When the term “driver’s car” is uttered, it nearly always refers to something like the Mazda Miata. The little Mazda MX-5, whose current rendition arrived in 2016, carries the mantle of the beloved Miata name. Unlike many enthusiast cars, the Mazda Miata is multi-generational, which has allowed it to withstand the usual loss of interest that other enthusiast rides have suffered from.
The Mazda Miata’s primary focus is on drive dynamics. It’s fun, a bit quirky, and still very much the flagship of Mazda’s “Zoom Zoom” mantra. This year, the 2021 MX-5 Miata gets wireless Apple CarPlay integration and a white leather upholstery option.
Swerve Autos Score: 83/100
The two versions of the 2021 MX-5 include the soft top and the hard top (RF) models. The greatest difference between these two models is in styling. The soft top has a (necessarily) flatter roofline because of the ripple effect of the multi-layer cloth on struts. The RF model’s hard top is smoother in appearance. Styling is otherwise identical.
The 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata has a distinctive flow from its grinning mouth of a grille. Heavy fender humps to either side of the rounded, but relatively plain hood, hint at the small powerplant inside. The windshield is fairly steep by comparison, which serves to accent the forward push of the cabin and which allows the rear end to be more clipped for a saloon design overall. The high windscreen also allows the roof to be a bit flatter so it takes up less space when stowed.
The accent marks of the 2021 Miata are in the fender lines, both front and rear, the large rear pillar and its fastback look, and the grinning grille. The fastback rear, however, is an illusion as the rear window is actually flat, giving the rear view of the MX-5 a design more akin to an Alfa Romeo or Lotus–both more expensive options against the Mazda.
The primary complaint to be found with the Miata in any generation is in cabin space. It’s a very small two seater, so space is at a premium. For those taller than six feet, it’s even worse when the roof is up. But the MX-5 is meant to be driven with the roof down. That’s a large part of its appeal.
Aside from the headroom issue, there’s little to complain about in the little Miata. Mazda chose premium seating, an excellent controls layout, and managed to get a fair amount of storage into the tiny space the passenger cabin allows. Seat adjustments are necessarily minimized due to the small space given, of course, but there is enough there that most will be able to find a position that works for them. Even taller folks, if driving the manual transmission option (highly recommended) will note that the pushed forward seating aids in shifting and allows more seatback movement as a result.
Performance metrics are about more than pure horsepower and torque ratings. The Mazda Miata is proof of that, with the 2021 model going a long ways with its small 2.0-liter four. No, there’s no turbocharging, but the MX-5 doesn’t need that. It pulls 181 horsepower at peak, but gives more than half that at lower RPM, and 151 pound-feet of torque, again with most of that coming fairly early in the band. That power output engages with either of two very well-done transmissions.
A six-speed manual with a forgiving clutch and short shifter throw is our preferred option here, but the six-speed automatic (driven in previous years of this generation Miata) is not a slouch either. Power delivery (all to the rear wheels) is excellent and the Miata’s handling characteristics are better than many European luxury coupes we’ve tried.
The best way to engage the 2021 Miata is to smooth the clutch out as the accelerator is pressed, slow enough to slide into engagement but fast enough to avoid burn. Then allow the RPM to build quickly and, as it gets near peak, move up again. Daily highway driving with 1-3-5-6 shifts is engaging and easy while performance driving using all six gears is loads of fun. But don’t straight line the MX-5. It needs turns to really be enjoyed.
Let’s face it, nobody buys a two seat sports car with an eye towards practicality. Even at that, though, the Miata is surprisingly low on the versatility scale. With the retractable top taking up most of the trunk space, there’s just about enough left to throw in a carryon bag and maybe a large purse. Trips to the big box store better not be for anything larger than a bulk box of coffee pods either.
As a fun daily driver and weekend sports tripper, the 2021 Mazda Miata is a great vehicle. But if you add a passenger and any kind of plans for an overnight stay, you begin stretching the capabilities of this car.
Because it’s small, though, the daily drive won’t require much fuel. The Miata is rated at 26 mpg in the city and 34 or 35 mpg on the highway, depending on transmission choice. Our testing proved the highway number out and as a daily driver, we averaged 29 mpg as well.
Despite being a tiny two seater, the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata is more comfortable than might be expected. In fact, it’s one of the most comfortable non-luxury sports cars we’ve tried. Seating is a big part of that, being both accommodating and adjustable. Legroom, headroom, and shoulder room are as expected for a car this size.
At the base level, the Miata comes with a 7-inch touchscreen and two USB ports. This system includes Bluetooth, HD radio, and six speakers. Upgrading that system nets add-ons like Apple CarPlay (wired or wireless), Android Auto (wired only), and a nine-speaker system from Bose.
The infotainment system is controlled via a central command knob. It becomes a touchscreen when the car is stopped, but is otherwise knob-only. That’s annoying, as is the amount of glare on the screen when the top is down (which will likely be much of the time).
Connected Services 7/10
Mazda offers Mazda Connected Services with the Miata, requiring a data connection (usually via the user’s mobile phone) for most content. Limited services such as checking vehicle status, remote door locking or unlocking, and climate presets are available. Manual transmission Miatas do not have a remote start feature.
Active Safety 9/10
The 2021 Miata comes with several standard active safety features including forward collision warning, low-speed emergency braking, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross traffic alert. Traffic sign recognition is also available.
Among the sports cars on the market, the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata has more value for the money spent than most. The Miata is a slow, but steady seller for Mazda and as such is often a staple on dealership lots. Resale values are good for the sports car segments as well, showing that the Miata (because of its fan base) retains value better than others.
Editors Influence 10/10
The Mazda Miata is a much-loved and very fun vehicle. It’s dynamic and engaging. It’s difficult to imagine any other vehicle that sells for under $40,000 being as full of good times as the Miata is. The 2021 RF model with the Club package for added sport is about as perfect a definition of “driver’s car” as there can be.