way back. Now, there's a notch or two left.

Seats are neither overly firm nor too plush, but they are properly bolstered for the type of driving the Miata invites. The seat shape has been refined for better lower-body comfort, while the backrest still delivers body-hugging lateral support. For taller drivers, thigh support is acceptable at best, and there is still no lumbar adjustment. The tilt steering wheel helps at least a little, and the seat-height adjustment is a welcome bonus. The properly stubby shift lever is where it should be, while the hand brake sits on the passenger side of the drive tunnel.

A single set of power window buttons is located on the center console, aft of the shift boot. 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 cell phone or other device. Four air registers are spaced across the dash in a dark silver panel. They swivel with a surprisingly expensive feel.

All gauges are analog, with a large, round tachometer and matching speedometer straddling the steering column, shaded from all but trailing sunlight by an arched hood. Fuel level is reported in a small circle to the lower left, coolant temperature to the lower right, and oil pressure (thank you very much!) by a matching triplet positioned top center between the tach and speedo. It's the kind of engine monitoring sports car drivers love.

Headlights are managed by a stalk on the left side of the steering column, windshield wipers and washer by a stalk on the right. On the Touring model and above, the horizontal steering wheel spokes have cruise and secondary audio controls.

The premium sound system has a function Bose calls Audiopilot. It goes beyond simple speed-sensing volume control by actually re-mixing the sound coming out of the speakers to help the stereo punch through the ambient wind and road noise that accompanies open-air motoring. Oversize speakers dominate the forward part of the door panels.

Water-bottle holders are molded into the space between the speakers and the door pulls/armrests. There's a decent amount of storage for a small, two-seat car: A lockable glove box that's surprisingly roomy, storage in the center console, and bins behind each of the seats with the soft top (they're sacrificed in Hard Top models).

Neither the soft top nor the retractable hard top impact trunk room. With the hard top, a rear panel aft of the front seats raises to allow the top to drop into the well, and covers it back up once it's snuggled in place. That's a blessing because the MX-5 has little trunk space to begin with. That's not unusual with cars of this type, of course, and many luxury-brand sports cars have tops that fold into the trunk, further exacerbating the problem.

The trunk's 5.3-cubic-foot capacity is shaped for a few small, soft bags. It's just enough to get a couple traveling light through a weekend trip, and it takes a decent load of groceries. Mazda has said the floor is deep enough for a case of tall, 1.5-liter beverage bottles. The spare tire was left out more to save weight than to add space for golf clubs.

Driving Impressions

The Mazda MX-5 offers driving satisfaction in its purest form, with the top down and the engine winding. In the two-seat sports car context, the Miata can deliver as much fun as cars that cost four or five times more. Yet, it's very easy to live with.

The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine revs freely and delivers good throttle response, sending its 167 horsepower to the rear wheels and giving the MX-5 a nice kick in the back end. We'd peg its 0-60 mph time in the mid six-second range, and that's plenty quick, especially for a car with a relatively small, fuel-efficient engine. Yet it's not just the quickness that satisfies. The MX-5's four-cylinder loves to rev, nonstop, gladly bouncing off its 7200-rpm limit. It always feels strong and healthy, even at the redline, and never raucous, tinny or overworked.

Shifting gears with the manual gearbox is a delight. The Miata has historically contained one of the best-shifting gearboxes on the planet. Its crispness and light effort have been pretty much the gold standard in manuals. The current generation's 6-speed doesn't quite match the effortlessness of the previous 5-speed, but it's close. The throws are delicate and light, and the lever goes just where you want it, as if wired to your brain.

The automatic transmission does well in stop-and-go traffic. In Activematic manual mode, gears are selected either by tapping the shift lever forward or back, or with steering wheel-mounted paddles. The Activematic function works as it should, too, declining to shift up even with the engine zinging along at its electronically limited redline, or to shift down no matter how hard you stomp the gas pedal. Shifts are smooth, but noticeable, in either mode. In all, the automatic works surprisingly well, but we must say: if you really must have an automatic, you might consider another car. The MX-5 only achieves full glory with a clutch pedal and manual transmission.

