2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PRHT Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PRHT

Mazda's MX-5 Miata became the best-selling two-seat sports car of all time by virtue of its many virtues. A long production run certainly helped, too - the car debuted in 1989, reviving what was then a moribund sector of automobiledom, and was well into its second generation when the popularity milestone was achieved in 2000. The third generation MX-5 furthered that success after its 2006 introduction with a much-improved chassis, more interior space, and notably more power from a larger, 2.0-liter engine. Tall people could fit more comfortably in the car, and the chassis and engine improvements kept it solidly competitive with new - and usually much more expensive - competitors.

Although some of those competitors have power-operated convertible tops, the regular MX5's is still manual, and for good reason. In a car of its small size, operating the top is simple, and quick. And a manual soft top is simpler and lighter than a power one, not to mention less expensive.

Still, even with a model range from the basic "Special Value" SV to the leather-trimmed Grand Touring premium version, Mazda has found yet another niche for the Miata to occupy. For potential MX-5 customers who might want more protection from the elements - both natural and human - than is offered by a soft convertible top and more convenience than from a detachable hard top, Mazda has vaulted right over a power soft top with the MX-5 Miata Power Retractable Hard Top. That's PRHT for short, Mazda's term.

Yes, the power retracting top adds weight - about 80 pounds. That's a minor amount to anyone besides a racer, and it provides a major benefit in top-up refinement. The three-piece top is made from plastic composite materials, and like the regular soft top features a heated glass backlight for long-term, year-round visibility. Because the cockpit opening for the PRHT is larger than that of the regular MX-5 - about two inches wider and three longer - and the top and its mechanism weigh more, surrounding body panels are a little thicker and reinforced. The convertible's aluminum trunk lid is exchanged for steel, and there are minor suspension revisions.

The PRHT is far more convenient than a separate detachable hard top that needs to be stored when not in use, and that turns the car into a coupe when in use. After manually unlatching or latching, it goes up or down at the touch of a button in 12 seconds. It fits into an area between the seats and the trunk, so trunk capacity is preserved. If the trunk's 5.3 cubic feet seems small, it's big enough for light weekend travel for two, and about 5.2 cft larger than the trunks of some competitors, top-down.

My week with a top-of-the-line MX-5 Grand Touring PRHT saw some triple-digit temperatures. Heatstroke is not my idea of fun so, top up, AC on, no problem. Like that, it's quieter inside the hardtop than in the soft top, and top-down they're identical. As in the soft-top, the Grand Touring hardtop edges toward luxury with the most upscale fitment of the line, so the additional weight of the hardtop is of less concern. Pack light, and it is truly can be a grand car for touring scenic roads.

APPEARANCE: Top-down, differences between the MX-5 convertible and folding hardtop are few. It's a small car with classic long-hood, short-deck two-seat sports car proportions and rounded lines. RX-8-influenced wheel arches complement the simple body shape, and the lines sculpted into the hood break up an otherwise large expanse of sheetmetal. The Miata has grown from rather the derivative styling of the first two generations to a look of its own that is timeless - neither self-consciously modern nor retro, it would have fit into the sports car scene of the 1960s as easily as it fits today. A truly close look will show that the panel behind the cockpit bulges up ever so slightly on the hardtop, and that the hardtop's grille is surrounded by a thin chrome trim ring and its door handles have chrome trim. Top-up, the difference is obvious, as a seam near the rear of the side windows proclaims that it is not a plain detachable hardtop.

COMFORT: The MX-5's Grand Touring trim level is, to me, the most appropriate for the PRHT. With its more upscale interior, including leather seating and faux-leather trim and an upgraded Bose 7-speaker AM/FM/Sirius satellite radio/CD audio system, it's the most comfort-oriented model in the lineup. It's not luxury in the style of Mazda's distant corporate relative Jaguar, but it's a long way from the unlined tops and side curtains of the 1950s and `60s. As in other current Miatas, there is more room than in earlier versions, so more people will fit. It's a sports car, and the driver is appropriately housed. The seats are comfortable for distance and offer good support, including lateral support. The tilt-adjustable leather-wrapped steering wheel has auxiliary audio and cruise controls, the short shift lever is perfectly-placed and has excellent short-throw action, and the pedals are placed correctly for heel-and-tie driving. Visibility is good with the top up and couldn't get any better with it down. The trunk is adequate for two pieces of carry-on luggage, but the top storage requirements mean that two behind-seat compartments of the convertible are not available.

SAFETY: There is one sometimes-overlooked benefit to a hard top compared to a convertible - it's much harder for some lowlife type to poke a hole in a top like PRHT's composite top than in a convertible cloth or vinyl top. The PRHT has the same structural integrity as the roadster, and dual front and side airbags and antilock disc brakes.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The addition of 80 pounds of top, mechanism, and reinforcements is a three percent weight gain for the MX-5. For the track that might be a concern; for the street it's almost insignificant, and a slight retuning of the suspension compensates for it. As with other third-generation MX-5s, a rigid unibody structure with a relatively long wheelbase and wide track, and mass centralization from placing the engine almost completely behind the front axle, gives the PRHT excellent balance on the road. Aluminum suspension members reduce unsprung weight for quicker suspension response, further improving the handling. My test car had the optional suspension package, with stiffer springs yet, Bilstein shocks, and a limited-slip differential for optimum traction. That's firm, but appropriately so for a sports car, and a very good deal at the $500 price. The MX-5 is a rewarding car to drive.

PERFORMANCE: With its 2.0-liter, 166-horsepower engine, the third-generation MX-5 has gained the power that its forebears never quite had, and variable cam phasing ensures a broad spread of useable power. There is enough low-end torque for cruising at 2500 rpm in any gear, and acceleration from 3000 in the lower gears, so driven moderately it can be a fuel-sipper. But that's not its real purpose in life. Under 5000 rpm, it sounds like and reacts like the familiar Miata of yore. From there to the 7000-rpm fuel cutoff, the exhaust note becomes an insistent shriek, and acceleration takes place right now. With its well-chosen ratios and slick, quick shift linkage, the six-speed gearbox further helps performance. Given the wide power band, shifting is not as necessary as expected, and a gear or two higher than expected could often be used. The four-wheel antilock disc brakes are fully up to repeated fast stopping.

CONCLUSIONS: A little more weight and cost in the form of the Power Retracting Hard Top adds a lot more refinement and convenience to Mazda's MX-5 Miata sports car.

SPECIFICATIONS

2007 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PRHT

Base Price			$ 26,360
Price As Tested			$ 28,670
Engine Type			aluminum alloy dual overhead cam inline
				 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower			166 @ 6700 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			140 @ 5000 rpm
Transmission			6-speed manual
Wheelbase / Length		91.7 in. / 157.3 in.
Curb Weight			2,573 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		15.5
Fuel Capacity			12.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane premium unleaded gasoline
Tires				P205/45 WR17 Michelin Pilot Preceda
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc, ABS standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double wishbone /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			longitudinal front engine,
				 rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		24 / 30 / 22
0 to 60 mph				6.8  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Suspension package - includes:
  sport-tuned suspension, limited-slip differential,
  Bilstein shocks			 		$  500
Premium Package #2 - includes:
  antitheft alarm, xenon HID headlights, Mazda Advanced
  Keyless Entry System and DSC
  with traction control					$ 1,250

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