By on December 17, 2021

Yes, you read that headline correctly. For the upcoming 2022 model year, Mazda has binned the automatic transmission in all trims of the sporty MX-5 roadster save for its most spendy spec, the Grand Touring. Don’t say Hiroshima isn’t doing its part to #SaveTheManuals.

And we know – not every automatic is objectively worse than its manual counterpart. In fact, there are plenty of high-performance examples in which the auto is quicker in the run to 60 mph than when equipped with a row-yer-own gearbox. Nevertheless, it remains our opinion that stickshifts offer a far more engaging drive experience, even if it can add a couple of tenths to your time slip in some vehicles.

As for the MX-5, that’s one rig in which a manual transmission should be the default choice. And for the coming year, it very nearly is. Both the Sport and Club trims will only offer the sweet-shifting six-speed manual, meaning most of its lineup will not be available with an automatic gearbox. This will make good use of the little scamp’s excellent power-to-weight ratio, to say nothing of playing well with its nimble handling.

Reasons for the change are not immediately clear, though it’s not unreasonable to speculate it is related to the ongoing worldwide chip shortage. If so, it’s probably the only welcome consequence of this whole supply chain debacle. There are no changes to the engine output, a 2.0L mill continues to deliver 181 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Keeping this powerplant on the boil is easy with the six-speed stick, as customers of the ’22 Sport and Club are sure to discover next year.

Mazda has fettled with the onboard driving nannies, creating what they’re calling a Kinematic Posture Control which has nothing to do with the car’s seats and posture of the driver. Rather, the new system takes advantage of good rear suspension geometry and applies very slight braking to the inner rear wheel during high-g cornering. This pulls down on that part of the car, allegedly suppressing body roll and making steering response feel more linear through tight corners. Mazda says the system doles out slightly stronger braking forces when accelerating through a corner, apparently enhancing the limited-slip effect.

Americans can still strap into an MX-5 ragtop for well under 30 grand, with the 2022 MX-5 Sport checking in at $27,300. The next-rung Club starts at $30,800 but adds $4,500 if you wish to spec the optional Brembo/BBS/Recaro package. An automatic-equipped GT will run you $32,300 in 2022, with the manual transmission variant adding $500 to that sum.

[Image: Mazda]

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27 Comments on “Stick With It: Mazda MX-5 Drops Automatic in Most Trims...”

  • avatar

    “the new system takes advantage of good rear suspension geometry and applies very slight braking to the inner rear wheel during high-g cornering”

    I want to be driving this vehicle in the rain 15 years from now when that system starts to glitch. Kidding. (But keep in mind that the *average* vehicle age for the U.S. is 12.1 years.)

    [This vehicle is incredibly lightweight for a Mazda – they do know how to do it. Also, this vehicle has put on a relatively minor amount of weight in the 30 years from 1990 to 2020 – which fact I shall file away for future use.]

  • avatar

    Still the best manual shifter/short throws of any car out there. This and the long gone (and sorely missed) S2000 were probably the two best manuals out there, and were easy to drive hard. The RX-8 and RSX Type-S I’ve owned also had very short and direct throws. If you make a manual both easy and rewarding to drive, there will be buyers. I’ve driven numerous BMW manuals and I’ve always wondered what the fuss was about with how good they were – I found them pretty rubbery and had a sloppy side-to-side feel. But the throws were short.

    Given the direction Mazda is going after the ND2 generation of the MX-5 comes out, this might be the end of the road when this generation wraps up. Once the VW mess wraps up (FreedMike – I’m now working directly with a VW of America rep and also the business manager at the dealer who sold me the car to get this resolved), I might have to break down and finally get rid of the MX-5 itch I’ve had for 30 years.

    • 0 avatar

      I think it’s whatever you’re used to that dictates what feels right. I’ve got a mid-2000s 328i with a manual and think it’s great.

      Other manuals I’ve driven over the years:

      Chevy SS
      Audi A3
      New GLI

      The Chevy SS and Boxster had really great manuals. They felt very similar to each other and I thought both were better than the BMW.

      The VW/Audi manuals are good, but felt a little less ‘sure’ being shifted, which is a snotty way of saying it didn’t feel as good as the 3er.

      I’ve never driven a Miata manual, as I have a hard time fitting in the car. I have the torso of someone 6’6, but the legs of someone 5’10. My head sticks out of the Miata no matter what I do. I fit in the Boxster just fine.

      • 0 avatar

        True – feel is 100% what you like in a car. I love the little “snick-snick” feel, almost like a snap or a click when it goes into a gear. The MX-5 is just perfect for that. 1.6 inch throws, easy clutch, and easy to master.

        The hardest stick shift I’ve driven? A C4 Corvette comes to mind. The left leg of anyone who drives a C4 daily has to be double the strength of the right leg. And the 1st gen Viper felt like it belonged in industrial equipment. But with that much power and torque, you don’t have to shift too much around town.

        When I got my GLI, there were zero manual transmission GTI and GLIs in the 250 mile radius around me. I wanted a stick shift one so badly. That midrange torque with a stick = a lot of fun.

