Review: The 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata Is Still A Champ — But Keep These Things In Mind

Fortunately, there is a more affordable

2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Review — Jedlicka
✓ Simply the best to drive☓ Drop-in, climb-out cabin (rough to get out)
✓ Quick and nimble☓ Snug interior, especially for the passenger
✓ Sharp styling☓ Occasionally bumpy ride
✓ At least the option for a hard top
(if you want it)

2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Grand Touring: Overview

The front-engine, rear-drive Mazda MX-5 Miata comes as a regular convertible or with a power retractable hardtop that deftly lowers with the press of a switch in 13 seconds and disappears into the trunk area, without taking up trunk space. Dedicated convertible lovers may object to the retractable model’s rear flying buttresses, which restrict rear vision, but I hardly noticed them while driving my test RF Grand Touring with the top lowered. 

Over its three decades here in America, Mazda’s roadster has sold more than one million units worldwide. Even as the world rapidly changes, it’s nice that the Miata is still around with the vehicle market now dominated by SUVs, pickup trucks, and the like.

In fact, in the past six months the Miata found 3,763 buyers (through June 2021), up from 2,412 in the same period last year. That shows some folks still appreciate this car for sheer driving fun. That’s a trait the Miata delivers in spades.

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2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Review — Jedlicka

Price and performance

In recent years, Mazda offers in the current-generation MX-5 in “RF” form, with a retractable hard top. But how far above the standard models do you have to spend to get one?

2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata prices start at $26,830 for the cloth-top convertible. That’s for the base “Sport” trim, before destination charges. The top-of-the-line MX-5 RF Grand Touring I tested on the other hand, with a six-speed manual transmission, kicks off at $34,525. The bottom-line price was $36,365 with extra-cost options. Machine Gray Metallic (shown here) is a $495 option, while the $595 Soul Red Crystal paint really brings out the car’s sinuous lines. White Nappa leather upholstery, if you choose the option, is another $300.

Power comes from a high-revving 2.0-liter engine, with 181 horsepower and 151 pound/feet of torque. The 0-60 time is just 5.7 seconds (at sea level), although there’s isn’t much grunt off the line unless you really wring the four-pot out. A decent six-speed automatic transmission is available for $525 more, but this is essentially a no-frills sports car that most auto enthusiasts insist be driven with a manual.

More about the manual: The shifter can feel a bit stiff at first use, but it has very has short throws and works with a firm long-throw clutch I found tiring after awhile in heavy traffic. That may not bother some younger folks who’d prefer not to use a stick-shift, and they may be better off with the automatic, especially spending lots of time in traffic. Still, I enjoyed playing around with the gears as part of the Miata’s true sports car driving experience.

Fourth and fifth gear are good most of the time, with third gear best for quick moves in traffic. Sixth is an overdrive gear for fast highway cruising. At 60 MPH, the tachometer is registering 2,500 RPM and a quick downshift to fourth gear results in quick passing capability when you need it. Estimated fuel economy for the 2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF is 25 MPG the city and 34 MPG on highways. Figures are almost identical with the automatic. (Editor’s Note: In certain conditions, I (Zach) have managed over 40 MPG in highway driving.)

Steering is very quick. My test car handled superbly partly because it had a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shock absorbers, a front shock tower brace, limited slip differential, front/rear stabilizer bars, 45-series high-performance tires on 17-inch alloy wheels, rear multi-link suspension, dynamic stability control, anti-lock brakes with linear brake-pedal action and a nearly perfect 50/50 weight balance.

2021 Mazda MX-5 Miata RF Review — Jedlicka

Comfort, Convenience and Practicality

The MX-5 Miata RF is quite low — it is a sports car, after all — at 49 inches tall, and has a “drop-in/climb out” interior. It’s best to be limber if you own this car, although the doors open widely. The driver’s seat also sits low, so some shorter drivers may feel a little buried. However, the driver’s seat slides back a lot for taller drivers, and the adjustable steering wheel adjusts and telescopes to get the driver nice and comfortable, even with the tight quarters.

On that front, the interior of this small 91-inch-wheelbase car is snug and there’s little storage space. Moreover, the two awkwardly positioned (but removable) cupholders are near the shoulders of occupants. However, Apple CarPlay and Android are newly standard. The touchscreen infotainment system with a 7-inch color display is OK if you take some time to master it, and there are hard control buttons on the console. 

Upscale features include a push-button starter, heated front sport seats, power windows with a one-touch-down feature, Bose AM/FM sound system, effective climate control system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, parking brake and shift handle, nice stitching and piano black trim.     

The trunk has a high opening, but is deep and nicely shaped. However, it’s quite small, although it will swallow two soft bags or a moderate amount of groceries. Fortunately, the very cleverly designed retractable top doesn’t eat into its room. 

Some final thoughts

However, the Miata MX-5 RF Grand Touring 6MT has a stiffer suspension and thus has a firmer ride than the base Miata. The ride occasionally gets choppy on bumpy roads but isn’t uncomfortable on most pavement. But this is not a  long-distance car.

In terms of safety items, you get a rearview camera (but no 360-degree, not that you need it), blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning system, traffic sign recognition, “smart city” brake support and front and side-impact air bags.

Bottom line: After all these years making Miatas, Mazda hardly misses a trick with this latest model.