What's New for 2012
The 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata now features stability and traction control as standard on all models, while a new Special Edition model will find its way into the garages of 450 lucky owners.
The 2012 Mazda Miata shows you don't need to invest in a high-dollar sports car to enjoy spirited performance. When the Miata debuted more than 20 years ago, it quickly established itself as a driver's car that was affordable to buy and inexpensive to own. The little roadster is now in its third generation, and it remains as appealing as it was back when it was first launched.
One of the Miata's hallmarks is its steering, which excels at being communicative and responsive to input. Handling is a joy; the car's sharp reflexes and composed demeanor in turns make sinuous canyon roads a very special treat. Add to the mix an engine that loves to rev and what you get is a recipe for visceral driving excitement. It's also easy to live with, from a soft top that's easy to operate to a ride that's comfortable enough for daily commuting. This small sports car's only significant downside is a trunk that's too small to provide meaningful utility.
Since direct rivals like the Pontiac Solstice have long been discontinued and more upscale roadsters like the BMW Z4 and Nissan 370Z have much larger price tags, the Miata stands in a league of its own. You might consider cross-shopping it against convertible variants of the Mini Cooper and Fiat 500, but neither of these models can match the Miata's handling; however, the Cooper drop top offers extra utility via fold-flat rear seats. Another alternative could be the Ford Mustang V6 convertible, with its much larger trunk.
In the end, if smiles per mile is your primary metric, the MX-5 Miata is the undisputed leader of the pack. Decades after its initial appearance, it continues to deliver performance thrills at a price that's attainable for the common man.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 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). There is also a Miata Special Edition, of which only 450 will be produced.
In Sport trim, standard features include 16-inch cast-aluminum wheels, a 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 standard in Miata Sport models with automatic transmissions). Touring and Grand Touring models can enhance the Miata's already nimble handling with the Suspension package, which includes a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks and a limited-slip differential (only available with a manual transmission). The Grand Touring qualifies for the Premium package that features keyless ignition/entry, xenon headlights, Bluetooth and satellite radio. An Appearance package adds a unique front spoiler and extended rocker sills.
The Miata Special Edition is essentially a Grand Touring model available only in red or white. A black-painted PRHT is mandatory and is joined by matching black 17-inch wheels, mirrors, exterior trim pieces and leather upholstery. A limited-slip differential and a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein dampers are both standard, along with the Premium package.
Powertrains and Performance
The 2012 Mazda Miata is powered by 2.0-liter inline-4 engine that produces 167 horsepower (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 Edmunds testing, a Miata with a five-speed manual transmission sprinted from a standstill to 60 mph in a reasonably quick 6.9 seconds. Fuel economy is about average, with 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 drop 1 mpg in city mileage.
Antilock disc brakes and side airbags are standard, along with stability and traction control. In Edmunds braking tests, various Miata models turned in stopping distances from 60 mph between 110 and 116 feet, which are very respectable numbers for a sports car.
Interior Design and Special Features
If you're an average-sized driver, you'll find that the 2012 Mazda Miata's compact footprint leaves it with a cabin that envelops you in a close but comfortable embrace. Taller drivers have found that the seat runs out of rearward travel, though. The gauges are legible and controls are user-friendly and well-placed.
Those who choose the manual convertible top will appreciate its simplicity; all it takes is the push of a button and the tug of a lever to liberate the lightweight top from its moorings. It takes just a few seconds to lower the top, and raising it is just as quick and 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.
Convertibles are notoriously short on trunk space, and the Miata is no exception. With just 5.3 cubic feet available, there's barely room for a light traveler's luggage and it takes some effort to get golf bags to fit -- if they fit at all. Points are also deducted for the disappointing stereo performance when the top is down. Even the upgraded Bose system suffers from poorly aimed speakers that fail to fill the cabin with sound.
The Miata is legendary for its ability to squeeze maximum enjoyment from winding blacktop, and it owes much of this skill to the uncanny communicativeness of its steering and suspension. Some hard-core enthusiasts might find the car's body roll to be excessive when driving hard, but just about everybody else will enjoy the car's nimble handling. Overall, the 2012 Mazda Miata is one of the best-handling cars you can buy for the money.
The free-revving four-cylinder engine doesn't pack a whole lot of punch compared to some other sports cars, but it's always eager to play, and the short-throw manual gearbox is as good as it gets. On a daily basis, the Miata is easy to live with and comfortable for long stints in either top-up or top-down mode.