Life is too short to drive a boring car. And—spoiler alert—although there are plenty of sporty cars from which to choose, you won’t find any that are more enjoyable to drive than the Mazda MX-5 Miata.
In a world of high-horsepower muscle cars, it might be easy to dismiss this traditional two-seat roadster as underpowered. What the Miata offers, however, is something antithetical to those heavyweight bruisers—namely a zippy driving experience made even more engaging when its naturally aspirated 181-hp 4-cylinder engine is fitted with a standard 6-speed manual transmission. Excellent fuel economy makes exercising this powertrain a guilt-free pleasure.
Much as you’d expect, the Miata’s handling, steering, and braking are all above reproach. The firmer suspension of the sportier Club model is great fun on winding roads and fine for around-town use, but it feels a little stiff on the freeway.
Admittedly, a car this size has its limitations. The cabin can be noisy and cramped, especially for taller drivers, and the 5-cubic-foot trunk will make light packers of you and your companion.
The new RF version of the MX-5, with its power folding hardtop, offers greater security, but the ungainly rear pillar takes away from the Miata’s essential convertible vibe. Thus, the easy-open manual soft top is the way to go for savoring the best in lively alfresco motoring.
Vehicle layout: 2.0-liter inline 4 (181 hp), 6-speed manual, RWD
MSRP, base model: $27,500; (as tested: $38,006)
MPG, city/highway/combined: 26/34/29
Safety ratings: NHTSA, IIHS: not yet rated
Spare tire: Tire-repair kit
Final assembly: Hiroshima, Japan
Basic warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles