2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Miata offers more smiles per mile than any other car, and owners like it that way.


All you have to say is "Miata" and everyone knows what you are talking about. The equity in its name is as strong as Camaro or Mustang. One reason for this is that the basic design hasn't changed since it's world debut at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show. As always, the MX-5 Miata is a rear-wheel-drive 2-seat sports car. It is offered with a manual convertible top (Miata) and a power-retractable hardtop (Miata RF). Competitors include the Chevrolet Camaro, Ford Mustang and MINI Cooper. You could also consider the Subaru BR-Z and Toyota GR86 if you are okay with a coupe.

Both the Miata and Miata RF come with a normally aspirated 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. It drives the rear wheels through either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. The convertible is offered in Sport, Club and Grand Touring while the RF is offered only in Club and Grand Touring trim

Changes for 2022 revolve around a refinement of the suspension designed to improve handling. Called Kinematic Posture Control, the system utilizes brake pressure to enhance cornering stability. Other changes for '22 include reshuffled standard equipment lists and making the automatic transmission a top trim exclusive. Prices for the convertible start at $28,000 and climb to $34,000. Miata RF models start at $36,000 and rise to $40,000 on the Grand Touring.

Miata doesn't have the most powerful engine. In fact, it is the least powerful (on paper) compared to its direct competitors. But the Miata is also extremely light, meaning the somewhat underpowered engine gives it reasonable acceleration. Most peg the 0 to 60 MPH time at about 6.5 seconds. Quick, but certainly not fast. Improvements to the engine over the past few years have made it more responsive and more willing to rev.

With short throws and a perfectly weighted clutch, the manual transmission is a joy to shift. The tight footbox creates a perfect scenario for heal-toe driving -- should you be so inclined. Conversely the automatic transmission seems to sap a bit of the fun with slow and deliberate shifts.

Though sports car fans rejoice in the fact that Miata is offered only with rear-wheel drive, it basically relegates it to a 3-season car, rightly so. However, when equipped with a set of snow tires, the light and agile Miata can hold its own on Chicago's snow-covered roads.

From a fuel economy standpoint, the Miata easily provides the most smiles per gallon. Manual transmission models get EPA ratings of 26/35 MPG while automatics do slightly better with ratings of 26/35 MPG. But that doesn't begin to tell the story. Because the Miata is so light, if you drive it a bit like your grandmother would, you can average close to 35 MPG around town and 40 MPG on the highway. Of course, if you feel the need for speed, those numbers are going to drop into the mid-20s. Like most vehicles in the class, premium-grade fuel is required.

Getting behind the wheel of a Miata is like being transported back in time. To a time when the steering, brakes and suspension all worked in harmony. Think of it as mechanical precision rather than an electronic overlord, analog compared to digital. Combine that with a perfectly balanced chassis, light weight and short wheelbase and you have the gold standard of sports car nimbleness. For example, the front end responds to every turn of the wheel as if it were hard-wired into your brain. Brakes have plenty of stopping power and a pedal that's easy to modulate in panic stops. Of course, there are problems too. The ride tends to be busy and mid-corner bumps can upset the handling. Miata can be a bit twitchy on the highway, as well.

As for the handling-improving Kinematic Posture Control, it certainly can be felt. However, you must be driving 9- or 10-tenths to activate it. Basically, KPS engages individual brakes at just the right moment to settle the suspension and pivot the Miata around corners. It also enhances the limited-slip differential. Is it a game changer? No, but it does further refine the Miata's excellent handling without becoming intrusive or annoying.

As Miata is a convertible, noise can be an issue. There's lots of wind noise at highway speeds and plenty of tire thrum on concrete roads. Event the hard-topped RF is fairly noisy on the highway.

With classic analog gauges, a pull handbrake and traditional buttons and knobs, Miata's interior is about as classic as you will find on any 2022-model-year vehicle. Though a few touches like the 7-inch infotainment screen and digital information cluster add a modern touch. Materials are sturdy and class appropriate. About the only flaw in the design is there isn't enough room for a proper cupholder.

Drivers face a large tachometer, as God intended, and a smaller dial for speed. The infotainment screen is controlled by a jog dial that's quite user-friendly once you get past the learning curve. There are traditional rotary dials for the climate controls and stalk-mounted controls for the rest. In all, it's a simple straight-forward design that puts the focus on driving.

From a tech standpoint, all the expected safety features are on the standard-equipment list. Apple Car Play and Android Auto require a cord but are offered on all trims as standard. The Mazda infotainment system is basic and simply provides access to navigation, phone and audio. There's no deep dive into the owner's manual for various vehicle settings. Miata's only setting is "fun."

There's no denying the cabin is cramped. Anyone taller than 6-foot is going to feel squished and if even slightly on the heavy side, you'll be wanting a bit more room across the middle if you know what I mean. Head room and leg room are at a premium as you'd expect. Thankfully the seats are very comfortable, if a bit hard. It's also a long drop down to the seats, making entry and exit tough. Though Miata offers good visibility with the top down. Visibility is somewhat limited with the top up and on Miata RF models.

Storage space is at a premium. The trunk measures just 4.6 cubic feet and there is almost no interior storage save for a small bin behind the seatbacks. Convertibles have a manual top with glass rear window. It's easy to operate with one hand. Miata RF gets a power hard top that stows into the trunk. In addition, the rear window powers down to provide a convertible-like experience.

Bottom Line -- Though it has had plenty of recent improvements, Miata is old school defined. It is a throwback and thank goodness for that. You can't explain away its faults but get behind the wheel and you forget about them instantly.

Mark Bilek

Mark Bilek is the Senior Director of Communications and Technology for the Chicago Auto Trade Association and the General Manager for DriveChicago.com. He is also responsible for developing and maintaining the Chicago Auto Show Web site.

Mark has been reviewing vehicles for more than two decades. Previously, he was associate publisher at Consumer Guide, where he oversaw publication of Consumer Guide Car & Truck Test, Consumer Guide's Used Car Book, and ConsumerGuide.com. He was also responsible for publication of "Collectible Automobile" and various hardcover automotive titles. In 2001 and 2002 he served as president of a Midwest Automotive Media Association. Mark has appeared on NBC TV, ABC TV, Fox News, WGN and MotorTrend TV as an automotive consultant. He hosts the Drive Chicago radio show on WLS 890 AM and was a regular guest on WGN Radio's Steve & Johnnie show. Mark lives in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three sons.