2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata - Small wonder continues thrilling enthusiasts


Hard to believe it’s been more than five years since our last weekly visit with a perennial favorite, the always entertaining, easy-on-the-wallet, Mazda MX-5 Miata.  

True, it’s not the most family-friendly transport, but it may just keep the family united after all is said and done.  Think of this this two-seat, open-top, rear-drive roadster as a guilty pleasure.  Leave the kids with the babysitter, grab your significant spouse, enjoy the winds cascading across your face and subsequent mood elevation. Arrive back home to hug said kids.  Plus, this much-respected icon commands top dollar during resale time as demand historically remains constant. Almost every metro region in every corner of America supports a grass-roots Miata Club.  

While not a $200,000 swanky-named track-specialty car, the MX-5 Miata can still hold its own at regional closed-circuit serpentine parks including Joliet’s Autobahn Country Club.  I’ve personally experienced light-weight Miata thrills in Joliet and at historic, elevation-shifting Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin.

While horsepower remains quaint, its well-balanced, rear-drive, low-to-the-round structure and outstanding power-to-weight ratio enhances handling and steering response. Expect and enjoy chattering teeth and G-forces at work.

It’s one of a handful of remaining choices offered with a standard six-speed manual transmission in multiple trims operating with predictable foot travel and easy gear engagement.  Two top-down choices include a black soft-top or power-retractable hard top, both with glass rear windows and rear defogger.  The reimagined retracting hard top received the coded RF, (Retractable Fastback) designation during its fourth-generation resign starting in the 2016 model year.

Miata MX-5 enjoys strong ties with the Windy City. Mazda introduced its scrappy little gem at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show (I know, I was there)!  For subsequent years thereafter, the February showcase served as the annual launching pad when debuting limited-edition models and next-generation efforts. The Miata quickly became the face and halo vehicle from Mazda.

During its third-generation debut in the 2006 model year, Mazda recast the vehicle as the MX-5 Miata.  The addition an alpha-numerical prefix in the U.S. reflected the vehicle’s identity in other world markets where the MX-5 moniker was/is prevalent. In fact, only MX-5 branding appears inside and out with no apparent mention of Miata in sight.  That's OK, the oral tradition of the Miata identification lives on here in the states.  It’s aged gracefully as MX-5 Miata cast a retro spirit since its inception, so the fact its minus an oversized touch-sensitive center screen or dashboard transmission shifter rates as a positive.

The retractable hardtop powers down in about 15 seconds with no latches to manually fidget open.  A chrome tab below the HVAC starts the action and must stay pressed until the entire process unfolds.  A flick upward opens the top, sending it rearward and stowing below the flat hard-cover presenting a clean appearance. Pushing down on the tab motors the top back into position.

It’s a ballet in motion as the triangular side support design behind the B pillar, including faux back side windows and glass rear window, lifts up, allowing the two-sectioned flat front roof portion to bi-fold down behind the bucket seats, after with the solid rear roof section connects back with the B pillar frame and front windshield.

Manually operating soft tops come in three trims: Sport, Club and Grand Touring with the power-motivated hard top trim choices limited to Club and Grand Touring.

Updates from 2022 remain minimal in 2023, highlighted by a new exterior paint choice available in the top two trims: Zircon Sand. The entry Sport trim adds LED daytime running lights and trunk lid mounted shark fin antenna.

While a trio of trim choices await, selecting the one available engine eases decision remorse.  All trims and tops feature a returning 2.0-liter, double overhead cam, naturally aspirated, four cylinder cranking out 181 horses. For optimal performance, premium fuel of at least 91 octane is recommended, although regular 87 Octane is acceptable when refueling the 11.89-gallon tank. Grand Touring remains the sole trim offering an optional six-speed automatic transmission adding about $500 to the bottom line in both soft and hard top versions.

