In the Driver's Seat: 2015 Mazda Miata MX-5


by Larry Printz, Automotive Editor

Posted on August 30, 2014 at 7:00 AM

Updated Friday, Aug 29 at 5:29 AM

NORFOLK-- If you happen to be reading this after September 3, Mazda will have unveiled the fourth-generation of the 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata. Is it a big deal? You bet. According to Guinness World Records, the Mazda MX-5 Miata is the best-selling two-seat roadster in the world, with more than 900,000 built. It’s a car that has overshadowed Mazda’s other legendary sports car, the rotary engine RX, and best symbolizes Mazda’s sporting personality.

Given that there’s a new Miata coming for 2015, why bother driving the 2014? Simple. It’s a last chance to experience this iteration of the world’s only affordable sports car, a roadster inspired by, and carrying on, the British drophead tradition. No, the Miata is not a muscle car; its engine is small as is the cabin. There are no rear seats. There is no screen with a fussy infotainment and navigation system, only the essentials needed for spirited motoring. And, oh yes, the top goes down for al fresco motoring.

This Miata rides atop a beautifully balanced rear-wheel drive platform and 2.0-liter double-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine producing 167 horsepower and 140 foot pounds of torque. A six-speed transmission, manual or automatic, is offered on all but the base Sport model, which gets a five-speed manual. If you must choose the automatic, take consolation in the fact that it has the best steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters I have ever come across. The paddles mounted behind the steering wheel allow you to upshift manually. Two smaller paddles, mounted atop the steering wheel spokes, are for downshifts.

What makes the Miata so much fun isn’t just its rear-drive chassis, or small, lively yet fuel efficient engine, or its petite lightweight size, or its quick, direct steering. Actually, it’s all of these things.

There’s an old saying in the car hobby that it’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. And so it is with the Miata. Yes, it’s quick enough, but there’s some heavy automotive artillery out there that can rocket past a Miata during the pokey parkway grand prix. That’s not this car’s primary concern.

For some, some things matter more than speed, such as the Miata’s quick, direct steering, balanced feel and flat cornering behavior. This Mazda’s lack of mass can be felt when flinging it around, making this the ideal candidate for asphalt Andrettis who spend their spare time negotiating turns and traffic cones at weekend rallies. Credit Mazda’s use of aluminum throughout the car, including the trunk lid and hood, with saving weight.

Of course, if are using this Miata for sporting pleasure, then consider the base Sport model, which has a soft top, manual transmission, dual exhaust, performance tires, power windows and mirrors, air-conditioning and a six-speaker audio system. According to Mazda, this model tips the scales at a mere 2,447 pounds.

Most buyers opt for a Miata with the power retractable hard top, and it’s easy to see why. Unlike most cars that one, the Miata actually looks good when the retractable hard top is raised – a rare feat. And not only does it better insulates the car during inclement weather, it prevents thieves from breaking into your car with a penknife. It is available of mid-level Club and top-of-the-line Grand Touring models.

And, if you add the automatic transmission, you’ll also get cruise control, power door locks, power windows, remote keyless entry, silver seatback trim, trip computer, steering mounted audio and cruise controls and the ability to lower all windows from the keyless entry fob while approaching the vehicle. The Grand Touring hardtop test vehicle had a $1,390 Premium Package that added Bluetooth, keyless entry, alarm system, satellite radio and xenon headlamps.

Assembly quality was fairly good, although the dashboard seemed misaligned with the windshield pillars. The only problem with the car’s design was the seats; they could use better lower back support. That said, Mazda has carved out a lot of space for such a small interior, with sufficient room for glasses, beverages and small items.

In the end, I found myself falling for this lively little roadster. It’s become such a common site, it’s easy to overlook how truly special the Miata truly is. You also have to wonder why no one has successfully matched it at this price.

Yet, as much as I liked this one, I can hardly wait to see what comes next.

Powertrain: 167-horsepower 2.0-liter double-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 91.7 inches
Length: 157.3 inches
Cargo capacity: 5.3 cubic feet
Weight: 2,547 pounds
EPA fuel economy (city/highway): 21/28 mpg
NHTSA rating: Not rated
Base price, base model: $23,720
Base price, test model: $30,550
As tested: $32,735
Where to buy it: Cavalier Mazda, Chesapeake; Hall Mazda, Virginia Beach; Hampton Mazda, Hampton; Hyman Brothers Mazda, Newport News