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2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT Grand Touring Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO


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2015 Mazda Miata MX-5

Mazda's MX-5 Miata is still the best value in the small sports car category

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

     • SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyers Guide


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Mazda Miata MX-5 25th Anniversary Edition

Mazda's MX-5 Miata is one of the most influential cars of the past 25 years. Before its debut in 1989, affordable fun small convertible sports cars were thought to be extinct. The British cars that started the sports car craze after World War II -- MG, Triumph, Austin Healey, Sunbeam, and others -- were history. Among the Italians, the Fiat 124 Spyder had departed a few years before, and the smaller X1/9 was all but dead. The Alfa Romeo Spider hung on, but was on its way out and not exactly bargain-priced. There was a convertible model of Mazda's Wankel rotary engine powered RX-7, but it was limited in availability. Conventional wisdom seemed to say that no one wanted a small roadster.

Mazda took a gamble, and released a back-to-basics two-seater powered by a 1.6-liter, 115-horsepower four-cylinder engine. In style, it recalled the Lotus Elan, pop-up headlights and all, but in 4:3 scale. (If you're thinking a Miata is small, it really isn't) If the original MX-5 Miata wasn't immensely quick in acceleration and fast in top speed, neither were any of the truly affordable British and Italian roadsters. It was quick enough, fun enough, and once production was ramped up and those who would pay anything to be first were sated, eminently affordable. The Miata offered all of the joys of the Europeans and none of the warts. If you wanted a fun driving experience, you didn't have to put up with dodgy build quality and dubious electrics.

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Mazda Miata MX-5 25th Anniversary Edition

Over the course of 25 years and two more generations, the MX-5 has stayed true to its original mission. Yes, it's grown a bit -- but only a few inches here and there, mostly to improve interior space. Styling has evolved, but a Mazda MX-5 Miata is still instantly identifiable as such. There is more power now, more than compensating for that growth. The biggest change to the basic "simple soft-top roadster" plan came in the third generation in model year 2006 with the addition of the "Power Retractable Hard Top" model, hereafter abbreviated PRHT. It featured a three-piece power polycarbonate and glass top that could be retracted or raised in about 20 seconds. Why? Polycarbonate is considerably harder to cut with a knife than fabric or vinyl…




2015 is the last year for the third-generation MX-5, as the fourth has been announced recently. It will go on sale for model year 2016, and will be lighter and perhaps a bit smaller, more like the original. In other news on that front, Mazda and Fiat have an agreement to produce the next Alfa Romeo "Spider" (or perhaps Fiat/Abarth Spyder?) in Mazda's Hiroshima factory. The Alfa/Fiat will have different bodywork and its own drivetrain. Interesting, considering that at the Miata's debut the only remotely comparable car available was the last Alfa Spider.

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Mazda Miata MX-5 25th Anniversary Edition

Not announced is whether or not the PRHT will continue. I'm betting not, at least not for a few years. And after driving one for a Fall week of changing weather, I'll miss it. The regular Miata soft top goes up and down quickly enough, but the PRHT just requires the press of a button, and manual latching or unlatching of the top. Impact on luggage capacity is nil, and the top mechanism doesn't impinge on the trunk. Yes, it can be tricky to get in or out if you're large in size -- that comes with the nature of a sports car. Sitting low to the ground makes speeds seem higher than they are, and you're immersed in the driving experience. Yes, it's available with an automatic, but the six-speed stick in the higher trim levels (or 5-speed in the base roadster) is much more part of the sports car experience. It's quick enough to be fun without constant worry about points on the driver's license, and top-down through the trees on a twisty road, shows what the sports car experience is all about. For those who need an excuse, reasonable fuel economy (when driven sedately) and small size make for a great commute car -- and that has been an excuse for plenty of Miatas in the past 25 years and many a small sports car long before that.

APPEARANCE: Think short, flattened cigar, gently rounded at the ends, with the wheels at the corners, covered by small fender flares. The outgoing MX-5's line are deceptively minimalist and simple. Since the current model's debut, the front end has been revised twice, with the original small oval air intake becoming first a large smile, and more recently a five-sided version of that. Top-down, the PRHT is nearly identical to the roadster. Up, the top is short and rounded in profile. Of the same color as the body on the Grand Touring, it blends well with the body shape.

