2011 Mazda MX-5
Base price: $23,110 – 28,550
As tested: $31,300
MPG: 21 city/28 highway
- Fun to drive Excellent handling Retractable hardtop option
- Only for the small in stature
- Drop top very noisy at highway speeds
- Limited cargo space
- Stability control only available on Grand Touring model
By Jim Prueter
This little cutie zooms right into your heart
(Originally written as a 2009 review, this article covers the minor changes made for the 2010 and 2011 model years)
The Mazda Miata zoom-zoomed onto the automotive scene in 1990 and exploded in popularity. Now in its third generation, completely redesigned for the 2009 model year, and having reached iconic status, the Mazda Miata holds a Guinness World Record as the best-selling sports car of all time.
When the third-generation Miata debuted in 2006, Mazda dropped the “Miata” moniker, renaming it MX-5 to align with the alphanumeric nomenclature used in the rest of the lineup. What didn’t change about the spunky little roadster was its purpose — driving enjoyment. And Mazda actually improved its fun quotient with the redesign.
Having been refreshed for the 2009 model year, the 2010 MX-5 features few changes. It still sports an open-mouthed grin of a front end, and sculpted front fog lights. The model availability and color selections change slightly for 2010.
There are no changes to the MX-5 for the 2011 model year.
It is available in three trim levels (the SV base model has been dropped from the line-up): Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. A power-retractable hardtop is available in both the Touring and Grand Touring Edition, but not in the Sport. All are powered by a 2.0-liter, 167-horsepower four-cylinder engine. Sport trims are equipped with a five-speed manual shifter, while the Touring and Grand Touring get a six-speed manual. A six-speed automatic with paddle-shifters is optional on all models, but brings the horsepower down to 158.
The base Sport model is equipped with 16-inch alloy wheels, black vinyl convertible top with a glass rear window, power windows and mirrors, height adjustable driver’s seat, six speaker audio system with CD and a auxiliary input jack, air-conditioning and leather-wrapped steering wheel. The Touring model gets 17-inch alloys, cruise control, power locks, keyless entry, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, six-disc CD-changer and a trip computer. Move up to the Grand Touring edition, and you’ll get automatic climate control, heated leather seats, seven-speaker Bose audio system and silver accents.
The retractable cloth top is easy to operate: push a button, release a lever and fling it back behind the headrests, where it automatically snaps into place. The forward section of the Z-fold design forms a hard cover, eliminating the need to stretch a cover in place. The folded top does not intrude into the precious little trunk space.
The power-retractable hard top, available in Touring and Grand Touring models, takes a little more time to operate, and makes the vehicle a little heavier, but the payoff is a quieter ride that makes the MX-5 more palatable as a daily driver — provided you don’t need a lot of passenger or cargo room.
Inside, the cabin features about 50 cubic feet of passenger room. It is by no means roomy — not even close. At 5 feet 4 inches tall, I had sufficient head and legroom, but anyone approaching the six-foot range will not be a happy camper. Tall drivers can just scratch the MX-5 from their shopping list of fun cars to own.
The interior — let’s call it a cockpit — while small, is attractive and well laid out and feels just right for the car. The instrument clusters are straightforward with white numerals and red needles on black-faced gauges. The dash in our tester was a monochromatic, finished in shiny piano black graphite with matte silver accents on gauge trim, door handles, the three-spoke steering wheel, shift knob and console, air vents and the back of the seat headrest-roll bars.
All controls are simple and easy to use with twist knobs for the audio, heating/air-conditioning systems. Redundant radio and cruise control buttons are located on the steering wheel. Power window switches are located on the console between the manually operated seats, and there are cup holders built into the doors. We liked the lockable console bin between the seats.
Miatas are known for excellent gas mileage, precise handling, responsive steering and excellent balance from its perfect 50/50 front to rear weight ratio. On fast curves the car handles with aplomb when pushed hard, cornering flat confidently. The ride might be too firm for some as a daily driver, and there is significant road noise with the drop top, especially at highway speeds, but the hard top resolves that issue.
You still have to shift a lot but that’s the fun of driving a roadster. The six-speed manual is world class, with shift throws merely a flick of the wrist. We can’t imagine anyone opting for the $1100 six-speed automatic.
Accelerating from zero to 60 takes just over seven seconds. Don’t confuse the MX-5 with a racer’s car. It isn’t. It’s just as happy cruising at 70 mph as it is darting in and out of city traffic. The MX-5 is about the top-down joy of driving. It handles like a go-cart but, on the downside, often feels like one too, when driving on SUV and CUV-laden freeways.
Thankfully, side airbags are standard and have been incorporated into the seat backs. Front airbags, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, yaw and traction control are also standard, but stability control is available as an option only on the Grand Touring model. There is no crash test data for the MX-5.
Miata has set the standard for affordably priced top-down fun in a two-seat sports car. It is a superior vehicle whose main competitors — Honda S2000, Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Skye — have fallen by the wayside, leaving the Mini Cooper convertible as its only real in-segment competitor (although it’s not offered with a hard top). For other competition, you’ll have to look to the much pricier BMW Z4 or the larger Ford Mustang. The Miata, or MX-5, is better than ever, with much to like and very few faults. It’s unique in its simplicity and character, and resides in a class all its own.