Mazda MX-5 Miata Power Retractable Hardtop Review

Jonny Lieberman
by Jonny Lieberman
mazda mx 5 miata power retractable hardtop review

Why is it so hard for carmakers to get the little things right? Most of these guys have been building cars for over a century. Yet they put the pedals in the wrong place, or give their machine numb steering, or equip the interior with less style than a Day’s Inn. One reason: compromise. Manufacturer X could offer you perfect pedal placement, or share pedals between five models and save you a grand. Another case in point, who doesn’t want a convertible? Put another way, who the Hell wants a convertible? With the MX-5 Miata Power Hartop, Mazda has removed compromise from that particular equation.

Drivers in the know have always seen past the Miata’s mini-suppository shape and focused on its brilliant driving dynamics. No more. The “refreshed” MX-5 is now one of the best looking vehicles on the road, especially from the front. Finally, someone’s built a Japanese car that’s proud to be Japanese. The Miata shows the world an angry, fishy, warrior face, and I love it. I like the MX-5’s profile as well, with its elegant fenders, meaty arches and athletic-looking ten-spoke wheels. The back is [still] pure pabulum, but at least it’s massaged and sculpted pabulum that’s been fitted with business class twin-pipes.

Like the sharp front end, the new hard roof is a homerun. The origami-tastic top looks like something an autocrosser might bolt onto their track day sled. (You half expect to see a roll cage welded under it.) At a stroke, the hardtop casts off the aesthetic aspersions thrown at previous Miatas; the lid makes the car look serious. And it’s easy to operate too. Release a simple latch, press a button and read this sentence twice. It takes just twelve seconds to fold and stow the top, which is four seconds faster than a Mercedes SL550. Even better, all that mechanical slickness adds just 77 pounds to the car’s weight. And wind noise isn’t an issue until you crack 75mph.

The interior belies the Miata’s sub-25k sticker. Snobs will moan that Mazda uses plastic where they could have used wood, or that the leather does not come from pampered, sushi-sucking cows penned in by rubber band fences. Ignore them. At this price-point, the MX-5 sports one of the classiest interiors extant. Press the double-cool air vent buttons and you will believe. The steering wheel, clutch pickup, pedal and shifter placement are all ideally positioned, despite the car’s Lilliputian proportions. Normally, I detest steering wheels buttons, but Mazda has arranged them perfectly for tweakers who know the value of keeping their eyes on the road.

Like Mazda’s Speed6, the MX-5 has two personas. Leave the traction control on and you can take any turn at any speed and live to tell the tale. Of course, crappy pavement and a strong right foot send the little yellow idiot light blinking faster than a timing gun, but that’s half the fun. In that case, DSC stands for “Don’t Sweat Charlie.” Put the e-nanny to bed and the Miata transforms. Oversteer clocks in at the press of the throttle; only pilots familiar with the phrase, “when in spin, both feet in” need apply. Turning off the computer makes the Miata go from fantastically fun to an open invitation at Hoonatics Anonymous. Caning the wee beastie on the fabled Angeles Crest Highway, I aged the Michelin Pilots 2,000 miles in 30. The desperate squeal from the rubber coupled with the buzzsaw of the motor’s 7,000rpm redline was pistonhead paradise. While I could keep up with the motorcycles in the bends…

Sadly and predictably, the MX-5’s a little… slow. The relatively high-revving 2.0-liter I4 manages just 170hp @ 6700 rpm. Worse still, you only get access to 140lbs. feet of torque @ 5000rpm. Even when pitted against 2575 pounds of car, it’s not enough twist for a watered down Tom Collins. (Call me overly American, but I can’t abide losing to big, fat Yank-tanks at stop lights.) Equally troubling, cruising at 80mph, the Miata’s engine spins at 4000rpm in sixth gear, burning plenty of premium petrol. Future MazdaSpeed versions will no doubt slap on a turbo to fix the power gap, but Honda squeezes way more juice out of a normally aspirated 2.0-liter mill. Mazda’s mechanical minions should follow suit.

