The 2009 MX-5 Miata is technically the 20th anniversary model because the roadster hit the market in 1989 as an early 1990 model. Much has changed over the decades, including the disappearance of the Miata name from the car's exterior in 2006 as part of its third-generation redesign. The 2009 is still the third-generation design, but with a light restyling and improved gas mileage. What hasn't changed is the formula: small, lightweight and affordable, a class that includes the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, plus the higher-priced Honda S2000.
The restyling is definitely noticeable, as the nose extends lower and the grille is now larger and smile-shaped. The headlights are more shapely. The rear bumper is also deeper and wider, with a more prominent crease on the side. The tailpipes are now flush with the bumper. The wheels, in both 16 and 17 inches, are new designs. Mazda says the side sills and taillights are also reshaped, but it's mainly for aerodynamics and they're not easily distinguishable from the 2008's.
The MX-5 comes with either a manual soft-top or a power-retractable hardtop. Though the hardtop panels store out of sight behind the seats, they don't sacrifice trunk space versus the soft-top, which is unheard of in this type of convertible. Though the trunk isn't large to begin with, it's volume is more than double those of the Solstice and Sky.
Likewise, the car is small, but the two-seat configuration provides more driver space than you might expect. Since 2008, all trim levels have included a driver's seat height adjustment, which removes the arbitrary compromise that had served neither short nor tall drivers. Redesigned for 2009, the seats have a bit more side bolstering. The door and center armrests are now padded. An auxiliary audio input for MP3 players and the like is now standard. The piano-black interior trim has been replaced by faux metal. Heated seats, available in the Grand Touring trim level, now have five settings.
Under the Hood
A 2.0-liter four-cylinder powers the Miata with 158 horsepower when teamed with the optional six-speed automatic transmission. When equipped with the five- or six-speed manual, it produces 167 hp, a 1 hp increase over last year. The change comes from a higher redline with the manual: 7,200 rpm, rather than 6,700 rpm with the automatic. The power increase is negligible, but it gives the driver a little more "headroom" in each gear before hitting the rev limiter or needing to upshift. The automatic is programmed to upshift before hitting the rev limiter.
EPA mileage estimates have increased by 1 mpg on the highway with the five-speed manual, and 1 mpg overall with the six-speed automatic.
As always, the MX-5 has rear-wheel drive with optimal front-rear weight distribution. Mazda retuned the suspension for 2009 with the goal of improving road feel. It also revised the engine's intake runner for a sportier sound.
The MX-5 has the mandated front airbags, and because there's no backseat for carrying children or small adults, the passenger's airbag can be deactivated. Side-impact airbags are standard, as are antilock disc brakes. An electronic stability system with traction control is an option offered only on the top, Grand Touring trim level.
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