The Mazda MX-5 Miata has long been the vehicle of choice for customers wanting more than a little fun in their daily driving, without spending huge amounts of money on gas.
Sure, there are faster sports cars out there, and there may even be better looking ones depending on your tastes. But very few match the Miata's blend of fun and frugality--making it one of the greenest choices in the sports car market.
The formula is simple--a relatively efficient, four-cylinder gasoline engine mounted up front, feeding power to the rear wheels. The driver and passenger sit between the two, giving an ideal weight distribution for pin-sharp handling.
So how frugal is the MX-5? Well, the EPA rates the car at 22 MPG city, 28 MPG highway and 25 MPG combined. So it doesn't sip fuel like the Mazda 2, Mazda 3 or even the new CX-5 crossover. It's also recently been overtaken by other roadsters like the Audi TT, Mercedes-Benz SLK250 and MINI Cooper Roadster--but the MX-5 costs less to buy than any of those models, so it remains the budget choice.
Performance isn't too bad at any rate, with 167 horsepower to call on from the 2.0-liter engine, and a choice of five or six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. The manuals are the most fun, with a crisp shift that encourages you to make the most of the power, and they're more efficient than the automatic car too.
Like the traditional British roadsters that inspired the original Miata back in 1990, you have access to the elements via a simple, light-weight, manual cloth roof. Mazda also offers the Power-Retractable Hard Top option for a little extra security and refinement when the roof is up. Unlike the cloth top, the hardtop is powered, and may be the most suitable choice for drivers in colder climates.
The MX-5's cabin is more spacious than Miatas of old, but taller drivers may still struggle to get comfortable inside. Those concerns aside, the sporty cabin design suits the car's image, with little nods to Miatas of old. It keeps the same great driving position, stubby gearshift lever and clear instruments. Models with the automatic transmission get shift paddles mounted on the back of the steering wheel.
It's not as quick as some other sports cars, but the low-slung driving position exaggerates the sense of speed, and the sharp steering will have you hitting a perfect apex on every corner on your daily commute.
In other words, the 2012 Mazda Miata is simply one of the most fun cars to drive you can buy. And with a starting price of about $24,000, the smiles-per-mile metric is off the charts.
While you're enjoying the drive, others will enjoy the MX-5's shape, though the smiley Mazda corporate face may not be to all tastes.
The Miata has long been viewed by some as a so-called "chick car," though the racers of all genders who thrash them around road courses roll their eyes when they hear it.
But to anyone who turns it down on that basis: It's your loss. You have no idea how much driving fun you're missing.
For more details, see the full review of the 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata on our sister site, TheCarConnection.
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