Just when you thought that the Mazda MX-5 Miata couldn't get any better, the third generation arrives with a power retractable hard top that is as sweet as the cherry on top of a sundae.
The retractable hard top not only broadens the roadster's appeal, it greatly improves comfort and security. Prices start at $24,945. The test car, a Grand Touring model, had a sticker price of $28,670.
The MX-5 was redesigned last year, and while the wheelbase is 2.6 inches longer and the width is up by 1.6 inches, this two-seater doesn't feel any heavier or larger, even with the hard top. Aluminum is used for the hood, trunk lid and throughout the suspension.
The retractable top is both light and compact. The front and middle sections are made of sheet-molded plastic. The interior panels are reinforced with fiberglass. The top panels are barely three-quarters of an inch thick, yet they effectively keep out wind and noise. The rear window has an electric defroster grid.
Dropping the top is a simple matter of undoing a central latch and pushing a button on the dash. Surprisingly, the folded top doesn't consume most of the trunk space, and that makes the MX-5 useful for short trips or weekend jaunts.
A small wind blocker can be raised between the headrests to help keep windblast out of the cockpit.
Slide into the MX-5 and the slightly wider cockpit feels as comfortable as an old pair of sneakers. The test car's bright leather interior and console were accented with piano-black panels that are a nice departure from the brushed silver that seems to be the predominant trim these days.
The stubby gearshift sits next to the driver's right hand, and changing gears is as simple as rocking your wrist. The MX-5 captures the essence of a traditional two-seat sports car as well as any model around. It's as if the mighty MG was reborn of Japanese parents.
The cockpit fits a wide range of drivers, although tall people may still feel crowded. There are three storage compartments on the wall behind the seats, cup holders on the console and bottle holders in the doors. A pocket is affixed to the back of the driver's seat and the passenger's side of the transmission tunnel.
Side airbags with head protection are mounted in the seats.
The all-aluminum, 166-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine has four valves per cylinder and variable intake valve timing. It revs quickly because it has a light flywheel, and it's great fun to zip through the close-ratio six-speed transmission. A six-speed automatic is also available.
One-hundred-sixty-six horsepower is more than adequate for a car that has a base curb weight of 2,573 pounds.
A sports car is nothing if it's not fun to drive, and the MX-5 is certainly that. With last year's redesign, Mazda's engineers moved the engine back 5.3 inches. With two people in the car, the weight is distributed almost perfectly between the front and rear axles.
The 50-50 weight distribution and low center of gravity give the MX-5 the manners of a go-kart. It charges into turns with very little body roll, and the steering is so light and responsive it almost feels as if the car can anticipate changes of direction. The ride is firm without being harsh, due to the double-wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear axle.
The availability of a retractable top makes the MX-5 just that much more desirable.
Price The base price of the Grand Touring model with the retractable top is $26,360. The test car was equipped with the optional sport suspension and Bilstein shocks, keyless ignition, Xenon headlights and a limited-slip differential. The sticker price was $28,670.
Warranty Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
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