Driving the 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster is like letting loose of heavy burdens.
The smartly styled, 13-foot-long two-seater is so efficient in design, there's not a lot of room to carry extra baggage.
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The car, itself, weighs less than 2,600 pounds and is energetic and eager to dash down the roads in a lighthearted and sprightly manner.
Heavy thoughts and responsibilities go out the windows as the Miata, with close to 50-50 front-to-rear weight balance, takes curves as if it's on rails.
Put down the Miata's soft- or hard-top roof and the drive can be a tonic — full of sun, warmth and energy.
No wonder the rear-wheel drive MX-5 Miata, now in its 25th year, is in the Guinness World Records as the best-selling two-seat roadster on Earth. More than 900,000 of the cars have been built. U.S. models come from Mazda's Hiroshima auto manufacturing complex.
The Miata isn't just a record holder or therapy for driving enthusiasts. It is practical, too.
It's a recommended buy of Consumer Reports, where its reliability is rated at average.
The combined city/highway fuel mileage rating by the federal government is as high as 28 miles per gallon for a 2015 Miata with manual transmission. This figure isn't farfetched, judging by the test car with six-speed manual and power hard top that averaged 27 mpg in city/highway travel.
With a starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, of $24,765 for a base 2015 Miata Sport with soft top and manual transmission, the Miata is one of the most affordable 2015 convertibles in the United States.
The only new convertible with a lower price is the Smart fortwo Passion Cabriolet which carries an $18,680 starting retail price that includes destination charge.
The Miata does jump in price, however, when a six-speed automatic transmission is added.
The lowest starting retail price, including destination charge, for a 2015 Miata with automatic transmission is $27,025. This is a Miata Sport model with soft top. The Miata soft top operates manually and is easy to maneuver because of the light weight and small size of the fabric roof. But the 2015 Miata also is offered with a power-operated hard top.
The lowest starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a 2015 Miata with a hard top is $29,460, and this is a Club model.
All 2015 Miatas come with a dandy, 2-liter, four-cylinder engine that fits well with the Miata's perky personality without being overbearing. This engine is rated at 167 horsepower with manual transmission and 158 horsepower with automatic. Premium gasoline is recommended to get the maximum engine power.
Standard equipment in every Miata includes the basics such as air conditioning, power windows, six-way adjustable driver seat, glass rear window, manually raising mesh wind blocker for when the top is down, lockable glovebox, 16- or 17-inch wheels and tires, fog lights, carpeted floor mats and AM/FM/CD/MP3 player.
Still, shoppers who like a lot of the latest connectivity features will find the 2015 Miata lacking.
The focus in the Miata, after all, is on driving and enjoying the art of driving. It is not about traveling in a car while talking on a phone and while having an artificial voice read emails to you.
Indeed, Bluetooth hands-free connectivity is not standard. It is part of an option package even on the top 2015 Miata Grand Touring model that starts at $30,245 that was the test car.
All Miatas come with standard safety equipment that includes side and frontal air bags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control. But the federal government does not show any crash test results for Miatas, even going back several years.
The test car had a grown-up yet sporty look. In contrast to the earliest Miatas, the 2015 model looks sophisticated. One observer said it had a Porsche kind of appearance.
The small size of the Miata can be both endearing and intimidating. This Miata can fit in many small streetside parking spots that other vehicles have to pass up in dense urban centers. At the same time, the Miata rides low enough for driver and passenger to get good views of the undercarriages of some pickup trucks. The driver of the test car even looked up at passengers in a Toyota Corolla in the adjacent lane.
But the darty, agile character of the Miata means the car doesn't have to stay behind the taller vehicles all the time.
The Miata's responsive rack-and-pinion steering was a relief compared with the loose steering feel of some other vehicles that required constant driver corrections at the steering wheel. It also was noticeable that the Miata steering, which is hydraulically assisted, felt natural and direct, not artificial the way electric power steering can feel in other vehicles.
The Miata interior gets noisy on rough pavement. Wind noise, even with the hard top up, comes on by highway speeds, too.
Engine sounds also were evident but they were welcome, as they audibly absorbed the driver in the car's performance.
Torque peaks at 140 foot-pounds of torque at a high 5,000 rpm in the Miata. Sixth gear in the tester brought the revving down immediately.
The short-throw, six-speed shifter in the test car was enjoyable to use, and while the clutch pedal needed some weight to activate, it was not enough to fatigue a left leg in stop-and-go, congested traffic.
Note the Miata's six-speed automatic comes with paddle shifters so drivers can manually shift through gears without using a clutch pedal.
With top up or down, the test Miata rode firmly but not overly rigidly. There was no cowl shake over railroad crossings, and fit and finish on the test car was excellent.