2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review and Prices

Last Updated: Feb 4, 2011

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2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata Buying Advice

The 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata is the car for you if you want a quick, agile, reasonably affordable two-seat convertible that evokes classic roadsters from the 1960’s.

The 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata should continue with only minor changes in anticipation of what could be significant revisions for model-year 2013. This delightful playful sports car delivers a visceral driving experience that makes even a trip to the grocery store a driving delight. You can spend thousands more and come away with far less accessible automotive fun. The MX-5’s last complete redesign was in model-year 2006. A retractable-hardtop version joined the fabric-top body style for model-year 2007 and both received minor styling updates for model-year 2009.

Should you wait for the 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata or buy the 2011 Mazda MX-5 Miata? Buy the 2011 version. The 2012 Miata isn’t expected to receive much in the way of updating, and buying a 2011 means your car’s styling and features will have a longer shelf life before the MX-7 gets its next full makeover.

2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata’s styling and basic dimensions are not expected to change. For better or worse, this small open-air two-seater will continue with the polarizing “smiley face” front-end treatment seen elsewhere in this automaker’s lineup, including on the Mazda 2 subcompact and Mazda 3 compact cars. Basically, upswept headlamps are the eyes, the Mazda logo the nose, and the grinning grille the mouth.

Fortunately the rest of the MX-5’s bodywork remains true to the car’s classic roadster heritage. Bulging wheel arches hunch over 16- or 17-inch wheels and tires. The rump is subtly rounded, and there’s not a sliver of excess sheetmetal to add unneeded pounds or inches. In fact, the hood and trunklid are fabricated from aluminum to save weight and the cleverly engineered power-retractable hardtop adds just 82 pounds to the car’s structure.

The 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata’s cabin should likewise remain status quo. It’s a tight fit inside but offers reasonable room for two passengers of average or smaller build; it’s far less hospitable for those taller or corpulent, however. In the tradition of great sports cars, the interior design is all business. Gauges and controls are simple and direct, the sturdy interior panels are shaped to fit around the occupants. Cloth upholstery is standard, leather seats and trim are available. Waist-level louvers direct warm or cool air throughout the cabin to keep the MX-5 viable for top-down motoring during at least three of the four seasons.

A manually operated cloth top will likely remain standard on the 2012 MX-5. It can be unlatched and folded easily using just one hand. Available at extra cost should again be a feature you’d never have found in small roadsters during the Golden Age of sports cars: a lightweight power retractable hardtop. This raises and lowers in 12 seconds at the push of a single button. It stows in essentially the same behind-the-seats well as the soft top and neither eats into trunk volume. By contrast, most retractable hardtops fold into the trunk and encroach on cargo space. Speaking of which, the MX-5 doesn’t have much trunk space, just 5.3 cubic feet, but it’s shaped to accommodate a few grocery bags or a set of golf clubs

The 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata will again be available in multiple trim levels. These likely will include base Sport, midlevel Touring, and luxury Grand Touring fabric-top versions. The Touring and Grand Touring will likely remain available with the retractable hardtop, as well.

Mechanical: The 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata’s basic powertrain or underpinnings should remain unchanged. The sole engine should be a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’ll repeat at 167 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. Neither figure is remarkable these days, even for a naturally aspirated 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but this engine proves more than sufficient to get this lightweight 2,450-pound two-seater up to speed. That’s particularly true when it’s mated to a manual transmission and the 2012 MX-5 should again offer two. Expect a five-speed manual to again be standard on the base Sport model while the Touring and Grand Touring models continue with a quicker- and easier-shifting short-throw six-speed manual.

You could argue outfitting a lithe roadster like the 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata with an automatic transmission is sacrilegious. To be sure, this, like most real sports cars, is more enjoyable to drive under most circumstances with a manual transmission -- inching though rush-hour traffic a possible exception. Still, every model of the 2012 MX-5 will again offer an extra-cost six-speed automatic for the clutch-averse. This automatic includes steering wheel-mounted paddles that enable the driver to replicate manual-type gear control. The automatic isn’t a total buzz-kill, though as if to underscore the damper it does put on driving fun, 2012 MX-5s so equipped will rate just 158 horsepower.

It isn’t the outright fastest car on the road, but the 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata will continue to excel for precise and nimble handling. For starters, it remains true to its sports-car heritage as a rear-wheel-drive car. Enthusiasts have long favored this configuration over front-wheel drive used in most small cars because it distributes a vehicle’s weight more evenly between the front and rear axles. That contributes to enhanced handling. Indeed, the 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata should again feature a 52/48-percent front/rear weight distribution (51/49 with the retractable hardtop), which is near the 50/50 ideal.