By keeping the price below $25k, the MX-5 sacrifices raw grunt. Besides luggage and ass-space, that’s it for compromise. It’s by no means a deal breaker. Combine the Miata’s legendary handling with the relative convenience and security (and coolness) of a hardtop drop top, and it’s clear that little Mazda has succeeded where no other automaker has bothered to go. Yet. The introduction of the first generation Miata back in 1989 was an automotive high water mark. The MX-5 Hardtop is déjà vu all over again.

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  • Detroit-Iron Detroit-Iron on Jun 27, 2016

    Was searching around for Mazdaspeed info and happened on this review. Kind of sad 10 years on to see how we all just assumed that Mazda would continue to make Mazdaspeed Miatas.

  • EapenD EapenD on Sep 01, 2016

    This nimble little roadster is still a super hit as it was a decade ago! But I beg to disagree on the wind noise part, at least with regard to my ride. The issue was so annoying that I had to mount a 3rd party Zefferus wind deflector to keep the vices of wind noise and buffeting in check. But I must admit that the equipment keeps my cabin serene and tranquil even after cracking 75 mph!

  • Jeanbaptiste Any variant of “pizza” flavored combos. I only eat these on car trips and they are just my special gut wrenching treat.
  • Nrd515 Usually for me it's been Arby's for pretty much forever, except when the one near my house dosed me with food poisoning twice in about a year. Both times were horrible, but the second time was just so terrible it's up near the top of my medical horror stories, and I have a few of those. Obviously, I never went to that one again. I'm still pissed at Arby's for dropping Potato Cakes, and Culver's is truly better anyway. It will be Arby's fish for my "cheat day", when I eat what I want. No tartar sauce and no lettuce on mine, please. And if I get a fish and a French Dip & Swiss? Keep the Swiss, and the dip, too salty. Just the meat and the bread for me, thanks. The odds are about 25% that they will screw one or both of them up and I will have to drive through again to get replacement sandwiches. Culver's seems to get my order right many times in a row, but if I hurry and don't check my order, that's when it's screwed up and garbage to me. My best friend lives on Starbucks coffee. I don't understand coffee's appeal at all. Both my sister and I hate anything it's in. It's like green peppers, they ruin everything they touch. About the only things I hate more than coffee are most condiments, ranked from most hated to..who cares..[list=1][*]Tartar sauce. Just thinking about it makes me smell it in my head. A nod to Ranch here too. Disgusting. [/*][*]Mayo. JEEEEZUS! WTF?[/*][*]Ketchup. Sweet puke tasting sludge. On my fries? Salt. [/*][*]Mustard. Yikes. Brown, yellow, whatever, it's just awful.[/*][*]Pickles. Just ruin it from the pickle juice. No. [/*][*]Horsey, Secret, whatever sauce. Gross. [/*][*]American Cheese. American Sleeze. Any cheese, I don't want it.[/*][*]Shredded lettuce. I don't hate it, but it's warm and what's the point?[/*][*]Raw onion. Totally OK, but not something I really want. Grilled onions is a whole nother thing, I WANT those on a burger.[/*][*]Any of that "juice" that Subway and other sandwich places want to put on. NO, HELL NO! Actually, move this up to #5. [/*][/list=1]
  • SPPPP It seems like a really nice car that's just still trying to find its customer.
  • MRF 95 T-Bird I owned an 87 Thunderbird aka the second generation aero bird. It was a fine driving comfortable and very reliable car. Quite underrated compared to the GM G-body mid sized coupes since unlike them they had rack and pinion steering and struts on all four wheels plus fuel injection which GM was a bit late to the game on their mid and full sized cars. When I sold it I considered a Mark VII LSC which like many had its trouble prone air suspension deleted and replaced with coils and struts. Instead I went for a MN-12 Thunderbird.
  • SCE to AUX Somebody got the bill of material mixed up and never caught it.Maybe the stud was for a different version (like the 4xe) which might use a different fuel tank.