2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review and Test Drive
The affordable sports car for the driving enthusiast.
When I was a kid, my dad took my brother and me to a go-kart track in Door County, Wisconsin. Storms had just passed, the track remained pretty wet, and the teenager running the place was bored. So, he ignored the rules and let us drive. We had an absolute blast in the surprisingly high-powered gas-fueled karts, drifting, spinning, and crashing into the tires lining the slippery track. He even joined in the fun, showing us how it was done. It is an unforgettable memory of my childhood that I will always cherish.
Mazda introduced the MX-5 Miata about a decade later at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show. A tiny two-seater with only 116 horsepower, the Miata did not impress my college buddies during the era of 5.0-liter V8 engines bolted into Fox-body Mustangs. Plus, the dainty name and cute pop-up headlights didn't exactly drip with masculinity. Not knowing any better, I agreed with their assessment of Mazda's new roadster — until I drove one.
In the fall of 1994, while living in Arizona, I flew into Hollywood Burbank Airport in Southern California for the first of a series of back-to-back business trips. The rental lot was full of cars, and I wanted something interesting to drive. The attendant offered a 1994 Mazda MX-5 Miata. It was white, had an automatic transmission, and was so much fun that my three-day rental turned into three weeks. I canceled my upcoming flights between Phoenix and Los Angeles and drove that Miata more than 3,000 miles all over Southern California and Arizona.
Every drive in that white rented Miata reminded me of that Wisconsin go-kart track.
It's been almost 30 years since the Mazda MX-5 Miata stole my heart, and I've owned five of them, with a 37,000-mile Mazdaspeed parked in my garage as I write this. But the fourth-generation version of the car is the best example, especially those built since the 2019 model year. That's when the Miata got a bump in power that makes it an absolute delight to drive. And if you get a 2022 or newer MX-5 Miata, you'll benefit from Kinematic Posture Control (KPC), which adds some brake-based "secret sauce" to the sports car's handling.
Mazda hasn't made any changes to the 2023 MX-5 Miata except to offer it in a new Zircon Sand paint color that resembles what you might find all over an infant's bib. Of all the paint colors on the Mazda palette, this one isn't right for the Miata.
The 2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata comes in a convertible body style or as a coupe with a power-retractable roof panel and rear window (MX-5 Miata RF). Base prices range from the high $20,000s to the low $40,000s.
For this MX-5 Miata review, I test-drove a convertible in Grand Touring trim in Southern California, driving many of the same roads I did in that rental car three decades ago. My test car came with extra-cost Soul Red paint, bringing the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $34,810, including the $1,165 destination charge. Mazda provided the vehicle for this MX-5 Miata review.
2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Design
Between the two body styles, I prefer driving the convertible when the top is down and the RF when the top is up. In addition, the RF offers a cozier cabin in chilly and inclement weather and some added security from thieves. But when you drive the RF at speed with the roof stowed and the side windows down, the roof pillars blast the passing airflow into the left side of your head, making the experience more turbulent and unpleasant than in the convertible.
Two people can ride in a Miata. I'm almost six feet tall with a 33-inch pants inseam and about 50 pounds overweight. But I fit without any trouble. Anyone wider or taller than me will struggle, including while getting in and out of the car. It sits close to the ground, and if you lack youthful legs, graceful entry and exit are a challenge.
Don't bring much into the car because storage space is nearly nonexistent. Depending on what kind of smartphone you have, it might fit on the shelf forward of the shifter. There are also tiny bins in the door panels and a shallow tray under the center armrest pad.
The locking glove compartment is on the cabin's rear wall, between the seatbacks. One cupholder clips into a slot and puts your drink right where your passenger's left leg wants to rest. The other one clips between the seats, where it is essentially useless. The trunk offers 4.6 cu-ft of cargo, enough for a roll-aboard suitcase and a backpack but not much else.
Nobody buys a Miata for its practicality. Instead, Mazda's singularly purposed sports car is about the joy of driving. With this car, you drop the top, immerse yourself in the surroundings, and enjoy the sights, scents, and sounds of the journey in a way that is possible on four wheels only in a convertible. So pack light, bring plenty of sunblock, and have fun.
2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Technology
Elemental sports cars like the MX-5 Miata still don't offer much technology, but Mazda Connect covers the basics with a 7.0-inch display as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. With the Club and Grand Touring trims, the Miata features a nine-speaker Bose premium sound system. Mazda locates two speakers in the front head restraints to improve sound quality when driving with the top down. A navigation system is standard with Grand Touring trim.
