The Miata hardtop has arrived.
And if you thought the soft-top Miata was a great little car, you'll probably be thrilled with the hardtop version.
I realize that some convertible fans don't care for hard tops, believing that only a soft top truly makes a car a convertible.
For those people, the soft-top version of the Miata is still offered. But for those who want the conveniences that a hard top offers - including more security, a quieter ride with the top up, and better protection from the weather.
Our test vehicle was so quiet with the top up at highway speeds that it wasn't anything like riding in a ragtop.
Mazda completely reworked the Mx-5 Miata for 2006, with a beefier new look. The new model debuted with only the soft top available, but for 2007, the hard top has been added to the model mix., with a base price of $24,945 (including freight) vs. $21,030 for the lowest-priced soft-top model. The hard top is offered only in the top three trim levels, however, so the $24,945 price is for the Sport hardtop model, whose corresponding soft-top version lists for $23,835. That means the hard top costs an additional $1,110.
It's worth the money, because other than the conveniences already mentioned, the hard top is power operated, while the soft top has to be manually lowered and raised.
Another great feature is the way the top folds into the space behind the front seat, rather than taking up space in the trunk. That leaves room for a couple of suitcases or two golf bags in the Miata's trunk. The new Pontiac and Saturn roadsters have virtually no space in their trunks when their tops are down (neither one offers a hard top, either).
The hard top also could help the Miata overcome its somewhat undeserved reputation as a woman's car. Whether the Miata could ever really be considered just a chick car remains a matter for debate.
More women than men buy the Miata, but men like this car, too. It has always been a good-looking car that is fun to drive, and those are attributes anyone should like. Men who drive them always seem to be having fun, and don't look embarrassed to be seen driving a Miata.
Besides the roominess in the trunk, the Miata also seems to have a roomier interior. I'm a big guy, and I found the car quite comfortable even on a long drive. I was in a the Pontiac Solstice a few days earlier, and found it to be so cramped that my right leg was hurting just a few minutes into my drive. With the redesign, the Miata - with either soft or hard top -- more fun to drive than ever. Throttle response was outstanding in our test car, the hardtop Touring model (base price $26,360 with freight) with the six-speed manual gearbox.
Steering also seemed more crisp than before, and the car had great road-hugging abilities on some fun curvy Hill Country roads. That might have been in part due to the optional sport suspension package ($500) on our car, which included Bilstein shocks and a limited-slip differential.
Even with the top down at highway speeds, the wind in the cockpit is not overwhelming, and I didn't need to raise the side windows to minimize the air flow.
Lowering the hard top down is quick and easy, and can be done while sitting in the driver's seat. A single lever in the middle unhooks the top from the windshield, and then pushing a switch on the dash lowers the top in about 25 seconds. Another switch beside that one is used to raise it again.
The soft top, however, has to be raised or lowered manually, although it, too, can be done from the driver's seat without even unbuckling the seatbelt.
With the top up, the Miata cools down quickly with its super-cold air conditioning. With the soft top, the cockpit is quite noisy whether the top is up or down, but it's amazing how quiet the car is with the hard top up. The top also helps give the car more rigidity, so it doesn't shake when it hits bumps in the road the way the soft-top models do with the top up.
The cockpit has more room than before, especially for small items and drinks. There are two cupholders in the center console and one each in the doors, a big plus over the Solstice and Saturn Sky. Behind the seats is room for a couple of purses or, in our case, a purse and a camera bag. One of the complaints about the original Miata was that there was so little interior space that if two women were riding in the car, one would have to hold two purses in her lap.
Nowhere on this car does the name "Miata" appear. Mazda has said that it was dropping the Miata part of the name with the redesign, calling the new model the MX-5 only. But the manufacturer's window sticker calls it the "MX-5 Miata," so the name hasn't completely disappeared. With the popularity of the Miata in the United States, it's going to be hard to lose the name.
