How do you introduce rarity and desire to a nameplate that's been in production for over 23 years with over a million examples rolling off of the assembly line during that time? With a special edition, that's how. There may be millions of Mazda Miatas on the road around the globe, but there will only be 450 of the 2012 Mazda Miata Special Edition on American roads.
Underneath this special package that adds a unique color scheme and an additional cost is the 2012 Mazda Miata PRHT Grand Touring that you've been able to buy for years now. This little roadster offers one of the purest drives that I've ever experienced, but the price that you'll pay for that level of simplicity is frustration when it comes time to spec some tech.
Under the 2012 Mazda Miata's aluminum hood breathes a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine. Power is rated at 167 horsepower and 140 pound-feet of torque. That may not seem like a lot of grunt in a world where a Civic Si is pushing 200 ponies and the base Mustang outputs 305 horsepower, but the Miata's strength lies not in its brute force, but in its light and nimble chassis. With a curb weight of only 2,593 pounds (with the hard top), that 2.0-liter engine doesn't have much car to get going when hustling away from a traffic light.
More importantly, the Miata's grippy, tossable chassis means that you don't have to sacrifice much of that speed to go round a bend. A low center of gravity means that the Miata remains relatively flat as you guide it toward apex after apex and a nearly 50/50 weight distribution between the axles creates a very neutral character that, while just as understeer-prone as any other mass-produced passenger car on the market when pushed too hard, makes it just as easy to initiate controllable oversteer with gratuitous levels of throttle.
The six-speed manual transmission that our model was equipped with featured a shifter that was certainly good, but not the best that I've tested. Subjectively, the Honda Civic Si and Mini Cooper S have shifters that seem much snappier, with a slightly more positive, mechanical engagement than the Mazda's. The Miata's gears are tightly spaced, which means that you'll be doing a lot of shifting to stay in the sweet spot of the powerband. Your revs will be at about 3.5K while cruising at 65 mph, which means that the sporty exhaust note can begin to drone on for longer trips. However, the Miata's lack of storage space already precludes it from being an optimal road trip car.
With the optional suspension package in place, the Miata is upgraded with a limited-slip differential, Bilstein shocks, and sport-tuned Mazda springs. These upgrades join the hard-top Miata's standard front strut tower bar, front and rear stabilizer bars, disc brakes, and high-performance tires to create one of the purest driving experiences that I've ever had. Few cars put as little between the driver and the road as the Miata does. There's never a question of where the vehicle's corners are -- you can easily see them from the driver's seat. The steering wheel is extremely communicative and responsive, giving you an almost telepathic connection with the front wheels.
True, the Miata may not be the best car for doing massive burnouts -- it's simply not powerful enough -- but the rear-drive configuration and its willingness to rotate about its center axis mean that you're just a tap of the traction control button and a blip of the throttle away from epic and smoky doughnuts. While sliding around an empty parking lot, I was pleased by how easy it was to power-slide the little roadster, controlling the radius of the bend with countersteering and modulation of the throttle, every input eliciting a nearly instantaneous response from the vehicle that was felt through the steering wheel and the seat. I'm not saying that you should hoon your Miata around the local mall parking lot, just be sure to turn the traction control back on before you get back on the road.
But it gets better. While the Miata shows great potential as a track and autocross car, the roadster's chassis truly shines when you're only driving at seven-tenths of its ability. On my favorite back roads, with the top down and a good song on the radio, the Miata was a grin-inducer, but I was most impressed by the ease with which the Miata and I tackled those winding roads. I felt more relaxed and my inputs were smaller than usual. Mazda calls this effortlessness Jinba ittai, which translates as "rider and horse as one." I didn't have to think about every little input made, the entry speed of each corner, or whether it was too early to get back on the throttle because the car was constantly communicating these things to me. And since I wasn't constantly struggling for control of the car, I was free to look down the road, set up my next few corners, and, most importantly, enjoy the drive.
Lightweight, low-power fun translates also into efficient driving. At the end of my week with the Miata, I'd averaged 24.4 mpg, which is in line with the EPA's 24 mpg combined, 21 mpg city, and 28 mpg highway estimates. A driver with a lighter foot and more relaxed driving style could definitely do better.
Cabin tech? What cabin tech?
The MX-5 Miata is pretty archaic by modern standards where dashboard tech is concerned. At its best, which the Grand Touring and Special Edition trim levels represent, you're looking at single-line monochromatic screen that displays data from a six-disc in-dash CD changer with MP3 decoding, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, AM and FM broadcast reception, and an auxiliary input located at the base of the dashboard. Audio comes through a seven-speaker, Bose-branded premium stereo system with a feature called AudioPilot 2 that automatically adjust the volume to compensate for the vehicle's speed and whether the top is down or not.
There's also Bluetooth hands-free calling, but it's only the most basic of systems. There is no phone book sync, so caller ID isn't supported, and neither is dial by name ("Call Antuan Goodwin") without first manually setting a voice tag. You can press the voice command button and speak a number ("Call 123-456-7890") but unless you've memorized the numbers of your contacts, you'll want to take a minute (or 10) to set up a few speed-dial voice tags before you embark on a trip.
Missing from the 2012 Miata's infotainment option list are a navigation system, Bluetooth A2DP audio streaming, and an USB/iPod port. These may seem like simple omissions that can be overcome with a smartphone and an auxiliary audio cable, but without USB/iPod connectivity or Bluetooth A2DP, you lose steering-wheel transport controls, so you'll be stuck fiddling with your phone if you decide to change playlists or just skip tracks. Additionally, any trip that lasts longer than your phone's battery will require that you plug in not only that aux-audio cable, but also a 12-volt charger. And since the only place you can comfortably stow your phone in the Miata is either in a cupholder or in a cell phone slot near the back of the center console, you'll be draping both of those cables awkwardly across your shifter.