Inside, it’s a cramped atmosphere with supportive bucket seating. The Instrument panel returns with a basic, easy-glance attitude with little high-tech overload.  Three circular orbs return with a large, center tachometer with small digital window illuminating numerals to properly time the manual gear shift and foot plunge during the lost art of slick stick sticking.  To the right side, an analog speedometer and leftward, an animated screen defaulting fuel/temperature combo with digital nuggets interspersed.  Safety concerns get flashed through this portal in animated fashion, such as when a door opens.

Three manually twisting dials monitor all HVAC requests and air conditioning needs.  No pecking through a touch screen to pump up the fan speed.  To date, the best mouse trap design.  Circular air vents anchor dashboard ends with a third right of the steering column above the electronic push-button start orb and a rectangular style under the multi-function screen, right of the red hazard button.

Occupants find themselves seated close to the pavement, an expected delight for most sports car, two-seat enthusiasts.  However, those mobility challenged or with creaky knees my find the trip exiting Miata a bit taxing.

The diminutive yet welcome seven-inch flat screen extends up above the dash and although touch sensitive, operates best through the dual dials between the bucket seats. It’s a design familiar in many Mazda transports branded corporately as “Mazda Connect.”  The smaller on/off/volume dial resides to the back with the larger, tactile easy-twist version ahead for pinpointing on-screen icons.  Press down on the larger orb to select the highlighted icon/command.  Three quick press keys (home, map, sound) reside ahead of the bigger twist. It’s somewhat intuitive with practice and easier to master than this description may indicate.
All trims enjoy Apple CarPlay and Android Auto interplay. Only Grand Touring comes with in-dash navigation other trims must pair up with Smartphone apps for step-by step travel instructions.

While new-school wireless charging remains absent, a pair of USB ports serve the purpose when powering up Smartphones. A small, covered storage spot is found behind the Mazda Connect dials.  Another storage opportunity resides far back between seatbacks towards the trunk with a fold-down style drop door. No traditional glove box in sight.

Our eye-catching Soul Red Crystal Metallic (a $595 extra and only option) Club RF trim with hard-top power retractable roof and Brembo brake package started at $38,950. The bottom line fell to $40,610 with $1,065 delivery charge. A Sport soft top starts at $28,050. Note: after April 2, 2023, destination fees readjust to $1,165.

Grand Touring includes 17-inch dark silver aluminum alloy wheels while Clubs feature dark black both holding 17-inch, high-performance summer tires.  Sport trims employ 16-inch summer tires. Club trims include sport-tuned Blistein dampers, a front shock tower brace and a limited slip differential.  

Opting to stand apart from the crowd, the taillight structure poses two circular structures rather than the trendy narrow design and light bar.  A narrow beak-like structure extends out from the circular taillights towards the rear fender.  Inside the beak, the amber turn signal flasher. Below the truck, dual exhausts extend out from the passenger side. Our flat trunk lid included a small black lip-type flair matching the black color pattern donning the roof’s top.

Expect muscular flared front fenders with bulbous-style rear fenders.  The diminutive truck remains identical in size with the hard/soft tops up or down.  While limited is size at 4.48 cubic feet in can hold a couple carefully placed weekend luggage pieces as shock-absorber-type hinges reside outside the cargo area. Just another excuse to leave the kids with babysitter.

A couple gripes since I’m a card-carrying, aging, Old White Guy.  A pair of removable, single serve beverage holders personify ‘after thought’ with their hanging basket design; both inconveniently located.  One grabs onto the right-edge of the center console near the mechanical, hand-operated, stick-like parking brake lever. The other basket resides back between the seats closer to the trunk than the occupants, interfering with direct access to the rearward storage pocket if in use securing bottles or cans.

Also, light-weight doors easily open, but with a wide birth, providing plenty of arm-stretching exercises.   Large interior handles could ease the pain of unplanned calisthenics.

Minor gripes aside, enjoy this roadworthy funster; the roadster of the working class.

Price as tested: $40,610

Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder
Horsepower: 181
Wheelbase: 90.9 inches
Overall Length: 154.1 inches
Overall Height: 49,0 inches
Overall Width: 68.3 inches
Curb weight: 2,452 pounds
Fuel Economy: 26 mpg city 34 mpg highway
Assembly:  Japan

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.