There's a reason it still exists. It's fantastic.
For $27,650, you can buy a car that is so much fun to drive that you'll forget it has less horsepower than a Toyota Camry hybrid.
Let's get that out of the way first. The Mazda MX-5 is brisk but not fast in a straight line. It doesn't need to be. Driving in a straight line is boring. The British figured that out way back, but the Japanese took the British roadster concept and perfected it for the modern era.
The MX-5 captures the purity of driving joy in one tiny two-seat car that weighs not much more than 2,300 pounds. Even without the torque-sensing limited-slip differential on the higher trims, the $27,650 Sport trim is a joy to drive. Move to the Grant Touring (GT) trim, and Mazda adds a few niceties that enhance the more mundane driving activities.
The MX-5 is one of the few cars on the market with a genuinely expressive face. It used to be smiley and cute, but the designers gave the current ND generation little piercing eyes and a smirking mouth.
When the fourth generation arrived, there were a lot of opinionated enthusiasts, but their viewpoints didn't matter. The MX-5 has evolved with the times and looks sharp and sporty.
Our GT-trimmed car came on 17-inch wheels, but we're not convinced it needs more than the Sport's 16-inch wheels. If you want a motorized folding hard top, you'll have to look at the Maita RF, which we review separately.
The traditional soft top is a few-second job to pop up and down from the driver or passenger seat. If it suddenly starts raining, you're not going to get soaked.
There's no experience quite like sitting in a small roadster with the top down, and the MX-5 still has a taste of the 1960s because of that.
It's snug but not cramped inside, although at six foot one, the top of this reviewer's head got windswept from being so close to the top of the windscreen. If you're over five-foot-nine, then spend some time in the cockpit to ensure your body type will be comfortable over long periods.
Once inside, the hood stretches out as it should, the wheel is neither too big nor too small, and the dials are still analog rather than digital approximations. Ergonomically, the shifter and handbrake lever are perfectly placed, and there are elementary dials for the HVAC and infotainment.
The standard-issue screen throughout the range is a seven-inch, non-touch unit designed to be used with the control dial on the center console.
It's a simple cockpit, but don't be fooled - it's perfectly measured to make the act of driving flow naturally. Nothing gets in the way, and everything is precisely where it should be. And where it's been, for a good reason, for decades. The Terracotta Nappa leather upholstery is new for 2022 on the GT trim, as is the Platinum Quartz Metallic paint.
The only useable cargo space is the small trunk, but it's workable for a carefully-packed weekend away. If you're looking at an MX-5 and planning road trips, it's well worth looking at owner forums for luggage solutions to get every last cubic inch of use out of the trunk.
The MX-5 has never been overpowered. Mazda believes in having just enough power, and it's the right approach for this car.
If you want to go faster, you learn to drive better rather than using power as a band-aid. The four-cylinder engine makes 181 horsepower at 7,000 rpm, encouraging you to ring it out and making staying in the power band easy. The 151 lb-ft of torque arrives at 4,000 rpm, so you'll have to learn how to maintain momentum on uphill stretches.
Unless you go for the top trim soft-top, you're getting a manual transmission, which is the correct transmission for the MX-5 unless you have a physical reason to go automatic. And what a manual transmission it is. Every cliched superlative can be justifiably thrown at it. You can argue that Honda's S2000 was better, but you'd be wrong.
The ND generation MX-5 has occasionally been criticized for slightly numb steering, which is nonsense.
The steering is light but tactile, sharp, and direct. Above all, like the chassis, it's eager to play. On a back road, there's nothing to match it for fun times at the price. Even then, the MX-5 is a joy at legal speeds, which few cars can boast about these days.
That's something to savor when so many vehicles are cranking the mechanical grip with wider and wider tires and employing computers to make driving fast on a back road so easy you can sip a latte while doing so (looking at you, Volkswagen Golf R).
Mazda has employed something called Kinematic Posture Control. According to Mazda, it applies small amounts of brake pressure on the inner rear wheel during cornering to help reduce body roll and improve stability. We had forgotten this and didn't notice. We were having too much fun.
Our GT model's suspension was hard enough to jostle on rough roads but not enough to annoy when cruising or darting around town. By the way, it's not mentioned often, but the MX-5 is fantastic for bouncing around and running errands. It never fails to surprise us just how slim gaps can be that the MX-5 can slip through.
Damn it. If Mazda put the limited-slip differential in the Sport trim, we would tell you to get that.
Our job would be easy, and yours as a customer would be perfect. However, the diff shouldn't be a deal-breaker for anyone looking to enjoy driving. The Club adds the differential, Brembo brakes, 17-inch wheels, and some creature comforts for $31,150, but the best Miata was already sold out in July this year.
We would opt for the Grand Touring trim at $32,650 if the budget allows it. Brakes can be upgraded later, but it's not necessary. But heated seats and a leather interior make all-year and long-trip driving nicer. It also upgrades to wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is a bonus. The upgrade to a Bose sound system is also a welcome addition.
Still, if you have the spare garage space and budget for a weekend toy, buy one. It doesn't matter which one.
If you can live with only two seats and limited trunk space, it's a decent daily driver. Just keep in mind it gets 26/34 city/highway mpg with the manual transmission but the engine prefers premium fuel. You can run regular fuel, but you won't want to.