2008 Mazda MX-5 Miata Performance

$5,197 - $6,584

2008 Mazda MX-5 Miata Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2008 Mazda MX-5 Miata was new.


Performance: 8.7

The most talked-about part of the MX-5's performance is its handling, which the Orlando Sentinel calls "as good as it gets for the money. The willing little engine is plenty powerful, and the six-speed manual transmission shifts effortlessly. Fuel mileage remains more than acceptable, too." Automobile Magazine adds, "[The Miata is] a sports car in the traditional sense, one that trades gut-thumping power and torque for nimble reactions, excellent steering, and forgiving handling."

Acceleration and Power

MX-5 models come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 166 horsepower. Reviewers find it has more than adequate power off the line, mostly because of the light roadster's 2,482-pound frame. Forbes calls it "a sonic joy, with the same combination of free-revving guttural lows and Moto-GP motorcycle scream at the redline that you'd expect from this car." Consumer Guide agrees: "Acceleration is brisk from all speeds, with satisfying low-rpm response." While a reviewer for the Los Angeles Times reports a 0-to-60 miles per hour time of 6.5 seconds, it's quickly noted that "green-light quick-draws are not what this car is about." Instead, the reviewer says, the MX-5's prevailing principle is balance, "that ineffable symmetry between weight distribution, grip, wheels and tires (and unsprung weight)."

On the same note, Motor Trend says the engine is "a willing worker," but adds that "it will never sear into your consciousness as one of the world's all-time great sports-car powertrains, like, say a VTEC Honda four, a Porsche flat-six, or a Ferrari V-8." The Boston Globe further explains that more raw power simply isn't needed, commenting, "We're only tossing around a bit more than 2,400 pounds (70 of that is the metal roof), and the MX-5 is nimble, quick, and able to zip out and pass at will."

SV and Sport models get a five-speed short-throw manual transmission, while Touring and Grand Touring get a six-speed. The Chicago Sun-Times calls the manual "one of the nicest shifters in the industry," and the Arizona Republic says the six-speed "shifted like butter and was well suited to the engine power." New Car Test Drive ratchets the praise up even more, commenting, "The throws are delicate and light, and the lever goes just where you want it, as if wired to your brain." One of the only repeated complaints about the manual is that it requires "a firm hand," according to Consumer Guide. The Chicago Sun-Times elaborates, noting "a fair amount of shifting still is needed for the best acceleration."

A six-speed automatic with paddle shifters is available on the Sport as a package option and on the Touring or Grand Touring as a stand-alone option. MSN finds it "well worth trying," noting that "it worked well to keep this car peppy, and the shifts were made easier and racecar-like because of steering wheel-mounted paddles." The transmission comes with Activematic mode, which is where the aforementioned paddles come into play. Kelley Blue Book says, "When switched to manual mode, the six-speed automatic performs admirably, though we think you lose some of the gas-and-clutch driver interaction that makes the MX-5 so much fun to drive." Ultimately, most reviewers prefer the five- or six-speed manual transmissions, with the Orlando Sentinel commenting, "Although the automatic transmission is fine, the Miata really works best with a manual transmission, which would also save you $1,100 off the test car's sticker."

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the MX-5 with the five-speed manual to net 22 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on the highway, while the six-speed manual gets 21 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. The six-speed automatic gets 20 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway. The Orlando Sentinel and others are pleasantly surprised that these numbers are better than 2005's "smaller, less powerful engine." Also unlike the 2005 model, premium gasoline is now recommended. Kelley Blue Book asserts, "The MX-5's excellent fuel economy makes it a viable commuter car for those looking to leave their gas-thirsty SUVs at home."

Handling and Braking

Auto writers just can't say enough about the MX-5's excellent handling, which is undoubtedly one of the convertible's greatest strengths. The Los Angeles Times concludes, "Feather-light, darty and capering, the MX-5 is like throwing a saddle on Tinker Bell. Few cars answer to the reins as willingly or as well." USA TODAY finds handling perfect in almost any situation, noting that it's "amazingly responsive to steering, brakes and gas, without being fussy, harsh or high-strung. Close to the perfect blend of dynamic attributes for a car that'll commute during the week, dance through corners or carve up cone-filled parking lots in weekend autocross events."