The Miata's infotainment system is dated — but in a good way. Unlike other Mazdas, it offers touchscreen sensitivity when the car isn't moving. While driving, you must use the infotainment system controls located on the center console or attempt verbal commands through the pitifully unresponsive native voice recognition technology.
On the freeway, Siri struggled to hear me whether the top was up or down due to the high level of interior noise. The Bose sound system successfully overcomes the din, though, and remains audible at highway speeds with the top down.
The list of safety features includes Smart City Brake Support, a forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking capability at speeds between 2 and 18 mph. The car also has lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert systems. Automatic high-beam headlights and traffic-sign recognition are available.
This car's tiny size and ultra-light 2,341-pound curb weight are their own safety features, igniting a spark of self-preservation that burns like a flame within its driver while navigating SUV- and truck-infested roads.
2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata: The Drive
Mazda equips the MX-5 Miata with a midship-mounted 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine generating 181 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 151 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. It pairs with a standard six-speed manual gearbox to drive the car's rear wheels. If you don't want to drive a manual, a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters is an option, but only with Grand Touring trim.
To ensure the best possible handling, Mazda pursues the goal of a 50:50 front-to-rear weight distribution, which is why the automaker mounts the engine aft of the front axle. Ultimately, the car places 52% of its weight over the front wheels and 48% over the rear wheels (53:47 with the automatic). A sophisticated double-wishbone front and multilink rear suspension manages the car's ride and handling, and the Club and Grand Touring with a manual gearbox benefit from sport-tuned Bilstein shocks, a front shock tower brace, and a limited-slip rear differential.
Kinematic Posture Control (KPC) debuted in 2022 and is standard on all Miatas. This brake-based technology works when you're driving enthusiastically, adding a slight amount of braking to the inside rear wheel during high-g-force cornering events. The brake input effectively pulls that corner of the Miata down, reducing body roll and improving the steering feel.
Before KPC, I thought the fourth-generation Miata's rear end could feel a little light and loose. The behavior added to the fun but also made the car a little unpredictable and harder to trust. With KPC, the Miata's cornering behavior is more secure, and the tamer tail better matches the car's terrific drivetrain.
With a 7,500-rpm redline, you can drive almost any mountain road using second and third gear. The short-throw gearbox is among the best of its kind, and the clutch is easy to use. But you won't find automatic downshift rev-matching with this car. Instead, experienced drivers enjoy properly spaced pedals for heel-and-toe downshifts.
It might not sound like much, but 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft is plenty in a car this light. Besides, one of the great things about driving a Miata is that you can explore its capability without getting too far out over your skis. To underscore my point, when did you last watch a TikTok of somebody wiping out in a Miata while leaving a Cars and Coffee?
You can incrementally improve a Miata's ride, handling, and braking by choosing the Club trim and adding the creatively named Brembo BBS Recaro option package. It installs heated Recaro sport seats with simulated suede inserts, beefy Brembo front brakes, and forged aluminum BBS wheels that reduce unsprung weight at each corner.
Still, the Grand Touring test car rode on the same rubber and suspension as a Club with that option package and provided just as much driving enjoyment while effortlessly returning 29.8 mpg on the evaluation loop. While I would like a slightly thicker steering wheel rim and a little more firmness in the remarkably supple ride, the 2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring convertible is a grin-inducing gift that keeps on giving, just like my late-1970s memory of a damp go-kart track near the shore of Lake Michigan.
Is the 2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata a Good Car?
If you're looking for a budget-friendly two-seat sports car engineered with relentless attention to detail for no other purpose than to maximize the joy of driving, the 2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata is more than a good car. It is a great one.
Introduced when people thought convertibles were dead, the MX-5 Miata has stood the test of time. It sparked a renaissance of two-seat droptop sports cars, including the Audi TT, BMW Z3 and Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLK and SLC, and Porsche 718 Boxster. General Motors even took a stab at making roadsters with the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky. Starting in 2024, only the BMW, Mazda, and Porsche remain available. Guess which one is the most affordable.
In addition, the National Auto Sport Association calls the Miata "the most raced car in North America." Mazda's roadster has also spawned an entire racing series called Spec Miata, ensuring it is the go-to car for engaging in grassroots motorsports on a budget.
If that's not an implied endorsement of the Miata's sports-car credentials, I don't know what is.