2023 Mazda Miata

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Sports cars come – and (usually) go. 

Not because they aren’t appealing – or even because they’re impractical. Mostly – historically – they have left the stage shortly after they took a bow because they cost too much – or weren’t that reliable – or some combination of both.

However much fun a car may be, it’s not much fun if the thing’s so expensive you can’t afford to drive it – or if it’s in the shop half as often as it’s on the road.

Fix it Again, Tony!

Mazda’s Miata has never suffered from either problem and that’s at least part of the reason why it’s still in the showroom – for going on 34 years now. 

What It Is

Everyone knows the Miata – probably because it seems as though everyone has one or knows someone who has one. Everyone sees them – because Mazda has made more than a million of them since 1989. 

That’s a huge number for a sports car.

To put it into perspective, Toyota only sold about 28,000 MR2 Spyders (soft-tops) which were only sold for a few years back in the early 2000s. Pontiac (RIP) did a little better, finding 64,000 buyers for its Solstice roadster.

Which isn’t made anymore, either.

Going back farther, there were MGs and Alfas and Triumphs, too. All lots of fun. None of them stuck around for long.

Leaving the Miata – which as of now has no direct rivals because there isn’t another two-seat roadster on the market for anything close to $28,050 – the base price of a brand-new Miata Sport, equipped with all the essentials.

Most particularly,  a six speed manual transmission.

A Club trim – which gets firmer suspension calibrations, a limited slip rear differential, shock tower bracing, more aggressive (17 inch) wheels and a number of luxury upgrades, including heated seats, gray contrast interior stitching and a nine speaker Bose premium audio system – stickers for $31,550.

The Club can also be ordered with a Recaro sport seat/Brembo brake/BBS wheel package.

A top-of-the-line Grand Touring with leather upholstery, automatic climate control and adaptive headlights – and all of the Club’s performance enhancements – lists for $33,050 with the standard six speed manual transmission.

The next-closest thing – in price – is a Toyota GR86 (and its cousin, the Subaru BRZ). They both cost about the same to start ($28,400 for the GR86, $28,595 for the BRZ) and they’re similarly laid out, in terms of being rear-drive and coming standard with manual transmissions. But the GR86 and BRZ are only available as hardtops while the Miata comes standard with a soft-top.

After that, there are roadsters such as the BMW Z4 and Toyota Supra (same thing sold under a different label) which are both very fun cars too. But the Supra stickers for $49,040 to start and the Z4 for $52,800 – almost as much as two Miatas.

That leaves not much of anything else.

What’s New for 2023

No major changes to the Miata this year other than the availability of a new exterior color – Zircon Sand and a new Terra Cotta Napa Leather option for the Grand Touring.

Why fix what’s not broken?

What’s Good

Fun you can afford to drive.

Reliable, so you can drive it every day.

Retro, in that it’s brand-new but largely free of new-car annoyances such as engine stop-start “technology.” It even still has a manual, pull-up emergency brake. Analog gauges, too.

What’s Not So Good

It’s not for you if you like to drink coffee while you drive.

Soft-top offers an easy way in – to thieves.

“Glovebox” is hard to reach – and doesn’t hold much.

Under The Hood

All Miatas are powered by the same 2.0 liter four cylinder engine – which is not hidden under a generic plastic cover because it is something worth looking at.

It makes 181 horsepower at 7,000 RPM (and 151 ft.-lbs. of torque at 4,000 RPM).

By the numbers. it’s not as powerful an engine as the new (larger, this year) 2.4 liter, 228 horsepower engine that comes standard in the just-updated 2023 Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ twins. But the Miata makes up for that by being a much lighter car than either of those two.

It weighs just 2,341 lbs. vs. 2,811 for the GR86/BRZ twins – a difference of 470 lbs.

This explains why there’s very little difference between the Miata’s 0-60 time (5.6 seconds) and the twins’ (5.4 seconds). It’s a difference you cannot tell – without a stop watch.

There is one very noticeable difference, however.

The Miata drinks much less gas. With the standard manual six speed transmission, the flyweight Miata rates 25 city/34 highway – vs. a startlingly consumptive 20 city, 27 highway for the BRZ and GR86.

A V8-powered Mustang GT (15 city, 24 highway) is only slightly thirstier.

Subaru engines (the Toyota and BRZ have the same Subaru-sourced flat four boxer engine) are notoriously thirsty for their size; it’s why other new Subarus all come standard with a continuously variable (CVT) automatic, to try to make up for some of that. But a manual is a must in a car such as this – even though the twins are available with an automatic (a conventional six speed).

It doesn’t help much.

