I must have racked up some serious good karma last week, because when I left work on Friday I discovered beautiful blue skies, 70-degree weather, and the keys to a Mazda MX-5. It felt like the perfect day to lower the car's power hardtop and take the long way home, so I unwound from the work week by winding around the back roads of Ann Arbor.
What I love about the MX-5 is that you can feel every linkage and resistance in the manual transmission, each iota of grip and rebound in the steering wheel, and even the working of the suspension as you accelerate or corner briskly. The Mazda MX-5 is a car that floods the driver with the joy and sensation of driving. Although it's not especially fast and has only middling amounts of grip, the MX-5 is huge fun to drive due to its subjective qualities.
Most people will tell you not to buy the MX-5 Power Retractable Hard Top because it is heavier than fabric-top versions, negating the low-mass virtues of the MX-5. I found our test car just as lithe, fun, and nimble as I remember the stripped-out, no-options Miata we had here last summer, so I don't really buy that argument. In fact, I think the power hardtop is more practical because you could drive the MX-5 in winter or at a track without having to fuss with storing and installing a bolt-on hardtop.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
It's only because we include the information for every car we cover in our editor's notebook section that there are any vehicles listed under the heading "Compare to" at the bottom of the Miata's spec panel on the next page. Yes, these cars are similar in body style and price to the Mazda roadster, and each one is also quite good to drive in it's own right, but none come close to the pure driving bliss of piloting a Miata. Period.
The addition of the retractable hard top does take away from the unfiltered Miata experience a bit but depending on your perspective, this can be a positive or a negative thing. On the positive side, it significantly reduces the level of road noise that enters the cabin and it offers better protection from the elements. Plus, as Jake mentioned, the extra weight of the hardtop mechanism seems to have no ill effects on the Miata's dynamic qualities. On the negative side, the mechanism will only function when the car is in neutral, which for some might be an inconvenience. Because I'm short, lowering the cloth top in the standard Miata requires that I exit the car to fold and latch the top in place anyway, so I have to stop the car regardless. I found using the power hard top more convenient because I was able to stay seated in the car.
Basically what it comes down to is personal preference, rather than one Miata model being better than the other, so no matter which choice you make, you've made the right one.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms
"What. Is. This."
My passenger points an accusatory finger at the simple black plastic button marked RELEASE, where the power retractable hardtop meets the top of the windshield. I remind him that you have to manually lock and unlock the top to the windshield, like you do the manual folding soft top. The passenger looks incredulous: "So it's not really automatic. And that is some cheap, black plastic."
I summon up my best Clark Gable: "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." This car transcends such trivial concerns.
If using electric power steering is the equivalent of issuing one-sided commands to the wheels, the Miata's tires and steering rack want to have a conversation with your fingertips. The clutch is perfectly weighted and it wants to play see-saw with your left foot. The shifter's short-throws and click-clack accuracy make it a game of whack-a-mole that you win every time. The seats want to give you a great big bear hug and tell you that everything'll be okay. The engine note, augmented by a throaty intake growl, is a prolonged exclamation of "ohhhhhhhhh yeahhhhhhhh." After driving the Mazda MX-5 Miata, you will emerge slightly burnt, with messed-up hair, tingling all over and grinning from ear to ear.
It's fitting that my evening with the Miata PRHT Special Edition (which looks stunning, by the way) was the evening of my 22nd birthday, because this car really is a gift that never stops giving, cheap plastics and not-really-automatic tops not withstanding. Honestly, I wouldn't care if this car ran on two-stroke engine oil and all of the buttons had Cyrillic characters printed on them. The Mazda Miata is -- and I'm serious about this -- a faultless car.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
I'm ten years older than Ben Timmins, but there's no generation gap when it comes to appreciating a Mazda Miata. Heck, I know octogenarians, twenty-somethings, and people from all ages in between who adore their Miatas. "Driving bliss," as Jennifer Misaros already noted, is the simple reason.
However, I do have a few complaints after my most recent Miata experience, which nonetheless was sublime. This car's upgraded leather seats are much more comfortable when wearing jeans than when wearing slacks: I found myself sliding down in the seat in the more slippery pants. Narrow shoes are also recommended, because the footwell is fairly small. I wouldn't order a Miata with a hard top because of the increased weight, cost, and top-lowering time, but it does look attractive, especially in a contrasting color (like the black top on our white car with black wheels). Finally, I find that the six-speed manual isn't quite as fantastically smooth as the five-speed that was in our beloved One-Season Miata from the summer of 2011. Still, the Miata remains among my very favorite cars on the planet. I only hope that Mazda, which isn't in the best financial straits at the moment, can follow it up with another home run.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
This might seem counter-intuitive, but one of the things that makes the Miata such a great car is that it feels so much faster than it actually is.
Here's the best example: The other morning it was a bit chilly for top-down motoring, but I wasn't going to let my opportunity pass, so down went the top, and off I went to work. Carving my way along Huron River Drive at 40 mph is positively exhilarating in the Miata (and only slightly over the 35 mph limit). In most cars that feels like a crawl, and one is tempted to exceed the speed limit at an unadvisable clip. After that, I took a main thoroughfare across to the interstate and barreled around the long, sweeping entrance ramp, hitting the apex perfectly and launching into traffic with quick flicks of the amazing little gearshift. As I merged in ahead of a semi, I had that moment of "I better slow down and take stock of my surroundings before I get pulled over," and I glanced down at the speedo expecting to see high 80s when I just rounding 70.
It's not because the car is underpowered, or was frustratingly slow and I struggled to merge into the typically 75 mph-plus Michigan highway traffic. The car was perfectly responsive and would have been happy at 90 and gotten there effortlessly, but I was having that same fun without putting my license, myself, or anyone else in jeopardy.
"That's why this car is so awesome!" I said aloud to no one. There's no other car on the road that is so much fun at posted speed limits.
Matt Tierney, Photographer