By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
If some group would give an award to a manufacturer for great design and engineering excellence over the last five years, it should go to Mazda. The entire Mazda lineup has been redesigned and re-engineered with striking designs and the brilliant Skyactiv technology.
We think one of the best Mazda accomplishments is the latest iteration of the Miata or as it is technically called, the Mazda MX-5. Mazda enthusiasts prayed the Miata wouldn’t get “screwed up” in the redesign processes and their prayers were answered. Not only did Mazda not screw up the legendary Miata, they made it even better.
Many manufacturers have catchphrases like “Skyactiv” to describe new and improved technologies, but in Mazda’s case it’s a total-effort philosophy to reduce weight and improve efficiency. We’ve driven as sample of every one of the new vehicles with the new Skyactiv technology, and there is a difference.
The first thing that we noticed about the Skyactiv Mazda MX-5 was its looks. We think it is one of the best-looking Mazdas ever. A product of another of Mazda’s Zen-like attributes, the MX-5 was developed from KODO – which translates to “Soul of Motion Design”. Whatever it means, the KODO looks great in the classic sports car design of long hood, short overhang with the cockpit pushed toward the back. The profile is low and sleek with the wheels pushed toward the corners and the design line sweeps over the tires conveying a feeling of movement.
It still looks very much like we expect a Miata to look like but with new purpose and sophistication. And, it looks good, top up or top down. With the top up the cabin is quiet and solid feeling. Lowering the top takes the twist of a handle at the center of the upper windshield frame and a push of the top toward the rear where the folded top latches into place with a section of the cloth top acting as a flush cover. Raising the top requires releasing a lever between the seat backs and then the top can then be easily pulled forward and re-latched to the windshield frame –in just seconds. When the top is down the cabin gets only a minimal wind intrusion with the roll bars behind each seat and a deflector shield between them channeling much of the wind above the passengers. Headrest speakers make listening to the audio system easier when the top is down.
All versions of the MX-5 have LED headlights, which allowed the designers to keep the front end low. In addition, the LED headlights stay cooler, produce a brighter light and weigh less than HID headlights.
One of the major accomplishments of the Skyactiv technology is the significant reduction of weight. At 2,332 pounds (2,381 with the automatic transmission) the MX-5 is 150 pounds lighter than the third generation and 182 pounds less than the original 1990 model. The engineers used the “Gram Strategy” to help shave off every excess gram along with stronger and lighter high-tensile steel. In the end, the weight reduction translates to better performance, agility and safety.
The Skyactiv 2.0-liter, DOHC four-cylinder engine is rated 155 horsepower. It’s mounted farther back in the engine compartment on this new model to help lower the center of gravity and improve the roadster’s balance. The six-speed manual with short-throw linkage is smooth and precise as any manual transmission we’ve driven. Buff magazines indicate a 0 to 60 mph time of 6.1 seconds. It has an estimated top speed of 130 mph.
Driving on the winding mountain roads near our home the Mazda Miata felt like it was driving on the proverbial rails. The car feels so precise and well balanced it would have been easy to push it much harder but we just enjoyed a spirited drive through the mountains – accelerate, shift, brake, turn, repeat…. This is one of the best handling cars we’ve driven in the last year.
The 2017 Mazda MX-5 Miata is available in three trim levels: Sport, Club and Grand Touring. The MX-5 Sport with six-speed manual transmission has a starting price of $25,750, including the destination charge. The Club and Grand Touring have base prices of at $29,635 and $30,900 respectively. A six-speed automatic transmission is optional, along with the Brembo/BBS Package and a couple of the color choices.
The optional six-speed automatic transmission and advanced keyless entry add $1,075. The Club has a base price of $29,420 and a Brembo brake and BBS wheel option is available for $3,400. The Grand Touring is $30,885 and adds features like the Mazda Connect infotainment system, Bose audio, leather trimmed seats, rain-sensing wipers, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive front lighting and high beam control along with lane departure warning.
Here’s where we should mention the latest addition to the MX-5 lineup, the RF, which stands for “Retractable Fastback.” We haven’t had a chance to drive this cool-looking fastback yet, but are looking forward to it. The roof section disappears behind the seats at the touch of a button creating the best of both worlds, a coupe or a convertible. The RF is arriving at dealerships now and is available in Club and Grand Touring Trims. We’ll tell you more about it later.
Whether someone buys the Miata as an everyday driver, for weekend drives or for club racing, it’s an amazing car and easily the best value sports car you can buy.