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2021 Mazda MX-5 Review

The 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata two-seater roadster carries on a fine tradition of cars dedicated to exuberance. This is a nimble rear-drive convertible that involves rather than insulates the driver.

As with the original Miata, the current MX-5 Miata retains its small size, a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine and a near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution. Unlike that first model, the 2021 version has a far more sophisticated interior and the choice of a soft top or a convenient power-retractable hard top (on the MX-5 Miata RF).

Power flows through a superb manual transmission so precise it can be shifted with just the flick of a finger. And the steering tingles with quick responses.

The MX-5 delivers thrills, not frills. Yet it does have a comfortable cockpit (6-footers may disagree), head-turning styling, and reasonable prices. However, the trunk is small and the ride suffers over rough surfaces.

Then again, there isn’t much that can compare. Not the discontinued Fiat 124 Spider, sadly. And although the joint Toyota/Subaru project of the BRZ and 86 rear-drive compact coupes are similar amounts of fun, they’re sitting out the 2021 model year before a new generation arrives for 2022.

Anyone seeking sports-car fun for less than $30,000 might otherwise have to trawl the used car lots for an older Porsche Boxster, Nissan 370Z or Audi TT.

What’s New for 2021?

Only the introduction of a 100th Anniversary Special Edition to commemorate the company’s centenary. It comes only in Snowflake White Pearl Mica, with a cabin employing red leather and red carpeting. The soft top is also red, with the option of a black roof on the RF version. See the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata models for sale near you

What We Like

  • Stunning design
  • One-handed top operation
  • Precise manual gearbox
  • Excellent handling
  • Modern interior
  • Good on gas

What We Don’t

  • Snug seats
  • Still not comfortable for anyone over six feet tall
  • Tiny trunk
  • Dash-mounted screen washes out in sunlight
  • Awkwardly shaped passenger footwell

How Much?

$28,000-$33,000 (estimated, TBC)

Fuel Economy

The 2021 MX-5 has a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine generating 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque. Drive goes solely to the rear wheels through a standard 6-speed manual transmission. A 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters mounted beneath the steering wheel is optional.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates fuel economy at 26 miles per gallon in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg in combined driving (manual) or 26 mpg city/35 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined (automatic). Mazda recommends using premium gasoline.

These EPA figures are from 2020. We expect 2021’s to be the same.

Standard Features and Options

The 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata soft-top comes in Sport, Club and Grand Touring trim levels. The RF (retractable fastback) is available as a Club or Grand Touring model. Expect to pay an extra $6,500 or so for an RF.

Every MX-5 comes with a 6-speed manual transmission as standard, offering a 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters as an option. The automatic will probably cost between $600 and $1,350 — depending on the model.

Mazda had not announced official 2021 pricing as we were compiling this review. We include our estimates in parentheses. 

Sport (est. $28,000) has 16-in alloy wheels, sport-tuned exhaust, manual soft top with a glass rear window and defroster, power windows/mirrors/locks, keyless entry/ignition, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel/shift knob/parking brake boot, trip computer, Mazda Connect infotainment system with a 7-in color touchscreen, console-mounted multi-function controller, AM/FM/HD radio, USB port, Bluetooth, and a 6-speaker audio system.

Standard safety equipment includes the i-Activsense package bringing blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning.

Club trim (est. $32,000) with the manual transmission adds Bilstein shock absorbers, limited-slip differential, front strut tower brace and an induction sound enhancer. Opting for the automatic transmission deletes that equipment. Other standard features (regardless of transmission) include 17-in dark gunmetal alloy wheels, front air dam, rear-lip spoiler, heated seats, upgraded upholstery with silver stitching, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration, and a Bose 9-speaker audio system. 

Manual-transmission Club models are eligible for a Brembo/BBS Recaro package bringing Brembo front brakes with red calipers, 17-in dark gunmetal BBS wheels, aero kit, and heated Recaro sport seats. With the RF, this package also includes a hand-painted black roof.

Grand Touring trim (est. $33,000) with the manual transmission has the Club trim’s limited-slip differential and sport suspension. The automatic models don’t have most of the Club’s performance upgrades.

