The once youthful shot in the proverbial Mazda arm Miata, is now the brands stalwart patriarch. Actually, rather than some sort of leap forward in technology or style, the original Miata was refreshingly old-school. It was inexpensive, but not cheap. Basic, but still comfortable. And fun and sporty, while still reliable. Most of those qualities could not be said of the old British roadsters that Mazda mimicked in inspiration for the Miata. So now at almost 20, does the 2009 Mazda MX-5 Miata still provide sports car thrills that exceed its price tag?
Except in the very highest performance segments, convertibles tend to leave us lukewarm at best. Most of the time it is about the show and not the go as the extra weight of the vehicle and its performance go in opposite directions. Add to that the fact that the Miata has historically had a decidedly feminine stylistic slant that is perhaps only bested by the Beetle or Mini Convertibles. Still, the staying power of the Miata is impressive. Especially if you consider how many vehicles have come and gone, (and sometimes come back), since its inception almost two decades ago. For 2009, even the skeptics may come around to the zoom-zoom of the MX-5.
Redesigned in 2006, the MX-5 Miata only receives a mild freshening up for 2009 and comes in five trims: SV, Sport, Touring, Grand Touring and Special Edition. In addition to convertible vinyl and cloth tops, a power retractable hardtop is also available. Usually, when talking about performance we jump right into what is under the hood, but with the Miata, handling is the featured focal point. For 2009, this continues to be the car’s strong suit with a nearly perfect 50/50 weight distribution (front/rear) that is coupled with precise rack-and-pinion steering. Those that expect this pretty little flower to wilt under aggressive flogging around the track will be shocked at its ability and predictability, in executing tight turns over and over.
If this were matched with a slightly more powerful engine, the MX-5 would probably leave the Honda S2000 and Nissan 350Z convertibles, along with their more expensive price tags, in its wake. Instead, power is only so-so. Every 2009 MX-5 is equipped with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 167 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 140 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm with the manual transmission. While the SV and Sport feature a five-speed manual transmission, the Touring, Grand Touring and Special Edition utilize a six-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic is available for every trim except for the SV.
In the end, acceleration to 60 mph is a just average 7.5 seconds. Enough for normal driving, but less than can be had by the competition. Beyond these numbers, the Miata feels tight however, with a notchy feel in the manual that makes up for its relative lack of guts. Although the Miata has been tuned for a smoother ride, something that gets on the laborious side in the aforementioned Honda and Nissan contenders, the base suspension is still firm. Adding the Suspension Package and 17-inch tires does border on the harsh however. Four-wheel disc anti-lock braking comes standard on all Miatas.
The 2009 produces similar numbers to the ’08 with city/highway fuel economy of 22/28 mpg with the five-speed manual transmission and 21/28 mpg with both the six-speed manual and automatic.
Changes on the outside may be small, but they make a world of difference in adding a bit of masculinity to the rather dainty looking Miata. Most prominently are the new front grill and revised rear fender bulges. For 2009, the MX-5 contains many of the design cues from the RX-8 with a larger “mouth” and headlights that are slightly tilted downward. A carryover is the three convertible top options. The standard manual top is the easiest to use in the industry and completely operable from the driver’s seat. The star of the show is the optional power folding hardtop that is both light weight and compact and a real feather in Miata’s cap. With a flip of a latch and pressing one button, the hardtop folds itself into a space behind the seats and only adds a nominal 70 pounds to the vehicle’s weight. The benefit, naturally, is that the hardtop adds structural rigidity and sound deadening for when the Miata is not on strict sunshine duty.
The Miata is small. It’s just a fact. So interior space is on the cramped side no matter how you try to dress it up. If you trend towards claustrophobia, the Miata is not for you. Otherwise, look at the comfy confines as “cozy.” Beyond the limits of space, the overall fit and finish are of a high quality, although with a preponderance of plastic. Nevertheless, if you have negative visions of past Miata interiors, you should really acquaint yourself with the new model which looks sharp and clean. Grand Touring models even get some upscale leather trim.
Take note when shopping though of the wide disparity between trim levels that will probably have you opting for one of the upper versions. The base-trim SV, is truly base and without a number of items that most take for granted including air conditioning, cruise control and power door locks. One positive “note” with reviewers is the Bose audio system that seems extremely high end in such an inexpensive convertible.
Cargo capacity is clearly not much of a concern in such a vehicle, but the 2009 Miata does manage to increase its volume slightly over the previous generation to a total of 5.3 cubic feet of space.
For under $23,000 you can get into the very base SV Miata, though we’d recommend opting for one of the more expensively equipped models. The good news is that even loaded, you are looking at a car that comes in under 30 grand. (The Grand Touring starts at just over 27-grand) Compare that to the 350Z which starts at $36,870 or soon-to-be gone S2000 which will set you back essentially $35,000.
It isn’t as track ready as those other two, but the Miata MX-5 is also more livable on a day-to-day basis.