Playing with the gears in a sports car should entertain not only in how the car moves down the road and through curves, but also in what you hear and feel. The current MX-5's exhaust sound is a bit less satisfying than in previous generations, sounding more buzzy than throaty; except under hard acceleration, when it finally generates the sounds of entertainment. The exhaust note was something Mazda's engineers worked very hard at for the original Miata, and we miss its classic sports car sound.

Mazda's engineers definitely worked overtime to keep this third-generation MX-5 from gaining performance-dulling weight, and it shows. Liberal use of lightweight and high tensile metals, along with fresh thinking in such basics as how much a rearview mirror weighs, kept weight to within 22 pounds of the second-generation Miata. Dropping the spare tire helped, but the MX-5's designated dieticians still faced added calories from the larger engine, the head-and-thorax side-impact airbags, more robust side-impact hardware, larger wheels, and those stylish seatback hoops. This is a crucial reason the car remains true to its fun-loving roots. It's better, but it's not dulled.

Just as significant from the driver's seat is how the car's mass is distributed. The lower the mass is in the car's chassis, the lower the car's center of gravity and the more stable its ride and handling. Especially important for a sports car, the closer weight is clustered around what engineers call the vertical yaw axis, the better.

Imagine a broomstick with two five-pound weights attached. It weighs about 10 pounds regardless of where the weights are positioned. Put the weights at the ends of the broomstick, and try to spin it like a baton. It's not so easy to get started; and once started, it's difficult to stop. But move the weights next to each other at the center of the broomstick, and starting it spinning and stopping it requires much less effort. This is a simplification, but you get the point. And so did the Mazda engineers. The engine in the current MX-5 was moved rearward more than five inches from its relative location in the previous (pre-2006) model. The gas tank was moved forward and lowered in the chassis.

The MX-5's wide track and low center of gravity enable it to corner flatter than should be possible. With balance so close to perfect, and with the sporty, asymmetrical-tread tires on the Touring and Grand Touring models, an MX-5 holds its line through corners like it was highway striping paint.

Quick, left-right-left transitions on a winding two-lane along a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Hawaii succumbed to nearly perfect steering response: light but not twitchy, with good feel regardless of the speed. Crank in more steering to keep it off the rock wall on the outside of a tight switchback, and the rear tires step tentatively sideways. A touch of counter-steer and a soft feathering of the gas and the tires stick again, and away you go.

All of that is accomplished with the standard suspension, and the electronic stability control activated. Mazda programmed more latitude into the system, allowing the MX-5 to slide a bit more before the electronics try to reign the slipping in. Ordering the sports suspension buys a firmer ride and increased feel of the road, with the same controllable balance, but not a higher level of discomfort.

While enduring the bumpy freeways of Los Angeles, we found ourselves wondering if we could take this all the time. Running around the city might be cute, and it makes parking easy, but you have to get the MX-5 out into the smooth curves to appreciate what it really offers.

The Miata cruises well, though on the Interstate it can wander slightly in response to pavement irregularities or when passing through the wind blast of a large truck. When it must, the MX-5 can crawl along in stop-and-go traffic with no complaint. Clutch effort is so light, your left leg never gets tired.

With the top up, there's a little flutter of the unlined fabric at high speeds. Wind noise is well muted, although the rear window shivers a bit. Cowl shake, which afflicts most convertibles, is virtually nonexistent. That's a benefit of bracing the strut towers against the cowl, rather than against each other across the engine bay.

As for wind bluster with the top down, the small quarter windows inboard of the side mirrors can keep the interior calmer. We could discern no difference with or without the mesh blocker panel in place between the seatback bars.