Further contributing to the car’s superb cornering is a well-sorted all-independent suspension and a relatively wide track, which is the distance between the right and left wheels. An optional Suspension Package available on Touring and Grand Touring improves handling a notch with a more aggressively tuned suspension setting and shock absorbers sourced by noted performance component maker Bilstein. It also includes a limited-slip differential to help improve the MX-5 Miata’s performance on slippery surfaces by automatically channeling the engine’s power to the rear wheel that has the most traction.

Every 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata will again come with standard antilock four-wheel-disc brakes for best control in emergency stops. And part of the car’s nimble feel can be attributed to smartly matched wheel and tire sizes that allow the suspension to do its word. Expect the 2012 MX-5 to again come with 16-inch alloy wheels while Touring and Grand Touring get 17-inch alloys.

Optionally available again will be traction control, to help improve grip off the line, and antiskid stability control to help prevent fishtailing in higher-speed changes of direction. For model-year 2011 these chassis-control systems were offered only with the top Grand Touring trim level and only bundled with other features as part of an options package; this will not likely change for the 2012 edition.

Features: The 2012 Mazda Miata MX-5 should again come with a rather rudimentary set of standard features base Sport form. These will again include side airbags shaped to protect the torso and head, plus air conditioning, power windows, and a CD audio system.

Expect 2012 MX-5 Touring models to again have as standard such amenities as power locks with keyless entry, cruise control, an integrated programmable remote garage-door opener, CD-changer audio system with steering wheel audio controls, and a trip computer. The top Grand Touring models should again add automatic air conditioning, heated leather seats, and a Bose premium audio system.

Option choices will likely remain limited. A Convenience Package on the Sport should again add most of the items that are included as standard with the Touring versions. The top Grand Touring edition will probably remain the only 2012 MX-5 to offer items like Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone interface, high-intensity xenon headlamps, Sirius satellite radio, an alarm system, and the traction/stability control systems. For model-year 2011, the only way to obtain any of these features was the Premium Package.

2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 MX-5 Miata weren’t announced at the time of this review, but they’re expected to remain fairly consistent with model-year 2011 levels. Expect a 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata base-price range of around $24,000-$29,500. (Estimated base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s mandatory destination charge; Mazda’s fee for the 2011 MX-5 Miata was $795.)

Estimated base price for the 2012 MX-5 Sport model is $24,000, which will again make it the least-expensive convertible sports car in the U.S. Only the Smart ForTwo Cabriolet and the Jeep Wrangler cloth-top models cost less, but neither could be considered the least bit sporty.

The 2012 Miata Touring model should carry a base price of about $25,500 with the cloth top and around $28,000 with the power-retractable hardtop. Expect the 2012 Miata Grand Touring to start at around $27,500 with the fabric top and about $29,500 with the retractable hardtop.

The above base-price estimates are for models with manual transmission. Adding the six-speed automatic to the 2012 Miata Touring and Grand Touring models should increase their base price by around $1,100. Adding the automatic to a 2012 Sport model is again likely to cost about $2,300. This is because Mazda has been including the Convenience Package when you order automatic transmission on a Miata Sport. On its own, the Convenience Package should be priced around $1,200 on the Sport.

Specifying the Touring Package will likely add around $500 to the cost of a Touring or Grand Touring edition, with the Premium Package on the latter model priced at about $1,700.

2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata Fuel Economy back to top

EPA mileage estimates for the 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata had not been released in time for this review but they’re not likely to change from their model year 2011 ratings. This means an MX-5 Miata Sport model with the five-speed manual transmission should again be rated 22/28 mpg city/highway. The Touring and Grand Touring models with either the six-speed manual or the optional six-speed automatic should again be rated at 21/28.

These ratings should again place the MX-5 Miata near the top among small sporty convertibles, though a few much quicker – and more expensive -- sports cars are close behind. The 255-horsepower, $48,550 2011 Porsche Boxster, for example, rated 19/27 mpg with manual transmission and 20/29 with automatic, while the 255-horsepower $47,375 2011 BMW Z4 sDrive30i rated 18/26 with both manual and automatic.

Expect Mazda to again recommend – though not require – use of premium-octane fuel for the 2012 MX-5 Miata.

2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata Release Date back to top

The 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata should go on sale in September 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata back to top

Originally launched for the 1989 model year, the Miata was inspired by seductive cloth-top Lotus, Fiat, and MG two-seaters from the 1960s. It sparked a roadster revolution that would spawn competition from Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Honda, Pontiac, Saturn, and Mercedes-Benz. Originally called just MX-5 in overseas markets and just Miata in the U.S., Mazda over the past few years has adopted the MX-5 Miata moniker for the American market. Despite myriad updates, the MX-5 Miata has held steadfast to its roots as a true sports car that’s reliable and affordable.

Reports suggest the Mazda MX-5 Miata will undergo some degree of revision for model-year 2013. It’s uncertain how extensive this may be, but it’s not likely Mazda would dedicate the resources to reinvent what is one of its lowest-volume cars. We’ll bet the 2013 MX-5 Miata will see cosmetic changes and mechanical revisions, but continue to ride on its current platform.

As for styling, reports suggest the revamped roadster could adopt the so-called Nagare design language Mazda has previewed in some of its auto-show concept cars and is featuring in the revamped 2012 Mazda 5 compact minivan. It’s said to be influenced by elements of nature, but designer-speak aside, we’re betting many of its loyal followers would be happy to see a new MX-5 Miata ditch the cute Pokemon-like smiley-face front end.

Mazda is also reportedly working to minimize the car’s curb weight to ensure playful handling, limiting the new model to around 2,200 pounds. The 2011 car weighed 2,447-2,542 pounds, depending on the version.

As for powertrain, rumors have the next MX-5 Miata sporting any number of propulsion sources, including diesel and rotary engines and a gas/electric hybrid system. We expect the car to continue with a four-cylinder gasoline engine, one that belongs to a family of advanced new small-displacement engines Mazda is developing under the “Sky” nickname. We anticipate it would be 1.5-1.8 liters but would generate more power than today’s 2.0-liter. A six-speed manual transmission should come standard across the line, and the roadster may debut a new dual-clutch automated manual Mazda is reportedly developing as the optional transmission.

Features should again be limited to the basic and purposeful, with perhaps a GPS navigation system added to the options list for the first time. A choice of a standard cloth top or available retractable hardtop should continue.

2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata Competition back to top

Ford Mustang V-6 Convertible: A small two-seater isn’t for everyone, but a spry rear-wheel-drive convertible – with seats for four -- in Miata’s price range, might do the trick. The V-6-powered version of the Mustang has all-American good looks and an impressive all-aluminum, 3.7-liter six that should continue at 305 horsepower with surprisingly good fuel economy – expect ratings of 19/29 with the six-speed manual transmission, 19/31 with the six-speed automatic. Myriad options are available, including Ford’s Sync voice-command multimedia control system. The Mustang convertible comes with a power-operated soft top, and while its rear seat is kid sized, at least it’s there. And trunk volume is a usable 9.6 cubic feet. Mustang probably won’t undergo its next makeover until model-year 2014. Estimated base-price range for the 2012 V-6 convertible is  $28,000-$32,000.

BMW 128i Convertible: This is another example of a small-but at-least-it’s-there back seat, but it’s also located in the most affordable BMW ragtop, one that delivers responsive rear-drive handling second to none among small sporty cars in its price range. The German automaker refreshes the 1-Series line’s styling for model-year 2012 with new headlamps and a lower front fascia and revised taillight clusters. Inside there’s an updated dashboard with new switchgear. The 128i convertible continues with a 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder engine that makes up in smoothness what, at 230 horsepower, it lacks in outright muscle. It rates 18/26 mpg with the six-speed manual transmission and 18/27 with the six-speed automatic. Expect the 2012 BMW 128i Convertible to start around $36,000.

Mini Cooper Convertible: This diminutive two-door four-seater just might be the best-handling front-wheel drive car on the market, with slot-car like moves that reward enthusiastic drivers and urban commuters at every turn. Even after more than a decade on the market, Mini’s retro-flavored styling remains fresh inside and out. Its 1.6-liter engine delivers spritely acceleration -- for model-year 2011, the $25,550 base version had 121 horsepower and rated a cheerful 27/35 mpg with manual transmission, 27/36 with automatic. Stretch to the top of the MX-5 Miata’s price range for the $28,550 Mini Cooper S convertible and you’ll find a 181-horsepower turbo rated 27/36 with manual transmission, 26/34 with automatic. The Mini’s power-operated cloth top can open fully or slide back partially like a sunroof. An integrated roll bar pops up automatically to protect occupants in a crash. The Mini Cooper will see its next redesign for model-year 2015.

2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata Next Steps