Upon introduction in 1989, the Miata single-handedly revived the whole affordable-roadster segment, and was seen as a modern, more-reliable replacement for the little British and Italian roadsters of the '60s and '70s - such as those from Triumph, Fiat, MG and others. That formula didn't change with the new generation. The car is even more affordable than ever as the base price has been lowered to $21,030, down from just over $23,000 for the 2005 model.
This new generation is still instantly recognizable as a Miata, even though no parts carried over from the previous model. Compared with the 2005 model, this third-generation Miata is 1.6 inches longer and wider, and 0.6 inches taller. Wheelbase has increased by 2.6 inches, to 91.7, and overall length is 157.1 inches.
Under the hood is a new 2.0-liter engine, a version of the powerplant Mazda uses in some of its other vehicles, including the Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 sedans.
Horsepower was boosted to 170, up from 2005's 142. That is almost as much as the 178 horsepower that was found in the uplevel turbocharged MazdaSpeed Miata for 2005.
A five-speed manual gearbox is standard; and a six-speed manual is used on uplevel models, including our test car, the Touring model. The top trim level is the Grand Touring model, which lists for $26,955 with the manual gearbox and hard top.
A six-speed automatic transmission borrowed from the RX-8 is optional for those who would rather not have to bother with a clutch and manual shift. Still, manual shifting is the best way to go with a car like this, which is meant for people who like to drive, and who like the control that a manual shifter gives the driver.
The six-speed manual has a short throw, which makes the car easy to shift through all six of those gears.
With this transmission, our car, with its 12-gallon fuel tank, was EPA rated at 24 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway.
In the past, the Miata was built mostly of unique components. But to save money, the car now shares components across the Mazda lineup. It is such economies of scale that help an automaker reduce costs on the design, engineering and manufacture of new models.
The MX-5 is built on the same assembly line in Japan with the more-expensive, rotary-powered RX-8 sports car, but the two vehicles are completely different. The Miata is not a down-sized version of the RX-8. Among the MX-5's components common among several Mazda models are the antilock brakes, electronic stability control, audio systems, door locks, and some interior parts, the company said.
Among standard features on our Touring model were 17-inch alloy wheels, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, body-color bumpers, air conditioning, heated leather seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel, power windows/mirrors/door locks, fog lights, an aluminum hood, dual silver exhaust outlets, cruise control, and a Bose audio system with seven speakers. The audio system and cruise control can be operated by switches on the steering wheel.
The only other option on our tester was a premium package ($1,250), which added keyless entry and start (the driver can keep the key fob in his pocket), xenon headlights, electronic stability and traction control, and an anti-theft alarm.
Total sticker, including freight and options, was $28,670.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; email@example.com.
At a Glance: 2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata The package: Subcompact, rear-drive, two-passenger, two-door, four-cylinder, hard- or soft-top convertible sports car. Highlights: Redesigned for 2006, this is the third generation of Mazda's little two-seat roadster, introduced in 1989 and previously redesigned in 1999. It's slightly bigger and more powerful than the previous model, and has no carryover parts. For 2007, the optional power hardtop version has been added. Negatives: Limited trunk space, although much better than its key competitors. Engine: 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder. Power/torque: 170 HP/140 foot-pounds. Transmissions: Five-speed or six-speed manual; six-speed automatic. Length: 157.3 inches. Curb weight: 2,441-2,602 pounds. Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, power, antilock. Steering: Rack and pinion, power. Trunk volume: 5.3 cubic feet. Side air bags: Standard. Electronic stability control: Optional. Major competitors: Pontiac Solstice, Saturn Sky, Honda S2000, BMW Z4. EPA fuel economy: 23-25 miles per gallon city/30 highway. Fuel capacity: 12.7 gallons. Base price range: $20,435-$27,460 plus $595 freight. Price as tested: $28,670 including freight and options (hardtop Touring model). On the Road rating: 9.5 (of a possible 10).