Mazda MX-5 Miata

With much of its competition gone by the wayside over its 22-year run, the Mazda MX-5 Miata is a spirited little roadster that finds itself today pretty much in a class by itself. For 2012, Mazda introduces a Special Edition with lots of new details. Only 450 were produced, and we got one.

First, a little history. Mazda introduced the MX-5 in 1989, and since then the little 2-seat sports car has seen several facelifts and limited edition models. But the character of the car has changed little, even though Mazda has sold more than 900,000 units over the years. Competitors at one time included the Saturn Sky and the Pontiac Solstice, but alas those two are no more. There are other 2-seat roadsters, but they are not in the Miata’s price range.

Three trim levels are offered: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. All are powered by a light and compact 2.0-liter engine that makes 167 horsepower (158 horsepower for automatic transmission models) and 140 lb.-ft. of torque. The standard transmission is a 5-speed manual, but a 6-speed manual and a sport automatic are available.

The standard roof is a manually operated soft top, but a power retractable hardtop is available. The soft top can be opened or closed from inside the cabin.

Our Special Edition test vehicle had the power hardtop, which took a scant 12 seconds to open and close. With the top down, the vehicle is equipped with an air baffle that keeps air from rushing back into the cabin. I can’t tell that much difference with the baffle…let’s just say your hair will still get mussed when you ride with the top down. And in our blistering south Louisiana summer heat, even if you have the top down, it feels good to keep the air conditioning blowing.

Our limited Special Edition test car also had really cool 17-inch Black Gunmetal aluminum alloy wheels and the 6-speed manual transmission in addition to the black power retractable hard top.

The MX-5 Miata is, to be sure, a light car with a curb weight of only about 2,500 pounds, depending on the model. And all that weight is distributed evenly between the front and rear, giving the roadster about a 50:50 weight distribution ratio. When your car is balanced front to rear, it helps performance and handling. With its light weight and balance, the Miata totally makes the most of its 167 horses. The Miata handles well, with only a little lean in the hard corners. Acceleration is adequate, and the steering is superb.

The Sport model is the entry level Miata, and it has a nice standard package of 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels, a leather steering wheel, dual exhausts, cloth upholstery, power-adjusted windows and mirrors, air conditioning, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 system with six speakers and speed-sensing automatic volume control.

The Touring model adds cruise control, fog lamps, remote keyless entry with retractable key, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, a trip computer and an in-dash six-disc CD changer. The five-speed manual transmission in the Sport is replaced with the six-speed manual gearbox with a leather shift knob. Lightweight 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels are standard for Touring models.

When opting for the six-speed sport automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, a Convenience Package is added which includes cruise control, fog lamps, power door locks, remote keyless entry with retractable key, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls and a trip computer.

The Grand Touring model adds more interior leather, heated leather seats, automatic climate control and a seven-speaker Bose sound system.

Extras include a Suspension Package for Grand Touring manual transmission models, and a Premium Package that includes xenon headlights, an anti-theft alarm, Bluetooth hands-free audio and phone connectivity, Sirius Satellite radio with a complimentary four-month subscription and the Mazda Advanced Keyless Entry system. Mazda says more than 75 percent of Grand Touring buyers opt for the Premium Package.

2012 Mazda MX-5 MiataSpecial Edition

Engine: 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Horsepower: 167

Test model base price: $31,225 (special edition price)

EPA Mileage rating: 21 mpg city / 28 mpg highway /24 mpg combined