2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata

2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

We drive Mazda's iconic roadster

By: Tim Healey

Web2Carz Contributing Writer

Published: June 25th, 2012


Mazda bases its entire philosophy around that phrase, with the idea that all of its vehicles (even crossovers) need to have a sporty style. That's admirable, and it's a philosophy that traces its roots to the original "zoom-zoom" mobile, the MX-5 Miata.

Now entering its third decade, the Miata is facing some stiff competition these days. After years of holding down the fort as the only light-weight/affordable rear-drive sportster sold by a Japanese make (the Honda S2000 went bye-bye a while back, and Nissan's capable 370Z is in a different class price-wise), the Miata now has to deal with turf invaders such as the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ. Those cars don't exactly match the Miata in format (the Subaru/Scion twins offer a rear seat and are hardtop coupes, while the Miata remains a two-seat roadster available either with a power-folding hardtop or a soft top) but they stack up nicely in terms of price and performance.

Mazda isn't taking the challenge lightly, with the next Miata scheduled to be a joint venture with Alfa Romeo. For now, though, the car continues to carry the affordable sports car torch nicely. Does it have the chops to fend of its rivals? Read on.

  • Features & Prices

    Our Miata Special Edition tester came to us without any options save satellite radio, which was no charge. The $31,225 MSRP netted us 17-inch wheels, a power hardtop, high-performance tires, fog lamps, Bluetooth, a tilt steering wheel, floor mats, an auxiliary input jack, remote keyless entry, leather seats, heated seats, a/c, keyless starting, leather trim, a limited-slip differential, and a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks, among other goodies. With the $795 destination charge, the as-tested model came to $32,020.

  • On the Road

    One-hundred-sixty-seven horsepower may not sound like much, but that and the 140 lb-ft of torque available from the 2.0-liter four-cylinder get the job done, thanks to the car's light weight. A six-speed manual transmission gets that power to the rear wheels, and aside from the aforementioned limited-slip differential and sport-tuned suspension, the Miata features a double-wishbone suspension setup in the front and multi-link set up in the rear. There's also front and rear stabilizer bars and a shock tower brace.

    All this means that the Miata is as much go as it is show. Off the line, the Miata accelerates at brisk pace. The steering is direct and accurate, and the shifter checks all the right enthusiast boxes. The car feels like an extension of one's self at speed, without sacrificing much in the way of comfort around town.

    Indeed, that may be the story of the current Miata. It's no secret that the lithe little roadster is a performance pro. It’s been a staple of club-racing circuits and autocrosses for years, and that hasn't changed much with each update. What goes unnoticed, however, is how comfortable the car can be when cruising the suburbs.

    The hardtop drops (and raises) quite quickly, with little fuss or muss. Just undo the latch and hold the button until the top disappears behind the rear seat, and reverse the procedure to raise it back up again. The heated seats mean that one can still cruise topless on a chilly day, and with the top up, wind and road noise are mostly shut out. Not only that, but lowering the top doesn't eat into trunk space.

    Yes, drivers and passengers who exceed certain height and/or weight limits may not fit, and you don't enter the car so much as you fall into the seats. But once you're in, there's more space than you'd expect, and you forget how small the Miata is until you look behind you (or roll up next to a semi).

    Ride quality is also fairly pleasant in most cases, given the car's size. The Miata wouldn't be our first choice for a long-haul trip, but it doesn't do much punishing either.

  • Interior

    The cockpit features lots of black, lots of plastic, and lots of buttons, fostering a business-like attitude. It's not fancy, but we like it anyway. We do wish Mazda would finally wise up and start offering USB ports in its cars, but otherwise we have little to complain about.

    A lockable center console keeps valuables secure, though visibility is somewhat restricted with the top up. These are the concessions one must make in the name of topless motoring.

  • Exterior

    The Miata's styling remains familiar, even with Mazda's smiley-faced grin up front, and we find comfort in that. This is a good-looking car, even with the top up, and the design still hasn’t gotten old.

    The trunk doesn't offer a ton of space, but we were able to fit more into it than we expected (even a 5-gallon air compressor fit). Still, we suggest packing light.

  • Fuel Economy and Safety

    The Miata is rated at 21 mpg city, 28 highway, and 24 combined. There's dual airbags up front to go along with ABS, traction control, and stability control.

  • Final Thoughts

    It should be obvious that a two-seat convertible with a tiny trunk isn't for everyone. This is a car for short weekend trips, track days, and summertime cruising. But it's not a poser. Put it through its paces, and it delivers. It's hard not to smile when stepping out of the MX-5.

    And what of its competitors? We've driven the Scion FR-S, and we find that both cars do very well in fulfilling the assigned mission of achieving driving fun at a low price. We suspect that the Miata will be duking it out with the FR-S and the Subaru BRZ on the track for some time to come, and we're glad to see the list of inexpensive sports cars is growing.

    Yes, the FR-S and BRZ can't compete directly against the Miata, due to their differences (those cars have hard tops and rear seats), but we suspect some buyers (read: weekend warriors) will be cross-shopping among the trio. And we think the Miata will hold its own.

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• For more information such as specs, prices, and photos of the 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata, click here: 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata.