2023 Mazda MX-5 Review: Simple Motoring Fun
The Mazda MX-5 Miata is a legendary enthusiast car that’ll put a smile on any motorist’s face.
The Mazda MX-5, also known affectionately as the Miata, is only in its fourth generation after 33 years on U.S. dealer lots. It also goes against the current grain in a big (er, technically small) way: It weighs less than 2,400 pounds. In the year 2023, when it seems like the sky's the limit on how much a car can weigh, the Miata remains stubbornly feathery in the name of fun and athleticism.
But that’s what the Miata has always been about, it's a hallmark of the chassis. Every single generation has been known for it, and this current ND generation is the best one yet.
Between being constantly fun-to-drive and on the generally affordable end of the price spectrum, my week with the 2023 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring made me seriously consider getting rid of my own beloved BMW 128i. Heck, I'm still lightly mulling it over. Here's why it's an immensely compelling choice for anyone who fits in it and seeks uncompromising charm from their ride.
2023 Mazda MX-5 6MT Specifications
- Base price (Grand Touring as tested): $29,115 ($34,710)
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter inline-four | six-speed manual | rear-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 181 @ 7,000 rpm
- Torque: 151 lb-ft @ 2,000-2,500 rpm
- Curb weight: 2,341 pounds
- Seating capacity: 2
- Cargo volume: 5 cubic feet
- EPA fuel economy: 26 mpg city | 34 highway | 29 combined
- Quick take: Nothing beats low weight, excellent inputs, ace suspension tuning, and good naturally aspirated power.
- Score: 9/10
Style-wise, every single one of the ND-generation MX-5's angles looks great. It's got a trim, classic sports car shape, pronounced front and rear fenders, and an aggressive, determined-looking face. It looks small in photos and is even smaller in person, though wider than one might think—again, classic sports car material. I think it looks best with the soft top down, but it looks great with it up as well. Its LED headlights are especially sharp, and its 17-inch alloy wheels are among the most attractive stockers one can buy in this day and age.
Its small size means it's tight inside but like a well-tailored, slim-fit suit rather than something a size too small off the sale rack. My six-foot-three and still-winter-weighted self fit surprisingly well in it, and for the most part, my head was below the top of the windshield with the seat set as low and far back as possible. Ultimately, I couldn't quite recline it to an ideal position, nor could I achieve enough legroom to let me drive it for more than two hours without going numb, but still, there's a lot more room than one might assume. This isn't really a knock as it goes with the territory—I definitely investigated aftermarket solutions to this minor quibble after my first day with it.
Otherwise, the interior was quite nicely appointed with comfortable leather seats, leather stitching across the dash, a small-yet-well-placed seven-inch infotainment screen, and very sharp analog gauges. The distance between the shifter and wheel was plenty close, and I was able to telescope the latter within a reasonable distance to my torso. Its nine-speaker Bose sound system had excellent audio quality and included speakers in the headrests that made Bluetooth phone calls a tad disorienting at first while Apple CarPlay quickly and easily connected.
The Miata is available with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox but has just one engine and drivetrain option: a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated inline-four and rear-wheel drive. Since my tester was the Grand Touring trim, it came equipped with a Torsen limited-slip differential as well. 181 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque might not sound like much, but it's plenty for this thing's 2,341-pound curb weight, and enable it to click off a 5.7-second 0-60 mph run.
On the Daily
The MX-5's powerband is grand fun, and I was surprised by how torquey it felt overall. There was just enough power for passing in sixth on the highway, though a quick downshift or two was my preferred way to get it done—especially with as many as 7,500 rpm to play with. While its wider powerband was quite linear, it had an above-average amount of grunt in the midrange that felt not terribly different than my own BMW 128i. Just, you know, scaled down.
One of the most immediate surprises behind the wheel of the ND Miata was how comfortably it drove. Its sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein dampers is surrounded by double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, giving it a very compliant ride across notably crappy streets despite its tiny 205/45/17 Bridgestone high-performance tires making me think the opposite would be true before hopping in. The car rode and darted around quite sportily, and had no real downsides. It had that typical body and cowl flex that most convertibles possess, but it never negatively affected its handling much.
The steering was by far the best electric rack I've ever experienced, and with good overall chassis rigidity (for a convertible) and an engine that's behind the front shock towers, it's wonderfully direct and solid. I was shocked that so much of the road surface made its way to my fingertips, which, like its curb weight, made me constantly ponder why more automakers can't do the same with their own modern, non-hydraulic equipment.
Its brake pedal and shifter deserve similar praise, too. The former felt firm and easy to modulate but was in no way grabby, and the latter is a top-five-ever-shifter for me. The lack of play, the reasonably short throw, the perfect spacing, the solid engagement. Magnificent. Like Miata generations before it, you get all the theatrics of gear-driven vibrations, too, since the shifter pokes right out of the gearbox—no cables or linkage here.
In addition to its brilliant inputs, its prowess as a daily is optimized by being so incredibly small. While the Miata's blindspots were significant with the top up, they were naturally nonexistent with it down, and you truly feel like you can wield it through any gap in traffic thanks to its diminutive size. Having barely any bodywork fore or aft of its wheelbase meant that even the steepest driveways and speed bumps never posed a threat to its bodywork, either.
