Full 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review
What's New for 2011
For 2011 the Mazda MX-5 Miata sees no changes apart from the debut of the limited-production Special Edition.
For more than two decades now, the Mazda Miata has been thrilling sports car purists with its elemental charms. The first Miata called to mind the British roadsters of the 1960s, except the Mazda also boasted a stiff chassis, reliable electrics, an engine that didn't mark its territory with oil and a soft top that was easy to operate and wouldn't try your patience and bust your nails.
Now in its third generation, the Miata continues to offer more of the same, with lively handling, communicative steering, a happy-to-rev power plant and an affordable price. The 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata doesn't change one whit compared to last year's model. We see absolutely nothing wrong with this and doubt anyone else does either.
Though the 167-horsepower output of the MX-5 Miata's four-cylinder engine might seem meager in a world of 270-hp family sedans, it doesn't have to move nearly as much weight as a sedan, since a base-model Miata weighs only about 2,500 pounds. And should you opt for the power-retractable-hardtop model, you're only taking on another 70 pounds for the additional weather protection, noise insulation and parking security. Whether you choose a base Miata or a loaded one, you'll find that a hugely entertaining driving experience, a generous roster of features and daily comfort are all standard fare.
As you can probably tell, we think rather highly of the 2011 Mazda Miata. In fact, the modern Miata has no real competition, as would-be rivals such as the Pontiac Solstice/Saturn Sky twins and the Honda S2000 are history and high-end roadsters such as the BMW Z4 and Porsche Boxster are in another economic realm.
The Mazda's closest rival would be the Mini Cooper convertible, which isn't as capable in terms of handling but is still fun to drive and offers the bonus of a pair of very small backseats. One might also consider the Ford Mustang V6 convertible, which now offers a powerful engine and respectable handling, though not the compact dimensions and point-and-shoot dynamic of the Mazda.
Considering this, it seems that the story is the same even after 20 years. Car shoppers looking for a fun, zippy and affordable roadster need look no further than their friendly neighborhood Mazda dealer.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata is a two-seat roadster that is offered in three trim levels: base Sport, well-equipped Touring and premium Grand Touring. All come standard with a manually operated soft top, while the top two trims can be had with a power-retractable hardtop (PRHT).
In Sport trim, standard features include 16-inch cast-aluminum wheels, a black vinyl convertible top with a glass rear window, air-conditioning, cloth seats, a six-speaker sound system with a CD/MP3 player and an auxiliary audio jack, a height-adjustable driver seat, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and power windows and mirrors.
The Touring model adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a shock tower brace for the front suspension, foglights, cruise control, power door locks, keyless entry, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a trip computer, a six-CD changer, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a leather-wrapped shift knob. The Grand Touring steps up with the choice of a black or beige cloth top, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, heated seats, a seven-speaker Bose audio system and silver interior accents. The PRHT models are identically equipped.
Most options are grouped in packages. Sport models can be equipped with the Convenience package that includes most of the Touring upgrades (this package is included in Miatas with automatic transmissions). Touring and Grand Touring models can enhance the Miata's already nimble handling with the Suspension package (only available with a manual transmission), which includes a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks and a limited-slip differential. The Grand Touring qualifies for the Premium package that features stability control, keyless ignition/entry, xenon headlights, Bluetooth and satellite radio. An Appearance package adds a different front spoiler and extended rocker sills.
Also available this year is the limited-production Miata Special Edition. It's essentially a Grand Touring PRHT with the Premium package and, if it's a manual transmission, the Suspension package. The Miata Special Edition also includes unique exterior and interior colors.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2011 Mazda Miata is powered by 2.0-liter inline-4 engine that produces 167 hp (158 with the automatic transmission) and 140 pound-feet of torque. Sport models come standard with a five-speed manual transmission, while Touring and Grand Touring models come with a six-speed manual transmission. All models have the option of a six-speed automatic with shift paddles on the steering wheel.
In testing a Miata with a five-speed manual transmission, we found the car could sprint from a standstill to 60 mph in a reasonably quick 6.9 seconds. Fuel economy is also impressive at an EPA-estimated 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway and 24 mpg in combined driving for the five-speed manual. The six-speed manual and automatic sacrifice only 1 mpg in city mileage.
Antilock disc brakes and side airbags are standard. Stability control is available as an option on the Grand Touring model only, however.
Interior Design and Special Features
Sitting behind the wheel of a 2011 Mazda Miata, you'll get the feeling that you're wearing the car, rather than sitting in it. The fit is snug for average-sized adults, but not cramped. Taller drivers, however, have found that the seat runs out of rearward travel, although there's loads more room than in previous-generation Miatas. As always, this Miata features simple, legible gauges along with well-placed, user-friendly controls.
The manual convertible top's operation is as simple as it gets -- push a button, pull a lever and toss the top over your shoulder. Dropping the top takes only a few seconds and raising it is just as easy. With practice, some longer- and stronger-limbed drivers can raise the roof without even leaving the seat. The power-retractable hardtop takes a bit longer to transform from coupe to roadster, but the added convenience, noise isolation and security make it a good choice as a daily driver.
One of the biggest drawbacks for small convertibles is a lack of trunk space, and the Miata is no exception. The 5.3 cubic feet of trunk space is barely enough for a weekend getaway and golf bags take quite a bit of wrestling to stow -- if they fit at all. Points are also deducted for the disappointing top-down stereo performance. Even the upgraded Bose system suffers from poorly aimed speakers that fail to envelop the occupants.
One of the Miata's greatest attributes continues to be its ability to bound from corner to corner on a tight and winding road. This ability is due in no small part to a suspension and steering feel that are as communicative as a political pundit in an election year. The seat-of-the-pants feel and feedback from the wheel give the Miata the goods to satisfy nearly any driving enthusiast, though some horsepower junkies may yearn for more under-hood punch.
Still, the free-revving four-cylinder always seems eager to play and the short-throw manual gearbox is as good as it gets. Drivers with less sporting intentions should still find the 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata easy to live with and comfortable for long stints in either top-up or top-down mode.