The Mazda MX-5 Miata marks 25 years as one of the auto world's most popular and affordable roadsters. Last month, Mazda showed off the all-new fourth generation Miata, which is due out next year as a 2016 model. Currently, there is a 2015 Miata, which includes a 25th Anniversary Edition, but we drove the similar 2014.
Appearance: The Miata still has the gaping smile that was the signature look for Mazda for a few misguided years. Thankfully, it's gone in the next generation. But as Lyra says: "In other Mazda cars, the smile was annoying. But with the Miata, it's endearing." The design is still from the less-is-more school: a rounded body with only fender flares and a few character lines to provide visual interest. If it's drama you want, you'll have to wait for the 2016 Miata. Our tester had the convertible hardtop, which gives the car a sleek profile.
Performance: The 2.0-liter DOHC 4-cylinder is a high-revver — the redline is 7,200 RPMs — and it likes to be pushed. Our tester had the close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission with limited-slip differential. (A 5-speed manual and 6-speed automatic also are available.) Boy, this little car is fun to drive. Working your way up through the gears is quick and easy. The clutch is just-right light and the steering provides great feedback. The rear-wheel-drive Miata's handling is like a go-cart, and it carves up most twists and turns. Our tester's sport-tuned suspension seemed to be less jarring than some of the earlier Miata models we've driven.
Interior: This is not a car for extremely tall drivers or those with back problems. You wouldn't want to take a trip of any length in the Miata. It sits low, and getting in and out can be challenging. For a short driver, you'll have to "wear" the car since the pedals are far inset in the narrow footwell. But tall drivers may find it too easy to bump their knees on the steering wheel. That said, the visibility is surprisingly good with the top up. The convertible hardtop goes down with a push of the button after you release the latch. But we had a problem getting it to lower. After a little investigation, we found that there's a button in the trunk that sometimes accidentally gets pushed and turns it off. (Annoying!) As for the cozy cabin, it's simple, and somewhat dated: There is keyless ignition but you still have to "crank" the car with a knob instead of a key. This simplicity also is evident in the black-on-white driver's gauges and the rotary dials for climate and audio controls. Even in Grand Touring trim, the interior had a lot of plastic — but then this isn't a car that is about luxurious amenities.
Our 3 favorites
Philosophy: The pleasure of the next curve is a downshift away.
Top this: There are soft- and hardtop convertible options.
Horsepower: Proof you don't need a lot to have fun.
Hardtop: Remember those hardtop clamshells? No more. Just retract the top with a push of the button.
Simplicity: You don't need all the high-tech bells and whistles for a great ride.
Fun to drive: The daily commute got a lot more enjoyable.
The bottom line: This is a car that has one mission, which it accomplishes: to give you the maximum driving experience with a lower price tag.