        A few 2022 Mazda MX-5 Club and GT models are starting to appear in the “coming soon” frames of new car inventories. If the price is right, it’ll be hard to say no.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m about 6′ and also “long of torso” and couldn’t get the seat to angle back far enough in the NA and NB. With the NC they managed to carve out just enough room to make it work – so I got the 2nd PRHT I saw back in Nov 2006. My prior ride was a 2000 Prelude and I’d describe them both about the same in the effort and clarity department but the Mazda just feels more mechanical, like there’s something definitely clicking into place (likely since the lever isn’t making a long-distance call to the front of the car). I’ve sat in an ND2 RF and had enough room to make a fist over my head, so that’s gonna happen. Haven’t driven one because I know the pin’s out of the grenade with that. If anyone wants a 2007 Black PRHT mechanically sound with 118K miles but total crap paint, hit me up.

        Was pleased to see there’s not much of an increase coming in 22 but with FREEMAN MAZDA IN IRVING TX (did I say that out loud? Whoops) insisting they’re adding a $1300 “protection package” to each one, they’re off the list.

    • 0 avatar
      MRF 95 T-Bird

      I briefly considered an RX-8 but the Renesis rotary scared me off. Nonetheless the manual transmission in them has nice short throws like an early RX-7 or any Miata.
      Every Honda that I have owned or driven going back to my sisters 1980 Civic LE hatchback has had slick and smooth manual gearboxes.
      The BRZ/86 has a nice manual though I’ve driven one with the automatic and paddle shifters which still has a sporty feel.

    • 0 avatar

      I drove an 86 MR2 for 29 years, and when it finally blew three head gaskets and had connecting rod bearing failures (at 473K and 533K miles), I finally replaced it with a 2015 Mazda 3. If that is the same six speed as in a Miata, I’d rather have the MR2 five speed. The Mazda shifter wasn’t bad, but it had no character.

  • avatar

    I can’t think of anything more mediocre in a sports car than a slush box tied to an anemic NA 4 cyl engine.

  • avatar

    Yes, Virginia, there IS a Sanity Clause.

    But I’m keeping my Merlot.

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    I have previously mentioned that I got a rental Miata RF back in October which of course came with the automatic. It was the first/only Miata I had ever driven and I understand that you don’t buy auto Miatas.

    However, I have to say that the automatic it had was VERY good. I used to have a 2000 Civic with an auto that was the only one I had driven that seemed intelligent – as in to say it knew when to downshift. Generally when I start slowing to make a turn, most automatics I’ve driven will lazily wait for the next throttle application before deciding what to do next. With that Civic, and the Miata as well, the transmission would downshift on its own when it sensed the car was slowing in certain ways to not only be prepared for the next acceleration but also to aid in slowing the car.

    I futzed around with the paddle shifting in the Miata but as with every car I’ve ever driven with them I quickly decided I would let the car do its thing. It was very responsive and there was no noticeable lag, but it doesn’t give you the same sense of satisfaction when shifting a real manual and I find myself wondering what the point is.

    Driving the auto Miata was enough to thoroughly convince me that I want to buy a manual one.
    I am not going to say I am a fan of Mazda doing away with the auto as I support having more choice rather than less as all the cars I like are eliminated in favor of jellybean SUVs. There are people out there who want the driving experience of a Miata but are either unable or incapable of driving a manual. But, as I mentioned, I wouldn’t get one for myself with the manual available.

  • avatar
    Vae Victis

    I’ve been waiting a quarter century for another RX-7, and this is supposed to placate me?

  • avatar

    “Reasons for the change are not immediately clear, though it’s not unreasonable to speculate it is related to the ongoing worldwide chip shortage.”

    I would speculate differently. My bet is that sales figures showed that the people who bought automatic transmission MX-5s tended to buy the highest trim and conversely the people who bought base models bought sticks. Since (per my guess) base- and mid-trim automatics weren’t selling well anyhow, they were dropped.

  • avatar

    Eliminate the automatic option.
    Sell fewer MX-5.
    Lower sales = end of MX-5

    • 0 avatar

      Or: A less complicated Miata lineup, makes it cheaper to retain.

      The Miata is something like the world’s most universally celebrated car. It would have to sell close to none at all, before it would make sense for Mazda to take the goodwill loss of dropping it. Mazda without the Miata, would e akin to a ship without a rudder.

      • 0 avatar

        it would be chevy minus corvette, ford minus mustang and dodge? mostly automatic take rate

        • 0 avatar

          Mazda is selling itself as the zoom-zoom company. Specifically because of the Miata. Their other models are just ways to be as Miata as you can be, despite practical realities forcing you to not be 100% Miata all the time. Including forces you to drive a slushbox, despite you really being a driver who appreciates the improved driver involvement of a proper transmission.

          Ford and GM have much less singularly focused marketing messages. “Driver involvement” goes no deeper than coffee in Brooklyn over there.

  • avatar

    I assume this is the result of some sort of supply constraint, like many other recent decisions to cut low-end trims or add standard features. If you can only build a certain number of cars, no reason not to charge what that number of buyers will pay.

  • avatar

    Oh boy, Mazda announces two changes for ’22 to keep the interest up and get mentions in the automotive press! Gotta market!
    The Posture thing in fact sounds antithetical to the Miata philosphy of basic simple, non programed, leave it to the driver handling dynamics. That said the current ones have traction and stablity control, so the line has already been crossed.

    Speculation on my part. The Miata is Mazda’s halo vehicle, so I doubt they will dump it. In my dreams they will stuff a Skyactive X motor in it and hybridize it with a system like the original Integrated Motor Assist Honda Insight, which was light weight, and had a 5-speed manual, and the hybrid side operated invisibly.

  • avatar

    i remember when mazda was relatively known for durable small trucks. so much has changed

  • avatar

    Bravo Mazda!!

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