Even with its available automatic, the twins only manage slightly better mileage: 21 city, 30 highway. And to get it, you have to give up the manual – which is like giving up the alcohol in your beer.

Speaking of automatics . . .

Mazda also offers one with the Miata but it comes at a cost, too. In the first place, it’s not available with the base Sport or the Club trims. It keeps things straight, so to speak.

You must buy the most-expensive Grand Touring trim in order to buy the automatic – and doing so deletes all of the Club trim’s performance upgrades.

On the upside, you get slightly better gas mileage: 26 city, 35 highway.

Every Miata is – of course – rear-wheel-drive and (bless you, Mazda) you can turn the traction control entirely off whenever you feel the urge to break traction. Also, there is no ASS – automatic engine stop/start “technology” with the manual-equipped Miata. The engine stays on until you shut it off.

And the Miata’s engine is not direct injected. Just port fuel-injected. This means no worries about DI-induced valve-crudding down the road and in any case a simpler and so less-likely-to-have-problems engine.

On The Road

To drive a Miata is to remember what it is like to drive.

You do that. Literally. The car is there to do what you ask of it.

But it won’t do it if you don’t.

And that is just the point.

You must rev the engine to extract its power – to 7,000 RPM, if you want all the power it makes. And you must shift. That may sound like work – but rest assured, it is fun. The Miata’s shift-action is part of what makes it so. And that you control it. And then there is the engine, itself – which loves to be revved.

Or at least, gives the impression it does.

Some engines sound unhappy when pressed. The Miata’s sounds ecstatic. Other sounds accompany as you enjoy driving this car, none of them artificial. Mechanical sounds – the engine, the gearbox, the exhaust. It involves you in an experience of movement that is as close to riding a motorcycle as you’ll find on four wheels.

With the upside of being able to throw a roof over your head when the rain bursts forth. And you can do that, literally – whenever you like. The Miata’s soft-top is a manual soft-top, so no motors to beg leave of that are controlled by programming written with a nod to whatever the lawyers said was actionable (and not). Thus, you do not have to stop to lower – or raise – the top. Though it’s a good idea, probably, to slow to a near stop before trying to raise the top.

Else it might act like a drag chute.

But the point here is how easy it is to just undo the catch at the top of the windshield and toss the top back.

Mazda makes some other points, too. As via the hilariously useless cup holders that are clearly designed to discourage coffee-sipping while driving. Because why would you do that when you have a car like this to drive?

At The Curb

The Miata is, of course, a small car. It’s part of the point of the thing.

It’s surprising, in fact, how much  bigger cars like the Toyota GR86 and Soobie BRZ are, relative to the Miata they try to emulate. The former two are 167.9 inches long – vs. 154.1 for the Miata. That is a difference of nearly a foot in length – which is no small thing for cars this size.

And yet, the room inside – at least, up front – is about the same.

The Miata actually has more front seat legroom (43.1 inches) than the twins (41.5 inches) and slightly more headroom for the driver and front seat passenger (37.4 inches vs. 37 inches for the twins).

But, the twins do have something the Miata doesn’t.

Back seats and – hypothetically – the ability to carry more than one passenger. However, the twins’ backseats are – how shall we say? – confining. Just 29.9 inches of legroom – and almost four inches less headroom (33.5 inches) than you’ve got up front. There’s also the difficulty of getting in – and out – which cannot be done unless the driver/front seat passenger get out first.

But, the twins can carry something in the back. Also a bit more in the trunk. They have 6.3 cubic feet of space back there vs. 4.6 for the Miata. But the Miata can carry more in a pinch – because you can lower the top. I needed to get some seven foot trim boards for a project and was able to get them home, using the Miata. I would have had to use my truck if I’d had either of the twins to test drive this week – because you can’t lower the top and that greatly limits what you can cart home in them.

There is also visibility to consider. It is superb – in the Miata – with the roof down because you can see everything, because nothing is obstructed by structure. Visibility ahead of you is just fine in the twins. But less so to the sides – and a lot less so to the rear.

On the downside – as regards the Miata’s soft top – the latter is much more vulnerable to thieves. Maybe that’s why Mazda also makes a Miata hardtop – the RF – which covers that base, so to speak.

The Rest

One of the few things not to like about this car is the hard-to-reach (and hard to find) 12V power point, which is secreted on the passenger side footwell in a place that is impossible for the driver to see (or reach) without stopping, getting out and moving over to the passenger side to find it. But at least it is still there – and that matters, a lot, because most radar detectors plug into 12V sockets not USB ports.

And driving a Miata without a radar detector is kind of like taking your sister to the prom.