In the Canyons
This ought to not be too shocking, especially considering the fact that the ND-generation Miata has been with us since 2016: There were absolutely no surprises to be found in the twisties. The MX-5's ride, overall handling, as well as solid steering and chassis communication on the street made it an utter riot to toss around on Angeles Crest Highway and Mulholland Drive, and its great power and ultra-low curb weight made it a near-religious experience.
Every corner was immense fun at any speed, but when taken at an especially enthusiastic pace, its puny 205-wide rubber had a surprising amount of grip. There was some body roll, in fact, more than its closest competitors, the Toyota GR86 and Subaru BRZ. But even under hard cornering, this never impacted the little MX-5's composure; it just breathed with the road and soaked up mid-corner bumps well. It never did anything unexpected, either, like let the rear end snap over a bump on a long sweeper. I suspect the limited-slip differential had a hand in this, too.
I'd almost forgotten what it was like to rip along in something so small, too—it was refreshing to carve a fast line and never be in any threat of crossing the double-yellow. Add in its excellent handling and communication, and this car was downright therapeutic to get into a corner-after-corner rhythm with.
Even with traction control turned off, the wildest it got was a slightly squirrely rear-end under hard braking for a tight corner—it reminded me of similar experiences in my old mildly prepped Mazda 2 on track. I miss that car sometimes.
Like its Toyobaru competition, the ND Miata is a car that I could play around with on fun roads all day long. It never got old, but I did start to experience some brake fade after 20 or so minutes, so setting aside time to let them cool off was necessary. But considering their minuscule single-piston calipers and 11-inch front and rear rotor size, this was totally understandable.
The Highs and Lows
The 2023 Mazda MX-5 is a grippy, endlessly fun little convertible that you don't have to give up too much to drive day in and day out if you're game for the enthusiast drop-top life. Unless you're around my height (or taller), need two more seats, or would prefer more cargo space. For what you get in this example at $34,710, it has big value and an endless sense of occasion—if you're like me, you'll find excuses to drive it anywhere.
Wind noise with the top down wasn't bad at all, either, which helps bolster its dailyability. You can't expect it to be whisper-quiet on the highway at 70 mph, but I was still able to maintain an open-top conversation with a friend while ripping down Southern California's 405 freeway. Top-up, it's not bad either, though it gets loud in excess of 75 mph. Considering it's a featherlight soft top, this is to be expected.
My only real gripes—and this is me straining to find something—are related to mechanical noise. The engine is way too quiet despite its exhaust pipes sitting just a couple of feet from the driver's ears, and the engine tone itself is coarse and coffee-grinder-like. Though, it does get much better high in the rev range, thankfully. My tester also had a good amount of noticeable gearbox whine, particularly with the top up.
Finally, the infotainment system froze up twice during my week with it while using Google Maps, but turning the car off and back on remedied this. Again, I'm digging deep here—all-in-all the car is brilliant.
Mazda MX-5 Features, Options, and Competition
Mazda keeps the soft top Miata's trim selection lean with just the base Sport trim ($29,115) followed by the Club and Grand Touring. The standard MX-5 includes niceties like Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, Mazda's almost-full suite of advanced driver assistance technology, 16-inch alloy wheels, dual exhaust, and two USB audio inputs.
Moving up to the Club ($32,615) gets you sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein dampers, a limited-slip differential, wireless Apple CarPlay, heated seats, a Bose premium audio system, 17-inch alloys, and a front shock tower brace.
The top-of-the-line Grand Touring ($34,115) adds a couple of accouterments including auto on/off headlights, dark silver 17-inch alloys, navigation, more time on a SiriusXM account, adaptive headlights, and traffic sign recognition thrown into its advanced driver assistance package.
As far as competition goes, its most direct rivals are the aforementioned hardtop Toyobaru twins: the Toyota GR86 ($29,495) and Subaru BRZ ($29,615). Both come with limited-slip differentials as standard, more power (yet a similar zero-to-60-mph time of 5.4 seconds), and are significantly more commodious inside.
The manual Mazda MX-5 is a thrifty sipper that returns 26 mpg city, 34 highway, and 29 combined, with the available automatic gearbox improving highway efficiency ever so slightly. While those figures might seem a little low for a modern 2.0-liter, the fact that it's an aggressively tuned 2.0-liter meant to be revved out as much as possible makes these numbers impressive. I achieved a combined average economy of 30 mpg during my 500 miles with it, which included an awful lot of spirited driving.
The Miata is also significantly more efficient than the heavier, boxer-engined Toyobaru twins which return a frankly disappointing 22 mpg combined.
I don't know why it took me so long to get behind the wheel of the ND-generation Miata, but I'm glad that I finally did. The 2023 Mazda MX-5 is a surprisingly accommodating little car that's endless fun to drive on any occasion, gets great gas mileage, and looks impeccably good. The fact that I've priced out similar examples, looked into common tall-guy modifications, and lightly considered selling my own BMW ever since handing back the keys ought to give you an idea of how much I dug this little thing.
While it has competition in the inexpensive sports car market from Toyota and Subaru, it really is in a league of its own in terms of being sub-2,400 pounds and a soft top convertible. The world deserves more cars like this and I deeply mourn the fact that there aren’t more Miata rivals out there for me to talk about here. (Press F to pay respects to this car’s former Fiat 124 platform-mate.)
As for the Miata’s future, this generation won't be around much longer. Mazda says the next generation is coming soon, and might even include some form of hybridization. Here's to hoping it's at least as good as the ND—which is an awfully high bar to reach.
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