A PRHT hardtop model tested on Michigan's rutted roads proved quieter than the soft-top version. The solid roof pays sound-deadening dividends, and the radio is a lot easier to hear. The extra measure of top-up quiet enables you to enjoy the MX-5's exhaust when accelerating hard through the first three gears. Still, the hardtop's cabin isn't nearly as hushed as the average sedan's. Road noise emanates from the rear wheels and comes up through the top's storage well behind the seats, and there's some wind flutter around the rear corners of the side windows. But the roof is squeak-free, and adds to the sense of solidity in what is already a very stout-feeling automobile.

Brake feel is solid, making repetitive and smooth stops a breeze. But the pedal pressure required is very light around town, necessitating a get-used-to-it period before your right foot learns how lightly it needs to tread.

Summary

Having aged with exceptional grace, the 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata remains a car to love. Simply put, it delivers what the elegant English sports cars of the 1950s and '60s promised but never quite managed: A delightful, capable, well-engineered driving experience in a vehicle that starts every time and runs seemingly forever, with near-faultless quality and reliability. Its optional retractable hardtop is ingenious, and extends the MX-5's appeal. The Miata formula has been copied, but measured by all-around capability and grin-per-mile factor, it hasn't been surpassed.

NewCarTestDrive.com correspondents Tom Lankard , J.P. Vettraino and Laura Burstein contributed to this report.

Model Line Overview
Model lineup:Mazda MX-5 Sport ($23,720), Sport automatic ($25,980); MX-5 Club ($26,905), Club automatic ($27,505); MX-5 Grand Touring ($27,550), Grand Touring automatic ($28,650); PRHT Club ($28,665), PRHT Club automatic ($29,265); PRHT Grand Touring ($29,450), PRHT Grand Touring automatic ($30,550)
Engines:2.0-liter I4
Transmissions:5-speed manual; 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic
Safety equipment (standard):two-stage front-impact airbags with passenger-seat deactivation switch, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, antilock brakes (ABS), with electronic brakeforce distribution (EBD), dynamic stability control, tire-pressure monitor, LATCH child safety seat anchors
Safety equipment (optional):none
Basic warranty:3 years/36,000 miles
Assembled in:Hiroshima, Japan
Specifications As Tested
Model tested (MSPR):Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring ($27,100)
Standard equipment:automatic climate control, leather-covered seats with manual driver height adjustment, leather steering wheel rim, shift knob and handbrake grip, Bose audio with seven speakers, 6CD changer and auxiliary input jack, cruise control, power windows, mirrors and door locks with remote operation, auto-dimming rearview mirror with universal garage door opener, trip computer, rear center console, manual folding fabric top, fog lights, 17-inch aluminum wheels
Options as tested (MSPR):Premium Package ($1,390) includes Xenon HID headlights, keyless ignition and anti-theft alarm; Bluetooth connectivity and Sirius satellite radio capability. Suspension Package ($650) includes Bilstein sport-tuned suspension and limited-slip differential
Destination charge:$795
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested (MSPR):$29935
Layout:rear-wheel drive
Engine:2.0-liter dual overhead cam 16-valve inline-4
Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):167 @ 7000
Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):140 @ 5000
Transmission:6-speed manual
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:21/28 mpg
Wheelbase:91.7 in.
Length/width/height:157.3/67.7/49.0 in.
Track, f/r:58.7/58.9 in.
Turning circle:30.8 ft.
Seating Capacity:2
Head/hip/leg room, f:37.4 /50.6/43.1 in.
Head/hip/leg room, m: in.
Head/hip/leg room, r: in.
Cargo volume:5.3 cu. ft.
Payload: Lbs.
Towing capacity: Lbs.
Suspension, f:independent double wishbone with coil springs, stabilizer bar
Suspension, r:independent multi-link with coil springs, stabilizer bar
Ground clearance:4.6 in.
Curb weigth:2511 lbs.
Tires:P205/45R17
Brakes, f/r:vented disc/disc with ABS and EBD
Fuel capacity:12.7 gal.
Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of July 23, 2014.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 800-222-5500 - www.mazdausa.com