2008 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review – Can it Really be Improved?

Friday January 4th, 2008 at 9:11 PM
Posted by: Kurt Gensheimer

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By Kurt Gensheimer

2008 Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT

Blings:

  • Telepathic, idiot proof performance
  • More fun than your first go-kart
  • Retractable hardtop is genius

Dings:

  • Intrusive door panel cupholders
  • Retractable hardtop still isn’t a true hardtop

Ruling: A legendary weekend sports car becomes a legendary every day sports car.

In the heyday of Madison Avenue advertising, the words “new and improved” were akin to hearing cash registers ringing. Plaster that phrase on a product in big block letters, and even if the rest of the label was written in Chinese, the average American would probably still go home with it. Despite its overwhelming success for consumable goods, those three words spawned evil offspring like “extra-strength”, “extreme” and millions of verbs ending in “-er”.

By and by, American consumers had high expectations for the products they bought. No longer was the same and unimproved or regular-strength good enough. New and improved suggested progress. It suggested more benefits. It suggested exactly what it said. New and improved. But what happens when a product gets so good that it has reached the peak of its goodness? What happens when it can’t get any better? What to do then?

2008 Mazda MX-5 Miata

A perfect example is the Mazda Miata. Introduced at the dawn of the 1990s as a throwback to the rear-wheel drive roadsters of yesteryear, it was an instantaneous hit. Lightweight, stripped-down, simple, inexpensive and insanely fun to drive, Mazda used the right ingredients. Through the 1990s the Miata got better and better, winning a war chest of industry awards and accolades. As further validation of the car’s success, Spec Miata became one of the most popular classes in American motorsport racing.

As a sports car, it seemed the Miata achieved the ever-elusive badge of perfection. So when Mazda engineers redesigned the Miata for 2006, a monumental challenge faced them – make an already perfect car even more perfect. Because after all, if it ain’t new and improved, it ain’t sellin’ in the U S of A.

2008 Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT

Driving Impressions

Yes, there are changes in the MX-5 beyond it’s new official moniker. And amazingly enough, they’re improved as well. But the most important thing about the MX-5 which engineers left unchanged is its soul. Although it’s grown a bit in size and weight, the MX-5 it still light, simple, inexpensive and just as insanely fun to drive as it was in 1989.

The raspy 2 liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine puts down 166 bhp @ 6700 rpm and 140 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm, and with heft around 2500 lbs depending on options, the MX-5 won’t win many quarter mile or 0 to 60 races. It can do them respectively – 0 to 60 in just over 7 seconds and the quarter mile in 15.5 @ 90 mph, but to dwell on those wasteful items is to completely miss the point of the MX-5.

The MX-5 has handling, brakes, shifting and road manners that you won’t find in any other car on the road. In the right hands, provided there are enough twisties, the MX-5 can hang with virtually any high horsepower supercar. I know this as truth after riding shotgun with a pro female Spec Miata driver who was breathing down the filler necks of a Viper, F430 and M3; until we hit a straightaway, of course.

In the wrong hands, well, let’s just say Hamfists McGee would have a hard time crashing this machine. It’s virtually idiot-proof. When you push the car to its limit, the MX-5 calmly and gently tells you to ease up, whereas other cars say nothing until its too late and you’re flipped in a ditch with a mouthful of airbag. We know you’ve heard it a million times before from a million other people, but it’s worth repeating – in the MX-5, you and the car are one.

While some might find the MX-5 engine raspy, it’s got that good, aggressive rasp timbre to it. Not that cheap-o, wheezing-gerbil-in-a-wheel type of rasp. The six-speed manual is greased lightning, yet we found the shifter knob to be rather large and bulbous for such a small and svelte car. For such a small car, fuel economy is unremarkable – 21 in the city and 28 on the highway for the six-speed model.

2008 Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT

Build

You’d think driving a 2500 pound car on the interstate amidst a sea of vehicles two and three times heavier would be a scene from Charles Bronson’s Death Wish, but the MX-5 is founded on stout build quality. In fact, J.D. Power and Associates ranks the MX-5 “Highest Ranked Compact Sporty Car in Initial Quality – Two Years in a Row”.

Standard traction control with front and side airbags protect both driver and passenger in the event Hamfists McGee runs out of talent. And as further proof of its quality, on any given day cruising the open road, you’re bound to see more than a handful of 15-year-old Miatas still going strong – torn ragtops and all. The Miata was built to last.

Interior

One of the places Mazda engineers really focused on improving was the interior. Although there was never really anything wrong with the last generation, the new MX-5 has a much more sophisticated interior appearance. The tan leather seats with optional heaters, Bose stereo system, matching door panels and piano black accents make occupants feel like they’re in a far more expensive car. The new three-spoke steering wheel is a particularly tasteful highlight, as are the aluminum drilled pedals. However, we found the gas and brake to be a little bit too far apart for quick, easy heel-toe operation.