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Mazda Miata MX-5 25th Anniversary Edition

COMFORT: It's a sports car, so it doesn't get compared to a luxury car. A sports car driver should feel connected to the road beneath, with feedback from the chassis and steering. The MX-5 delivers. Drive one, and you'll know what's happening at the tire/road interface. That said, it's not at all harsh or tiring or overly noisy. And in Grand Touring PRHT trim, it's about as far from the days of plastic side curtains, Meccano-set tops, and stiff suspension to offset a flexible frame as is possible. Power windows and mirrors, fast, efficient heat and air conditioning, and a good Bose audio system are far beyond anything in a sports car from the 50s or 60s, even the Italian exotics. Here, seats are leather-covered and manually-adjustable, with good support. The trunk will hold two carry-on size bags, and a locking glove box and locking compartment in the center of the rear bulkhead behind the seats provide secure interior storage. You might be tempted to toss something into the top well with the top up -- bad idea! If it's a soft bag and you remember to take it out before putting the top down, you'll be ok. But that area is irregularly-shaped, with parts that could be very difficult to get things out of, so just don't.

SAFETY: The MX-5 PRHT has front and side airbags and side-impact door beams and obviously meets or exceeds all current safety standards. Good acceleration and braking, and predictable, precision handling offer a good driver active safety.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Are what a sports car is all about, and here is an excellent example. The unibody chassis is commendably stiff, with no cowl shake or creaking, even on poor surfaces. The fully-independent double wishbone/multilink suspension is tuned firmly, for minimal body roll in hard cornering, but is never harsh or jolting. It's a sports car, not a sporty car, so expect to know what's happening on the road -- there is plenty of feedback through the seat and steering wheel, as is appropriate. Steering is precise and direct, the brakes are underemployed in street driving, and there are few cars that provide as much pleasure on an uncrowded country road. Quick reflexes and maneuverability work well in traffic, too.

PERFORMANCE: As ever, the MX-5 is about balance far more than straight-line acceleration. With a zero-to-sixty time around seven seconds, it's not at all slow, and far quicker than almost any of the sports cars of the 50s and 60s, even high-priced ones. Light weight is a key to that. So is the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Its dual overhead cams, four valves per cylinder, and fuel injection would have been race-spec 40-plus years ago. Variable intake cam phasing would have been a tuner's dream… but it's all standard and produces 167 horsepower at 7000 rpm, with torque peaking at 140 lb-ft at 5000 rpm. Use the shift lever connected directly to the six-speed gearbox to keep it about 3500 and you'll have a smile as big as the front grille on your face. The exhaust has the proper four-cylinder sports car sound without being obnoxiously noisy. EPA mileage is 21 mpg city, 28 highway. I got 23 for the week with as little highway and city traffic and as much backroad fun as possible.

CONCLUSIONS: Mazda's MX-5 Miata is still the best value in the small sports car field, even with ever-increasing competition. Big fun can come in a small package.




SPECIFICATIONS

2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring PRHT

Base Price $ 29,450

Price As Tested $ 32,935

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing

Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.

Horsepower 167 @ 7000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 140 @ 5000 rpm

Transmission 6-speed manual

Wheelbase / Length 91.7 in. / 157.3 in.

Curb Weight 2593 lbs. +80

Pounds Per Horsepower 15.5

Fuel Capacity 12.7 gal.

Fuel Requirement 91 octane unleaded premium gasoline recommended, 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline permissible with reduced performance

Tires 205/45R17 84W Bridgestone Potenza 050

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, VSA standard

Suspension, front/rear independent double-wishbone / independent multilink

Drivetrain front engine, rear-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 28 / 23

0 to 60 mph 7.0 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

18P Suspension Package -- includes: sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks, limited- slip differential $ 650

2PR Premium Package -- includes: anti-theft alarm, xenon headlights, Mazda advanced keyless entry system, Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth hands-free phone system $ 1,390

4AP Appearance Package -- includes: front air dam, rear under-skirt $ 650

Destination charge $ 795