Reviewers find the highway driving experience especially enjoyable. The Boston Globe says, "On the highway, it was like a gnat among beasts, moving swiftly and safely." But some find city drives far less pleasing, with the Los Angeles Times noting, "Weekdays, though, this car is a rolling root canal...It's geared so short -- that is to say, individual gears have a limited range of speed before the engine hits the redline -- that ordinary stop-and-go commuting traffic amounts to a miserable odyssey of clutching and de-clutching, clutch-slipping and shifting."

Regardless of a few complaints, reviewers have high praise for the MX-5's nearly perfect 50-50 front-to-rear weight distribution. New Car Test Drive explains: "Just as significant from the driver's seat is how the car's mass is distributed. The lower the mass is in the car's chassis, the lower the car's center of gravity and the more stable its ride and handling. But especially important for a sports car, the closer weight is clustered around what engineers call the vertical yaw axis the better." To achieve this almost-perfect balance, Mazda engineers moved the MX-5's engine back in the frame, bringing more weight to the middle. The Auto Channel notes, "This means that it is pushed way back in the engine bay, which contributes to nearly ideal 50-50 front-to-rear weight distribution, leading to better balance and -- ta da -- better handling."

The MX-5 features double wishbone front suspension and multilink rear suspension with gas filled shock absorbers in the front and rear. AutoWeek praises, "Driving hard over a series of whoop-de-dos, the Miata's suspension managed full compression at the bottom of the dips just as aptly as it did full extension as we flew over the crests, the quick transition from heavy to light loads never causing the car any particular upset." Consumer Guide finds the suspension "appropriately firm" for a sports car, "but not uncomfortable." Edmunds also sees an improvement over recent years, commenting, "Longer-travel suspension (sourced from the RX-8 in back) provides nicely controlled compliance over choppy surfaces where Miatas used to feel harsh while bouncing and flailing about."

Reviewers aren't nearly as fond of the Touring and Grand Touring's optional stiffer sport suspension, which Consumer Guide calls "choppy, borderline harsh." Newsday advises: "If you opt for a Grand Touring version of the MX-5, like the one I sampled, you'd better keep a kidney belt and a truss handy because the ride -- harder than the base model's -- is about as punishing as you'll find in any modern production car or light truck. It'll shake what you've got that's loose and loosen what you've got that ain't."

On the other hand, auto writers love the MX-5's rack-and-pinion steering with hydraulic power assist. The Los Angeles Times concludes that "the car lives for cornering forces" and waxes poetic by commenting, "The steering ratio is tighter than a young cabernet, with small and delicate steering inputs yielding sweeping arcs of angular momentum." The Boston Globe makes use of another poetic device, praising, "Hugging a high-speed lane on the highway lets the MX-5 sail smooth as a tossed dart. Take it into corners and its wider-than-ever track, coupled with what feels like a perfect front-to-rear weight distribution, allows it to carve like a sharp ski on groomed snow." AutoWeek also loves the responsive steering and finds it "so secure that you can power into the turns and then, just before the apex, let the wheel unwind in your hands while simultaneously easing back onto the gas."

Reviewers also have plenty of good things to say about the MX-5's diagonal hydraulic anti-lock disc brakes, with Edmunds reporting a 60-to-0 stopping distance of 116 feet -- "5 feet shorter than we recorded in a 2001 Miata." The Los Angeles Times says, "The brakes have a beautifully delicate, easily modulated feel," and New Car Test Drive comments, "Brake feel is solid, thanks to improved brake system rigidity and strengthened brake hoses, making repetitive and smooth stops a breeze." USA TODAY, however, registers a complaint, saying, "It's a little harder to start smoothly from a dead stop than it is in the more powerful Solstice, but that's a minor matter rather than a deal-breaker."

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