The Bottom Line

Res ipsa loquitur – as they say in Latin. By which is meant: It speaks for itself.

For going on 35 years now.

. . .

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29 COMMENTS

  1. the Mazda Miata was an Lotus Elan copy.

    in the 1960s, Toyota wanted to show that it was a player on the world automotive scene and they introduced the 2000GT

    Under the 2000GTs skin, though, the car is a near copy of the Elan’s chassis.

    There is no question that the Elan’s backbone frame, Chapman strut rear suspension, and general layout was copied by the 2000GT. Other than the two extra engine cylinders, the two cars’ chassis look almost identical.

    the Mazda Miata was an Lotus Elan copy.

    Tom Matano and the other Mazda designers involved with the first Miata used the Elan as a design brief is common knowledge. someone had the opportunity to ask Matano how it felt to be “the most successful sports car designer ever”.

    Matano told me that because the Miata was based on the Elan, he was actually prouder of the last RX-7, which was a clean sheet design.

    Colin Chapman’s son said lotus should have kept making the Elan, Lotus made 12,000 Elans,

    Mazda sold over a million Miata’s, On April 22, 2016, Mazda broke its Guinness World Record by producing its one millionth MX-5

    • The ghost of John Shute would disagree. The MX-5’s story is told in the UK magazine “Soft Top Hardtop,” which I’ve only read excerpts online. Tom Matano’s team from Irvine, California, as well as a competing team at Mazda headquarters in Hiroshima, both failed to come up with a viable British-style roadster during the early 1980s.

      Matano hired his old friend, John Shute, with whom Matano knew back when the two worked at GM, Australia. Shute left Australia to start up IAD (International Automotive Design), in Worthing, West Sussex, England. The IAD personnel roster was 800 employees at the time (1985), so they had plenty of engineers to throw at the project. Shute reputedly had the largest MG collection in Europe then, which the engineers at IAD used to crib design details, like the future MX-5 convertible top.

      The Ron Hickman Elan has a fiberglass body, like the original IAD prototype, but the final Mazda production car, as we know, ended up with a steel unibody like the MGB. The MX-5 NA was tuned to sound like an MGB engine as well. Though both the Lotus and NA have backbone frames, the frames are completely different designs, Hickman’s being pressed steel, while the Miata looks closer to the very first backboned frame, the 1904 Austin 8!

      If the UK (and one Mexican and one female) engineers at IAD copied from anyone, it was Don Hayter’s MGB. It took IAD eight months to come up with the design, another year to make five mules (working prototypes) and another year at Hiroshima to help with the tooling and production lines. The original Miata NA was IAD’s baby.

      I just bought the ND club a few weeks ago and completely agree with the review.

  2. There’s a Miata for sale in Saskatoon up in Saskatchewan, Canada.

    You wouldn’t think a town like Saskatoon wouldn’t even exist that far north in Canada, but 175,000 Canadians there don’t mind that much.

    Grande Prairie is a killer town in Alberta.

    Now is the time of year for the Great North American road trip. You can do it in Canada, by the way.

    Fly into Saskatoon, buy the used Miata there and head out on the highway over to Grande Prairie. You won’t be disappointed.

    After that, make your way to Mt. Robson then over to Burns Junction.

    Robson is a fourteen thousand foot tall mountain, mountain climbers face a daunting challenge there.

    Most of all, it is always fun to go to new places and see new faces.

    • **”You wouldn’t think a town like Saskatoon wouldn’t even exist that far north in Canada, but 175,000 Canadians there don’t mind that much.”**

      Heh, I knew a guy who lived in Churchill (Manitoba?)…… He invited me to visit once…wish I would have been able to go/had a way to get there (I don’t fly on commercial airlines). Seemed like a pretty artificial existence….but it would be an experience, experiencing -50* and polar bears!

      • Saskatoon is now 275,000 population, it has grown. I did not know that.

        Nickel mines in the Churchill area of Manitoba, Churchill Resources is a Canadian mining company. CRI:TX, it is a speculative stock at 6 cents per share.

        Saskatoon is west and south of Churchill and is on the Saskatchewan River. You’ll go through Winnipeg by land.

        The vastness of the Canadian prairie is a sight to see and not soon forgotten.

        Hudson’s Bay is an impact crater from a giant meteor. There are other impact craters in Quebec.

        To the north of Saskatoon is Canadian forest, wilderness.

        The Eskimos always know if the polar bears are declining or not. They say no.

        Thanks for the reply.

        • When I was young and unaffected by the cold (Heck, I used to like it!), and before Canookistan went all libtard, I used to picture myself living in a nice little cabin in the wilds of Alberta. At least I had p[icked the right province- as Alberta’s the one prov that seems to be trying to put up a little resistance to the libtardiness. How’re they doing with that these days?

