The 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata is more than the sum of its parts

The 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata brings out pure, joyous nostalgia. It reminds you of the adrenaline you experienced the first time you rode a bike without training wheels or drove a light, simple roadster with the top down. There’s no piece of the MX-5 pie that stands out as special, yet everything comes together to make for an exceptional car. The ND2 Miata isn’t perfect, but it’s as close as it gets in 2022.

Mazda launched the ND-generation Miata in 2015 for the 2016 model year. It dropped weight versus the NC it replaced and ditched the 2.0-liter MZR LF-VE engine for the 2.0-liter SKYACTIV-G powerplant. The car’s reinvigorated nimbleness and glorious fun were only let down by an under-willing motor. Mazda made good on this for the 2018 model year by revising the engine to get a bump in horsepower (from 155 hp to 181 hp) and torque (from 148 lb-ft to 151 lb-ft) and, more importantly, a higher redline at 7,500 versus the prior 6,500. It’s funny how seemingly small changes can make big waves in reality, and with Mazda carefully tuning the Miata again for 2021, it’s better than ever.

More well-rounded than ever

The ND2 Miata brings as close to consequence-free, mindless self-indulgence as a car can. Averaging over 30 MPG is easy, and over 40 is doable on the highway without much effort. The car has four airbags, heated seats (in GT and Club trims), comfortable seats, good ride quality, and is inexpensive to run and maintain. The soft top goes down in less than five seconds, so you can do it at a stoplight if it starts to rain, but carry over 30 MPH, and rain won’t get in the cabin anyways. Need (or want) to drive it year-round in potentially cold and snowy winter conditions? Go for the RF and revel in the targa.

The Miata’s most important trait is the feel from behind the wheel. Sitting low against the ground and looking out over the curvaceous hood, the view of the world is yours for the taking. Carving back roads in the Miata is endlessly fun, the car a light but not delicate dance partner. The harder you push, the more rewarding it becomes. Roof down, it feels like you’re flying at any speed even when you aren’t. Hell, you can stay below third gear going to the grocery store, and it’ll bring joy to your senses. You might not actually be going that fast in the Miata, but it feels like you are. And it’s all perfectly manageable, never out of sorts, and ready to dive into the next corner, tail wagging on the way out.

That new engine means there’s enough power to break the back end loose (on a close course, of course) and the newest iteration of the gearbox is both light and direct enough never to get boring. The ND2 is the golden retriever of the car world. It’s always happy and simply a joy to interact with in any and all circumstances. You can’t piss it off, can’t get it too riled up, and always come back wanting to play with it more.

Where it falters

Not all is glorious with the ND2, though. The infotainment is a mess. It’s frustrating to use and not always intuitive, which isn’t what you want to try and fuss about within a small car at speed. Meanwhile, the ND2 engine is better than that in the ND1, but it’s still desperate for more airflow both inward and outward. And, below 3,000 RPM, it simply has little mojo until you get into the meat of the powerband, which takes some effort. The aforementioned shifter is good, not great, overshadowed by that in the second-generation Toyobaru twins (Subaru BRZ / Toyota GR86).

The cornering, too, is outshined by those cars’ handling abilities. Where they dart, the Miata rolls, leaning on its haunches. Mazda tried to counter this with its new-for-2022 Kinematic Posture Control (KPC). This tech helps modulate body control and improve the responsiveness of the car’s steering, but only during high-g cornering. Mazda makes this happen by tricking the brakes on the inner tire to grab slightly when going around a turn. It further limits slip and effectively pulls the car through the corner. It’s similar to what Toyota does with the Land Cruiser’s Turn Assist, but on the tarmac. Does it work? I truly can’t say.

Deciphering the usefulness of this innovation would require driving two identical cars with and without it back-to-back. What I can say is that the car is so direct in all of its inputs– steering, braking, shifting, accelerating, etc.– that you never feel any sense of disconnect from the car. KPC’s impact on this is hard to feel on the street, but it’s probably another piece of the puzzle that makes the MX-5 so good to drive.

The right kind of compromise

The Miata’s inherent faults and compromises, and those specific to the ND platform, are still there, too. The steering is too light, and there’s little to no feel or feedback on-center. Storage is almost nonexistent. Still, a smart packer can shove a week’s worth of clothes into the tiny trunk. It’s loud on the highway with the top up, yet less so with the top down and windows up. And there’s a slew of mundane passenger cars that will leave it for dead in a race. To say these compromises are known and understood by a buyer of the Miata is a given; use this as your only car, and you live a very different kind of lifestyle. I’ve done it, albeit with an NC3 Club, and wouldn’t trade those days for anything. The Miata life is an irreplaceable one.

There is admittedly some sticker shock with today’s Miata. It used to be “cheap,” but now it isn’t. The base Sport trim starts at $27,650. The Grand Touring trim seen here starts at $32,895. The RF Club we were originally supposed to test ticked in at $38,795. This realm houses a plethora of new and used sports cars. Two or four doors, manual or auto, four or six or eight cylinders; $40k is the sweet spot for accessible performance machines. The Miata is in shark-infested waters here.

The Miata exists in its own reality

But forget all of that. None of it matters. The 2022 Mazda Miata, math and numbers and money aside, is an outstanding piece of fun-focused machinery. It brings back feelings of the old times: Just you, the car, and the open world around you. It doesn’t get any better than this. A good drive in the ND2 Miata feels like an old friend giving you a mischievous poke, urging you to misbehave. And like any Miata, getting into trouble still happens at a sensible number on the speedometer.

Based on the math, the Miata isn’t great. But the real world, and the car world, in particular, doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and it certainly doesn’t operate in one based solely on numbers. The Miata is proof of this. It eschews the clinical side of cars for pure enjoyment. Even if there’s nothing remarkable about it on a spreadsheet, you don’t drive Microsoft Excel. The Miata… well, that you very much drive. Everybody has their vision of the “perfect day” or a memory of the one that was. For many, it’s a top-down cruise in a fantastic car, just you, the machine, and the scenery in unison. The 2022 Mazda Miata helps extract that nostalgic sensation every time you drive it.

You don’t come away from the 2022 Mazda Miata with a sense of vehicular revelation. It doesn’t change your perception of cars and doesn’t overwhelm you on a sensory level. What it does do is inject a sense of joy and lightheartedness into every drive. It’s a cheeky, straightforward thing that prioritizes emotion over anything else. It’s a breath of fresh air and true to the original Miata formula. One plus one might always equal two, but the 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata is just about the only car that could convince us that it doesn’t. It really is more than the sum of its parts, and it really is sensational.

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One response to “The 2022 Mazda MX-5 Miata is more than the sum of its parts”

  1. wunno sev Avatar
    wunno sev

    when i finally wrap my NA around a tree, i’m getting a ragtop ND to replace it.

    i would note – the NA was never all that “cheap” by comparison. once you adjust for inflation the base prices are extremely similar. i think the big difference is the options list, but if you want that NA experience at an NA price, you can still get it

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