Mazda MX-5 Miata interior

But of all the new features on the MX-5, of course the power retractable hardtop is numero uno. With a total weight penalty of only 77 pounds and 12 second total operation that compromises absolutely zero trunk space or handling performance, the only question buyers should ask is, Why shouldn’t I buy the hardtop model? On the freeway, the hardtop is noticeably quieter, especially on windy, rainy days. And there’s no debating the added feeling of security with steel over your head versus canvas. Although the hardtop is a very welcome added feature, it still isn’t like a pure hardtop. Road noise still gets in, and on long highway jaunts can get tiresome. Even still, the hardtop transforms the MX-5 from a great weekend car into a great every day car.

And Mazda engineers even took into consideration those Westerners taller than six feet, making the cabin longer and taller. So if in the past you’ve scratched the Miata off because of too little leg or headroom, put it back on your list. The MX-5 is bigger, and hard as it may be to believe, no heavier than the last generation in its basic form.

However, one question we had was, What’s with all the cupholders? We counted four in total. Perhaps one bottle for each occupant to stay hydrated, and the other to pour on your head to ease the sunburn? Regardless, the door cupholders are not only unnecessary, but are intrusive on your left leg when spirited backroads driving inevitably occurs.

Styling

There has been dissent in the automotive press about the Miata’s new styling, especially in the front. It seems people either love it or hate it, but nobody will admit to passing on the MX-5 purely because of it’s new front fascia. Like other new Mazda models, it seems the unique styling of the RX-8 has also found its way onto the MX-5, with a sculpted hood in the shape of a U and curvaceous front fenders. With the hardtop up, the MX-5 looks positively stunning, and with it down, the new Boxteresque headrest support arches add to it’s sophisticated appearance.

Mazda MX-5 Miata

GT models like our tester come equipped with beautiful 17-inch ten spoke alloy wheels. The only drawback is when it comes time to clean them. If you don’t trust car washes, you’ll be spending more time soaping the brake dust off the rims than you will washing the entire car. But hey, beauty knows no pain or inconvenience.

Value

The retractable hardtop market has gotten quite competitive, but unlike the MX-5, most of its competitors live in the $30,000 plus range. With a base MSRP of only $25,035 for the Sport model with retractable hardtop and $27,395 for the Grand Touring, so long as you don’t have much in the way of cargo requirements, the MX-5 is by far the best power retractable hardtop sports car value available on the market today.

2008 Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT

Who Should Buy It?

Any driving enthusiast who previously shied away from the Miata because of its lack of head or legroom or daily driveability should take a closer look. Also, anyone who can appreciate a small, reliable, quality two-seater that doesn’t deplete your wallet in purchase price or repairs.

Conclusion

New and improved? Incredibly, yes on both counts. New features like the retractable hardtop open the potential buyer’s market even further, and both interior and exterior design improvements increase the MX-5′s sophistication. The MX-5 is now unquestionably the sports car to beat when it comes to handling, quality, value and every day driveability.

Build

Interior

Performance

Handling

Styling

Value

Overall

Rating

4.0

5.0

4.0

5.0

5.0

5.0

4.7/A


Consumer reviews of previous generation Miatas found here

Check out all the Mazda MX-5 photos in the photo gallery

View the Specs

www.mazda.com – Official website of the Mazda Motor Corporation

6 Responses to 2008 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review – Can it Really be Improved?

  1. Pingback: Piano Lessons

  2. JRL@SFO.USA says:

    I detest cars. Mere appliances. Expensive. Boring. Aggravating. Always a problem, always an expense.

    An MX-5 isn’t a car. It’s a mindset. It’s a little piece of smile-age, where “Every Trip’s a Treat”, that “They Give[s] us the greens of summers / Makes you think all the world’s a sunny day”.

    That’s why I needed two.

    Gosh, I love MX-5s!

  3. JT Fangio says:

    Having owned every iteration of the Miata, I feel like the parent asked to name their favorite child. Each generation of Miata has it’s own handling characteristics. They are all excellent machines. However, that being said, Mazda improved on perfection. This car handles fantastically, particularly, with the handling package. The GT Ragtop is reasonably quiet at speed. Accelleration has been a most pleasant surprise. Having driven my 4 other Miatas cross country, I wouldn’t hesitate driving this newest Miata coast to coast.

    Mazda hit a grand slam homer with this car.

  4. Teresa says:

    I’ve been commuting daily in this car since May. Driving over 30 miles one way to work in moderate traffic between highway speeds of 55 to 80 mph in the Fort Worth/Mid Cities area, and I’m getting an average of 34 mpg. That was from the break-in period on and with an automatic–top up or down doesn’t seem to affect the mpg either. It’s a great ride and worth the money.

  5. John says:

    More car reviews like this please? This site does car reviews great: large real-world, un-airbrushed photos, along with real enthusiast language and feeling. Would love this guy’s take on the Boxster.

  6. Mike M says:

    Great write-up. Who is this guy?…….Seems like he sees eye-to-eye with me on almost every thing!!!





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