2023 Mazda Miata Club review: The best and only choice
It's the only choice when it comes to affordable true roadsters, but it's also one of the best on merit, too.
2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club review with The Road Beat
Words and pictures by Mitchell Weitzman
If you want an authentic convertible sports car and you can't quite swing a Porsche Boxster, the Miata is the best you can buy. In fact, speaking of authentic sports cars, this is one of the truest sports car experiences you can buy at any price. There sure are drawbacks when it comes to living with on the daily, but in regards to its main and only mission brief, the MX-5 delivers again and again.
What don't I like? Well it's tiny for one, so don't go embarking on Costco visits for stocking-up your apocalypse shelter, and be wary of what furniture you can fit if you're at Ikea; I wouldn't go for much more than an end table personally. If you're picking up a first date in a Miata, it can be rather intimate inside, which maybe that's what you're going for. Also, it is loud on the freeway with either the top up or down. Unfortunately, this ragtop does very little when it comes to sound insulation so it's not one I would suggest for freeway commuting; The noise can get tiresome even after just a few minutes. Turning up the radio to drown it out helps, but then you'll be facing long-term hearing damage. It should be worth mentioning that the center display inside can be clunky to use via the click wheel controller, with a sometimes odd ordering to pages. Further, the storage cubby behind the shifter is awkward to access, often requiring limber movements from cirque de solei.
Fold the manual top down (you can do this in literally three seconds) and find yourself an empty, curving road, and the MX-5 Miata is one happy bee. The steering doesn't seem naturally proportionate at first due to the low mass of the Miata, and requires more input than other sports cars, but turning just a few revolutions down the road and the Miata becomes so intuitive and textbook-like in its moves. The suspension is definitely tuned for road use, with considerable body roll when attacking corners, but this helps the experience actually as it allows for total confidence as you feel each corner of the chassis individually load up during weight transfer. If you're doing track duties in a new Miata, you'll definitely want coilovers or beefy sway bars, but on public roads where it's designed for, this is perfect and approachable in its limits and, more importantly, TOTALLY USABLE in the real world.
Understeer can be found at lower speeds, but with some velocity built up, the neutrality convinces and converts heretics into believers. There's also some ability to do easy power-on slides in sharp, low-gear corners, too, exhibiting smoothly progressive oversteer. Such a great selling point of the Miata, again, is that its performance (all of it) can be utilized daily in the real world at non-superhero speed, something that much faster sports cars no longer can do.
If you buy a Miata, an already uncompromising sports car at its core, with an automatic, you're completely missing the point. It's too small, it's noisy, and the ride quality is choppy (despite the body roll in turns from the soft suspension), so adding an automatic is a conflict of interest in a car with fun as its intent. Luckily, this tester was chosen with their excellent six-speed manual, with positive, mechanical gear changes and a clutch that can be mastered from first handshake. Seriously, this is one of the easiest manuals in the world to drive, and it's fun ALL THE TIME. Throttle response and pedal spacing is also optimal, allowing for and encouraging heel-and-toe downshifting and throttle blipping. Many new manual transmission cars have automatic rev-matching, but it's simply not needed here. Charging down backroads, throwing it into corners, rowing your gears, top down with wind around your head...this is what motoring is all about.
You might not expect the Miata to be as frugal as it is, with this four-cylinder averaging an astonishing 31 MPG during my week with it in mixed driving. And about that engine, yeah it has 181 horsepower and revs decently high, but it's not exactly a fast car, often leaving me wanting just that extra 20 more ponies to get to an even 200 and still be wholly exploitable on public roads, just for that extra little bit of oomph and meat in the midrange. 0-60 MPH still happens in a shade under six seconds, and the engine pulls satisfyingly hard to the redline. It's even relatively smooth for a four-banger, not to mention a pleasantly angry exhaust note that's not too loud nor quiet for some aural feedback. A happy little engine then mated to even a greater transmission, but some extra horsepower would be welcome.
As for rivals, the most obvious is the Toyota GR86/Subaru BRZ. However, both are exclusively coupes, and if you want a real roadster, you only have one choice before stepping up to a Boxster or BMW Z4 (which is a softer, more relaxed roadster). Those coupes offer more outright ability and performance, with a chassis that is decisively track-ready in comparison, but their boxer engines are coarse and grainy, plus they have incredibly low-rent (cheap) interiors. The Miata at least has nice padding and materials, and this Club edition has amazing Recaro seats with a perfect driving position (in the last GR86 I tried, I could never get the driving position how I wanted sadly). Especially with the roof folded away, I can easily say that, given the choice on a winding back road, I would pick the Miata. If there is a knock against this particular example, it's the ridiculously expensive optional BBS wheels that add on a whopping $4,500 to the price. They're nice wheels, but that's just a con job at that money.
As much as I do think the Miata is due for a major refresh (the ND has been around for over eight years already), the current model is a lovely and sincere little sports car. Significantly, it is a car without peers, too, as there are simply no other true roadster sports cars even remotely close to its price point. The amount of fun you can have is also unrivalled by many other roadsters and coupes that are several times more expensive. I'm ready for a replacement model with some new styling, performance gains, and everyday tech innovations, but only if it doesn't dilute the Miata experience and story.
2023 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club
As-tested price: $37,510
Pros: Superlative roadster experience
Cons: Stupidly expensive wheels; noisy