Everyday Driving Fun

The rear-wheel-drive Miata is one of those cars where you don't have to break any speed limits to have a lot of fun. Driving 55 mph in the Miata is comparable to going 110 mph in, say, a BMW M3 Ч but if you don't have a racetrack handy, the M3's impressive track performance won't be of much use. The Miata, meanwhile, can make a trip to the grocery store a thrill ride.

It's not powered by a particularly strong four-cylinder engine Ч displacing just 2.0 liters, it's rated at 167 horsepower with the manual transmission Ч and it doesn't sound that great, either, but it's burdened by just 2,500 pounds of car, give or take, and most trims are available with a spectacular six-speed manual transmission that has some of the shortest gear-shift throws around. There's nothing tire-smoking about the setup, but the drivetrain is in complete harmony with the chassis, resulting in a car that's fun to drive. An automatic transmission is optional.

The Miata doesn't offer very good noise isolation, however, and that's partly why it always feels like you're going faster than you really are. You always hear the four-cylinder engine, and there's a lot of wind noise at highway speeds Ч even when the retractable hardtop is up. It's much louder than you'd think a metal-roof roadster would be.

With its low curb weight, a small four-cylinder under the hood and a manual transmission, the Miata may seem like it could be an especially efficient sports car. Unfortunately, it's not as fuel efficient as you'd expect. With the six-speed manual it gets an EPA-estimated 21/28 mpg city/highway, and the city rating improves by 1 mpg with the base five-speed manual. While that's decent, the 2010 Mini Cooper hatchback, which has a similar curb weight, is rated 28/37 mpg with a manual transmission and delivers the same type of driving fun as the Miata. Like the Mini, the Miata uses more expensive premium gas.

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