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2011 Mazda MX-5 Review - 20 Years of Simple Fun

2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata (select to view enlarged photo)
2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Mazda MX-5 Miata Buyers Guide

2011 MAZDA MX-5 20 Years of Simple Fun.
By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

As I got behind the wheel of the Mazda MX-5 I had flashbacks of driving the first Miata in 1989 and even further flashbacks to my own ’67 Triumph TR4A. There’s just something special about a 2-seat sports car.

Wanting for good top-down driving weather, the mid-week cloudy-grey, 48º day wasn’t what I had in mind. However by the weekend I had the perfect sunny and 78º day for a drive along the Chicago lakeshore.

Speaking of Chicago, the MX-5 fits in very well with big-city urban use. Small and compact, easily maneuverable, able to fit into tight parking spaces, a trunk roomy enough for a grocery trip, and the convenience of the power retractable hardtop make for comfortable driving. And, you are also ready for that weekend back-road trip into the country.

The Mazda MX-5 is the most popular two-seat convertible sports car in the world, according to the experts at the Guinness Book of World Records, with more than 850,000 sold. The third-generation MX-5 was substantially refreshed for 2009, updated for 2010 and is unchanged for 2011.

In Mazda’s words, the MX-5 has a driver-focused powertrain. I not only agree but would add that the entire car is driver-focused.

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Once you settle behind the steering wheel, get the seat in the right place which is dictated by the need to depress the clutch pedal, adjust the backrest angle, tilt steering wheel and power remote outside mirrors, you are ready to have fun. The 2.0-liter, 167-horsepower engine (158 with automatic transmission) with 6-speed manual transmission is at your command to rev to its 7,200 rpm redline. With 140 lb-ft of torque acceleration is quick and responsive with just the right exhaust note as you merge into traffic and in my case on to Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive.

The sophisticated 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine gives strong performance, has an inspiring exhaust note, and most important of all, is tremendously responsive, mounted front mid-ship for excellent handling, balance and nimbleness. I found myself getting into the throttle from every stop and with every gear change.

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Classic sports car engine sound has always been a hallmark of the MX-5 Miata with the original 1.6-liter 1990 model tuned to mimic the sound of dual-carbureted sports cars like my TR4A. Since the 2006 model, the lightweight plastic composite intake manifold itself has been designed to transmit certain frequencies that match the classic sports car sound profile, while suppressing less enjoyable sounds. The 2011 six-speed manual models are equipped with an Induction Sound Enhancer (ISE). Made up of a series of tuned pipes and a passive resonance membrane, the ISE delivers the engine’s natural induction sound to the cowl, just ahead of the windshield, so pleasing engine sounds can be delivered at a comfortable volume without resorting to simply being loud.

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The MX-5’s exterior design retains the iconic feel of the first MX-5 Miata and yet is 21st century modern. The cockpit is the widest portion of the car, providing for a roomy interior. Head and tail lamps are mounted inboard and along with the rearview mirrors they harken back to the elliptical shape of the first-generation MX-5 Miata with its trademark silhouette.

Mazda virtually invented the easy-to-lower-and-raise soft-top of the original Miata. The MX-5 Special Edition I drove was equipped with the Power Retractable Hard Top. Rather than consuming interior or trunk room, the folded roof descends into the same storage well behind the seats where the soft top would have stowed. Opening and closing cycles last only 12 seconds, making this the fastest power-operated retractable hard top in the U.S., and the only retractable hardtop on the market that doesn’t compromise trunk space, according to Mazda information.

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The interior design is well balanced at being comfortable with the right amount of snugness. The black center stack is as simple and functional as possible. This is a driver’s car and no distraction by a big nav-system display. You need to know where you are going.

Top-down cockpit turbulence and buffeting is well managed. Small quarter windows block airflow between the windshield pillars and door mirrors into the cockpit with window-down driving. An aero board located between the seat back hoops is tall and perforated to slow down reverse-flow air that rushes into the cockpit. Just the right amount of wind in the hair is the order of business.

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Mazda engineers did great job using their “gram strategy” in making the MX-5 light-weight with curb weight just under 2600 lbs. Aluminum hood and trunk lid, aluminum front control arms, aluminum rear uprights and rear calipers help in this task. High-strength and ultra high-strength steel is used in body construction. The 2.0-liter engine has an aluminum block and head, the exhaust manifold is lightweight tubular steel instead of cast iron, and the intake manifold and cam cover are made from lightweight composite plastic. In the end, MX-5 is very light, yet roomy enough for larger adults, and safe for everyone, thanks to its strong body and safety features (including anti-lock brakes on all trim levels, standard side airbags, and a passenger’s airbag cutoff switch so you can carry young children in a child safety seat).

Sport, Touring and Grand Touring models are offered in the MX-5. The Sport model is priced at $23,110 and is available only with a soft top. It comes with a five-speed manual gearbox, 16-inch aluminum wheels, power-adjusted door mirrors, air conditioning, leather-covered steering wheel, dual exhausts, power windows, cloth upholstery, AM/FM/CD player with six speakers, audio auxiliary jack, dual front airbags and side airbags. An optional Convenience Package offers cruise control, fog lamps, one-touch power down windows with remote keyless entry, power door locks, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and trip computer.

The Touring model is priced at $25,450 and in addition, gets fog lamps, cruise control, Remote Keyless Entry with retractable key, steering wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls, auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink™, a trip computer and an in-dash six-disc CD changer. A six-speed manual gearbox with leather shift knob, and 17-inch alloy wheels are standard. A Suspension Package, available on Touring models equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission, adds sport-tuned Bilstein shocks, a larger rear stabilizer bar and Limited Slip Differential.

The Grand Touring model is priced at $26,710 and gets heated leather seats, automatic climate control, cloth soft top, and a BOSE® audio system with seven speakers. The Premium Package adds Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry & Start System, DSC with Traction Control, Anti-theft alarm and HID headlights.

Three models are offered with the Power Retractable Hardtop. The Touring model priced at $27,150, Grand Touring at $28,550 and a Special Edition at $30,925.

For an urban living environment the power retractable hardtop seems the only way to go, in my mind. The MX-5 can be quickly secured for on-street or public garage parking and in a mere 12 seconds can be open-air again.

All 2011 Mazdas come with a roadside assistance program; a comprehensive three-year/36,000-mile warranty; a five-year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty and a five-year/unlimited-mileage corrosion warranty. Mazda vehicles are sold in the United States, Canada and Mexico through nearly 900 dealers.

The MX-5 Miata was conceived primarily for the U.S. market, and throughout its 20-plus year history, America has always been the biggest market for what has become the world’s best-selling two-seat convertible

The Mazda MX-5 Miata: the single most-raced nameplate in the world.

© Larry Nutson