Reviews

2014 Mazda MX-5 Walk Around

In general, Mazda has done a masterful job designing and updating the MX-5. This third-generation Miata evokes the themes of the original 1990 model as well as the second-generation car of 1999-2005. Yet, the current MX-5 is slightly larger in every measure than previous versions, from what's beneath the hood to the interior to the shadow it casts on the road.

The MX-5 design has definitely evolved since the beginning, especially when seen from the side. Sharply sculpted wheel flares appear to be adapted from the high-performance RX-8 coupe, in an example of what the company calls Mazda design DNA. The flared wheel arches also spread wide enough to cover the current Miata's wider track. (Track is the distance between the left and right wheels). It's three inches wider in front, two inches wider in the rear when compared with the previous-generation MX-5. This gives the car a more athletic stance, making the MX-5 look more aggressive and less cuddly than its predecessors.

The convertible soft top is Mazda's best yet, and one of the best anywhere. The Sport model's standard vinyl top, with its heated glass rear window, collapses into a well behind the seats cleanly and completely, requiring no cover boot. The top looks neatly finished when it's down, with no additional effort. It's manually operated, but so light and easy to use you can raise or lower it with one hand while sitting in the driver's seat. No one is likely to pine for power assist, though we do appreciate the upgrade from the base vinyl roof to the woven fabric that comes on the Grand Touring model.

The Power Retractable Hard Top is a cinch to operate, quick to fold, a veritable miracle of space efficiency. Stop the car and put it in neutral (or Park for the automatic). Pop a single handle at the top of the windshield, touch a button on the dash, and in 12 seconds the top has contorted itself into the same well the soft-top uses. The hardtop is made of lightweight materials: sheet molding compound on the outside and glass fiber-reinforced polypropylene on the inside. The entire apparatus including electric motors adds less than 80 pounds to an impressively light car.

Other weight-saving measures include an aluminum hood and trunk lid, aluminum suspension components, and extensive use of high-strength and ultra high-strength steel in the basic body shell. These design features help maintain a sports-car appropriate weight balance of 51 percent over the front wheels and 49 percent over the rear (with the hard top). That, in turn, promotes the MX-5's wonderful agility and handling balance.

Interior

The MX-5 cockpit has no significant changes for 2014. Fit-and-finish is tight and smooth, and materials are richer than in previous generations. Trim panels on the center stack fit flush and look expensively made. The base cloth upholstery is nice, with lightly woven, smooth-finish bolsters and waffle-weave insets. Depending on the weather, the cloth upholstery can be more comfortable than leather, which comes standard in the Grand Touring models. The hardtop roof's headliner is finished in a hard, flat-black textured covering that, if not luxurious, is certainly tidy. Overall, interior quality and appearance are way better than old-time Miata faithful will expect.

The MX-5 is roomier than it looks. The current generation grew in all dimensions, and it's more accommodating than ever, even if it can still be a snug fit for full-figured or really tall drivers. Rearward seat travel was extended by about an inch, and you can feel the difference. In a previous-generation MX-5, a six-foot-tall driver would have to slide the driver's seat all the way back. Now, there's a notch or two left.

Seats are neither overly firm nor too plush, but they are properly bolstered for the type of driving the Miata invites. The seat shape has been refined for better lower-body comfort, while the backrest still delivers body-hugging lateral support. For taller drivers, thigh support is acceptable at best, and there is still no lumbar adjustment. The tilt steering wheel helps at least a little, and the seat-height adjustment is a welcome bonus. The properly stubby shift lever is where it should be, while the hand brake sits on the passenger side of the drive tunnel.

A single set of power window buttons is located on the center console, aft of the shift boot. The center stack hosts intuitively positioned stereo and air conditioning knobs, buttons, and recessed toggles that are easy to grasp and manipulate. A power outlet conveniently placed at the base of the center stack waits for a cell phone or other device. Four air registers are spaced across the dash in a dark silver panel. They swivel with a surprisingly expensive feel.

All gauges are analog, with a large, round tachometer and matching speedometer straddling the steering column, shaded from all but trailing sunlight by an arched hood. Fuel level is reported in a small circle to the lower left, coolant temperature to the lower right, and oil pressure (thank you very much!) by a matching triplet positioned top center between the tach and speedo. It's the kind of engine monitoring sports car drivers love.

Headlights are managed by a stalk on the left side of the steering column, windshield wipers and washer by a stalk on the right. On the Touring model and above, the horizontal steering wheel spokes have cruise and secondary audio controls.

The premium sound system has a function Bose calls Audiopilot. It goes beyond simple speed-sensing volume control by actually re-mixing the sound coming out of the speakers to help the stereo punch through the ambient wind and road noise that accompanies open-air motoring. Oversize speakers dominate the forward part of the door panels.

Water-bottle holders are molded into the space between the speakers and the door pulls/armrests. There's a decent amount of storage for a small, two-seat car: A lockable glove box that's surprisingly roomy, storage in the center console, and bins behind each of the seats with the soft top (they're sacrificed in Hard Top models).

Neither the soft top nor the retractable hard top impact trunk room. With the hard top, a rear panel aft of the front seats raises to allow the top to drop into the well, and covers it back up once it's snuggled in place. That's a blessing because the MX-5 has little trunk space to begin with. That's not unusual with cars of this type, of course, and many luxury-brand sports cars have tops that fold into the trunk, further exacerbating the problem.

The trunk's 5.3-cubic-foot capacity is shaped for a few small, soft bags. It's just enough to get a couple traveling light through a weekend trip, and it takes a decent load of groceries. Mazda has said the floor is deep enough for a case of tall, 1.5-liter beverage bottles. The spare tire was left out more to save weight than to add space for golf clubs.

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