  3. The manual transmission is the best on the planet and ever created. 180hp is fine for this car, more than enough (that’s what she said haha). Great review, great car.

  4. Can’t be! For a new car…it actually looks nice! Not a cookie-cutter look-a-like. I actually get an old-skool vibe from it. If it had round sealed-beam headlights…..

  5. I needed to get some seven foot trim boards for a project and was able to get them home, using the Miata.

    Where’s the picture? 😀

    If you carry lumber in your Miata… you might be a redneck!

  6. Curious as to your thoughts of Miata vs Mustang GT convertible. Two very different approaches to a “sports” car. I just cant get over not having a V8! My midlife (okay, let’s say more accurately, 3/4 life) crisis is a sports car. One shot, and dont want any “regerts”. Which would be more satisfying? I’m not really any kind of “canyon carver” or anything, but would have to have crisp handling for a spirited ride. The straight line power is awfully fun too, even if it doesn’t require any driving to just simply mash the gas.

    • Hi MDP,

      The Mustang (which is a sporty car) is a much larger – and much more practical car. It has back seats – and it has more room up front. But it is also a much heavier car that isn’t as agile as the Miata (which is a sports car). The Miata is much less expensive to buy – and to drive – than the V8 Mustang GT. The GT is much quicker – and faster.

      I have a V8 muscle car – and love it. I also love the Miata. Each for different reasons because they are different kinds of cars.

      Which one’s for you really comes down to a number of subjectives that can only be addressed via a test drive of each.

  7. Miata’s soft top is much more vulnerable to thieves.
    Having driven one as a daily driver for about 25 years, I simply never left anything of value in the cockpit, and never locked the doors. If it had value, I locked it in the trunk. I’d prefer they just ransack the car rather than slash the top.
    I haven’t driven one newer than 2008, or older than 1999, but they were all, each and every one a monument to automobile engineering, in my mind the equal or better of any other.
    You don’t actually ride in a Miata, you wear it.

    • I’m in my 34th year happily wearing a Miata., currently a ’99 10AE with 76k.
      I loved a ’90 for about 65k (Nov. ’89 to ’95), my ’94 for about 110k (’95 to ’13) , a ’99 in NZ for 5k a year, and the 10AE for 30k (’14 to present.)
      I only drove a Nc once, but it had little storage behind the seats with the top up and the seating position was lowered (to please taller people, I presume) so I had less visibility.
      I wish Mazda would lose the gaping smile in the Nd, but that wouldn’t stop me from buying a used one someday.
      I still like the Na styling best by far.

  8. The only thing disappointing about the Miata is the available color pallet. Some vibrant colors would be nice.

    But, let me get this straight, Eric. You were given a new Miata to drive in the Blue Ridge Mountains for a week and you only had to pay for gas?

    I hate you.

    • Hi Mark!

      Yup. But – my punishment looms. The Miata goes away tomorrow… in its place? A VW EeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeVeeeeeeeeeee.

      • A dark cloud loomed on the horizon of his mind. He knew it was coming and was powerless to make it stop. The journey from ecstasy to excrement would be swift and unrelenting.

      • You know you want one, Eric.
        It’s a business expense to be available for comparison to every other test car.

        • Hi John,

          Not just that… she does! Though I tell her all the time her RAV4 (with manual) is damn fine sleeper and a damn fine little ride, too.

          • I don’t think anyone who has ever driven one doesn’t want one. Unless they are afraid of such performance. The only obstacle is can you live with a car that is designed to carry two golf bags, or three grocery bags, and little else. Easily solved by having another more spacious vehicle. For emergency use only of course. When my former wife drove mine, she complained that things were coming at her too fast. I said, how is it different riding than driving? To which she replied, when you’re driving you have to do something about it. I assume that’s because of it being so close to the ground. Which does make it seem you’re going faster than you are.

            • Hi John,

              My ex was not a fan of sports cars or motorcycles. But she is now my ex! The woman I’m with now loves motorcycles and sports cars even more than I do. This is a strange position for me to be in! I still have to check myself when we go out. Remind myself that she likes the experience – eggs me on to deliver more of it!

    • You don’t notice the color so much while you are driving it, which is the main thing about Miatas. Personally I prefer silver. It doesn’t show dirt as much, which means I get to spend more time driving and less time washing.

      • As the owner of an ’02 Crystal Blue w/Tan I wish they had some other options in yellow, greens, various blues. Only the 30th Anniversary orange has any pop.

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