This trim also comes with automatic on/off adaptive headlights with automatic high beams, heated side mirrors (self-dimming on the driver’s side), rain-sensing wipers, leather seating surfaces, automatic climate control, navigation, road sign recognition, and model-specific alloy wheels.

Safety

The MX-5 comes standard with 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, electronic traction/stability control, tire pressure monitoring, and front and side airbags. Standard driver assistance features in the i-Activsense array include lane departure warning, low-speed emergency braking, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert.

To date, neither the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested the MX-5 Miata. But Mazda vehicles in general have a great reputation for safety.

Behind the Wheel

The 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata sits low, has a snug interior and doesn’t require much power to deliver a lot of fun. Among new cars that frequently deploy turbocharging to amp up power, 181 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque don’t seem all that impressive. But this amount of muscle is perfect in a small, well-balanced, well-tuned, rear-drive car.

In the manual version (weighing just 2,332 pounds), or the automatic version (2,381 pounds), acceleration is brisk and there always seems to be sufficient thrust when required. The 6-speed manual transmission and smooth clutch deliver quick and precise shifts.

The real strength of the MX-5 isn’t the engine or the transmission, though. It’s the setup. Much of the engine’s weight is behind the front axle, bringing a center of gravity more toward the middle of the car and so contributing to optimum balance. With mass distributed equally front to rear and side to side, handling becomes precise and predictable. Driving the MX-5 is easy and fun at any pace.

Every company is moving to large fixed infotainment touchscreens, but we have mixed feelings about the setup in the MX-5. The screen is large and bright, but it sometimes gets washed out by the sun, and the touchscreen function only works when the car is stationary.

Once moving, toggling through screens can only be done with the awkwardly placed controller. Also there’s no sidebar to show what’s happening with the audio while in navigation mode. So making song or station changes means more toggling through the screens.

Other Cars to Consider

2021 Mini Cooper Convertible — The front-drive Mini soft-top has a rear seat and three turbocharged engine options. And it has more technology and safety features than the Miata. The Mini’s cloth top can also be opened partially to act like a targa roof.

2021 Ford Mustang Convertible — The Mustang convertible costs about the same as the Grand Touring MX-5, but it’s also much larger and heavier. The Mustang certainly won’t ride or handle the same, but it has more standard horsepower, greater interior space and a broader range of options.

Used Porsche Boxster — A 2014 to 2017 Porsche Boxster (mid-engined/rear-drive) has more power and a better performance pedigree, as well as a quieter and more comfortable cabin.

Questions You May Ask

Is the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata turbocharged?

No. The MX-5 has a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine producing 181 horsepower. Although this doesn’t seem like much muscle, when it’s in the MX-5’s lightweight body, the sprint from standstill to 60 mph takes less than six seconds. If a turbocharged Miata sounds more exciting, the Fiat 124 Spider shares its platform with the MX-5, but has a Fiat-derived turbocharged 1.4-liter engine. That model has been discontinued, though, so it means looking for a used example.

Does the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata have a removable hardtop?

The MX-5 RF has a retractable hardtop that fits in the same space as the standard MX-5’s folding soft top. The hardtop cannot be removed manually.

Is the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata reliable?

For all of its existence, the MX-5 Miata has had a great reputation for reliability and low maintenance costs. The newest MX-5 maintains this record, making it one of the most affordable yet still thrilling convertibles on the market.

How big is the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata’s trunk?

Just 4.5 cubic feet (4.48 in the RF). It won’t take more than a few pieces of soft luggage.

Autotrader’s Advice

The basic Sport trim works well as a second or third car, something to wheel out on fine weekends or when the mood strikes. If a buyer plans on using a new MX-5 as their only car, then the extra features in either the Club or Grand Touring trims would be appreciated more. Those with an enthusiast leaning ought to choose the Club for access to that Brembo package. Audiophiles should note that the MX-5’s sound setup is not easy to upgrade with an aftermarket replacement, so it’s either the Club or Grand Touring trim for the Bose system. Find a Mazda MX-5 Miata for sale

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