Pros—Fun to drive. Exotic styling. Fast. Sharp handling. Retractable hard top available.
Cons—”Drop in-Climb out” cabin. Snug interior. Occasional bumpy ride.
Bottom Line—Can more than a million buyers worldwide be wrong?
The 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata
RF Grand Touring 6MT two-seat sports car has the basic simplicity and reasonable price of the original 1990 Miata but looks as if it could have been designed by Ferrari stylist Pininfarina.
The front-engine, rear-drive Miata comes as a regular convertible or with a power retractable hardtop that deftly lowers with the press of a switch in 13 seconds and disappears into the trunk area, without taking up trunk space. Dedicated convertible lovers may object to the retractable model’s rear flying buttresses, which restrict rear vision, but I hardly noticed them while driving my test RF Grand Touring with the top lowered.
The hardy Japanese Miata was a copy of the unreliable British Lotus Elan, which few Americans knew about, and revived the affordable convertible sports car market in America. More than one million have been sold worldwide. It’s nice that the Miata—Mazda just calls it the “MX-5”— is still around with the vehicle market now dominated by SUVs, pickup trucks and the like.
The Miata found only 3,763 buyers in the first six months of 2021, up from 2,412 in the same year-ago period. It’s nice to know that some folks still buy a car for sheer driving fun, which the Miata abundantly delivers.
Miata prices start at $26,830 for the cloth-top convertible, while my top-line MX-5 RF Grand Touring with a six-speed manual transmission listed at $34,525. The bottom line price was $36,365 with options including striking Soul Red Crystal paint, which really brought out the car’s sinuous lines, and white Nappa leather upholstery.
Power comes from a high-revving 2-liter four-cylinder engine with 181 horsepower and 151 pound/feet of torque. The 0-60 m.p.h. time is just 5.7 seconds although there’s isn’t much grunt off the line unless you take off with lots of revs. A decent six-speed automatic transmission is available, but this is basically a no-frills sports car that most auto buffs will insist be equipped with a manual. The 0-60 m.p.h. time is almost identical with the automatic.
About that manual: It’s shifter is a bit stiff but has very has short throws and works with a firm long-throw clutch I found tiring after awhile in heavy traffic. Many younger folks don’t know how to use a “stick shift” and might be best off with the automatic, especially if they spend lots of time in traffic. However, I enjoyed playing around with the gears as part of the Miata’s true sports car driving experience.
Fourth and fifth gear are good most of the time, with third gear best for quick moves in traffic. Sixth is an overdrive gear for fast highway cruising. At 60 mp.h., the tachometer is registering 2,500 r.pm and a quick downshift to fourth gear results in quick 65-75 m.p.h. passing..
Estimated fuel economy is 25 miles per gallon the city and 34 on highways. Figures are almost identical with the automatic.
The Miata RF Grand Touring is quite low at 49 inches and has a “drop-in/climb out” interior. It’s best to be limber if you own this car, although the doors open widely.
The driver’s seat is set quite low, and shorter drivers might feel a little buried. However, the driver’s seat slides back a lot for long-legged motorists, and the adjustable steering wheel slides in and out and up and down for those of various heights.
Still, the interior of this small 91-inch-wheelbase car is snug, with a large console, and there’s little storage space. Moreover, the two awkwardly positioned cupholders are near the shoulders of occupants. However, Apple CarPlay and Android are newly standard. The touchscreen infotainment system with a 7-inch color display is OK if you take some time to master it, and there are hard control buttons on the console.
Upscale features include a push-button starter, heated front sport seats, power windows with a one-touch-down feature, Bose AM/FM sound system, effective climate control system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, parking brake and shift handle, nice stitching and piano black trim.
The trunk has a high opening, but is deep and nicely shaped. However, it’s quite small, although it will swallow two soft bags or a moderate amount of groceries. Fortunately, the very cleverly designed retractable top doesn’t eat into its room.
Steering is very quick. My test car handled superbly partly because it had a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers, a front shock tower brace, limited slip differential, front/rear stabilizer bars, 45-series high-performance tires on 17-inch alloy wheels, rear multi-link suspension, dynamic stability control, anti-lock brakes with linear brake-pedal action and a nearly perfect 50/50 weight balance.
However, the Miata MX-5 RF Grand Touring 6MT has a stiffer suspension and thus has a firmer ride than the base Miata. The ride occasionally gets choppy on bumpy roads but isn’t uncomfortable on most pavement. But this is not a long-distance car.
Safety items include a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning system, traffic sign recognition, “smart city” brake support and front and side-impact air bags.
Pop the hood at the low front end and you’ll see a surgically neat engine compartment with fluid filler areas within easy reach for those who want to check the engine oil or brake fluid levels.
After all these years making Miatas, Mazda hardly misses a trick with its latest model.