What's New for 2008
For 2008, the Mazda MX-5 Miata sees only minor feature changes, a new Special Edition trim level and a 5-horsepower drop for automatic transmission-equipped Miatas.
In today's "let the gizmos handle it" world, where some cars offer not just cruise control so advanced that it can stop the car if need be, but also a warning system that alerts a driver who starts drifting out of his lane, it's easy to forget the simple joy of fully involved driving. Should you need to be reminded, we highly recommend the 2008 Mazda MX-5 Miata.
Drawing inspiration from the light and nimble British roadsters of the '60s, the Mazda Miata offers a zippy engine, go-kart-like handling, a quick-dropping top and trim, classic proportions. Unlike those old Brits, however, the dependable Miata won't leave you stranded on the side of the road cursing your bloody head off as you stare, bewildered, under the hood.
Since its debut nearly two decades ago, the Miata has won over legions of driving enthusiasts and earned accolades from auto critics and consumers alike thanks to its entertaining drive and impressive reliability record. It was fully redesigned two years ago for more comfort and performance without losing any of its elemental appeal. Last year, Mazda introduced the power-retractable hardtop (PRHT) version. The Miata PRHT offers the comfort of a coupe when its top is up as well or the full roadster experience when down. It doesn't even exact the weight penalty one may envision, as Mazda says the PRHT weighs just 70 pounds more than the ragtop.
Regardless of which version you lean toward, the ultra-nimble 2008 Mazda Miata is a fantastic choice for an affordable roadster. It does have competition -- General Motors' twins, the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky, specifically. The Solstice and Sky possess sexier styling and more speed via available turbocharged engines, and combined, they outsell the Miata almost two to one. But in our opinion the Miata is still the superior car. Refined, balanced and eager, it's the ideal car to have when one needs to unplug from the plugged-in world.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Mazda Miata lineup consists of four trims: SV, Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. Aimed at racing enthusiasts, the lightly equipped SV (available in soft-top form only) comes with a black vinyl convertible top, 16-inch alloy wheels, a CD player, a driver seat height adjuster and power windows and mirrors. The Sport adds air-conditioning and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
Step up to the Touring and you'll also get 17-inch alloy wheels, a strut tower brace, cruise control, keyless entry, six-speaker audio (versus four) with a CD changer and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. The Grand Touring trim adds a cloth convertible top (in black or parchment), leather-upholstered and heated seats, a seven-speaker Bose audio system and silver interior accents. Retractable-hardtop (PRHT) models are offered in the top three trims and are identical in equipment except for the substitution of the power-retracting steel top for the soft top. The Special Edition is essentially an Icy Blue Grand Touring with the Premium package (described below).
Options are grouped in numerous packages. Available on the Sport, the Convenience Package provides keyless entry/power locks, cruise control, foglamps, a one-touch passenger window, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and covered storage cubbies behind the seats. Available on Touring and Grand Touring trims, the Suspension Package features a sport-tuned suspension (with Bilstein shocks) and a limited-slip differential.
The Grand Touring qualifies for a pair of premium packages. Premium Package #1 (not available with the automatic transmission) adds stability control, a limited-slip differential, advanced keyless entry and xenon HID headlights. Number 2 is the same, minus the limited-slip differential.
Most versions offer an interior trim package (which consists of brushed aluminum accents) as well as an appearance package (which adds a front airdam and lower-body skirting). Stand-alone options include run-flat tires, satellite radio and a rear spoiler.
Powertrains and Performance
All Miatas come with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that makes 166 horsepower (158 with the automatic transmission) and 140 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission drives the rear wheels on SV and Sport trims, while a six-speed manual is fitted to the Touring and Grand Touring trims. A six-speed automatic with paddle shifters is optional on all but the SV and the Sport PRHT.
Acceleration isn't exactly the Miata's forte, but it's sufficiently quick for daily driving -- we've timed a six-speed manual Miata at 7.5 seconds for the 0-60-mph dash. Fuel economy for 2008 ranges from 20-22 mpg city and 27-28 mpg highway, depending on the transmission.
Antilock disc brakes and side airbags are standard. Stability control is available as an option on the Grand Touring model only.
Interior Design and Special Features
Even though it's larger than previous generations, the current Miata's cockpit remains a snug fit. Still, it can be comfortable enough for two on a weekend getaway, and the well-shaped 5.3-cubic-foot trunk can hold a couple days worth of luggage, provided you pack light. The simple controls and no-frills design serve the Miata and its driver well. Fit and finish are very good throughout. Dropping the manual top can be done in seconds from the driver seat. Those who would use their Miata as a daily driver should strongly consider the PRHT, as it offers the quieter ride and greater security of a coupe.
The Miata's peppy four pulls willingly and revs freely. It's a delightful instrument to play, especially with a manual gearbox where snapping off rev-matching downshifts is a breeze. Although tuned for a smoother ride than before, the Miata still changes direction with the immediacy of a roller skate and speaks to you clearly through the steering wheel and driver seat. With a lowered top and a twisting, scenic road stretching out before it, the 2008 Mazda Miata has few equals when it comes to sheer entertainment.