For enthusiasts the world over, few cheap cars get the heart racing like a 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata. It doesn’t have prodigious horsepower, outright speed, or dazzling good looks. The Miata’s appeal, in fact, is largely the opposite of all that. It’s so endearing because it distills the essence of the sports car: two seats, lightweight, simple, affordable. The 2020 Miata continues that heritage of putting fun before frills, and earns a 6.0 out of 10 overall in our scale. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Why the seemingly mediocre score? The Miata inevitably falls short in the practical categories, what with its two seats, small trunk, and lack of room for tall passengers.
For 2020, the $27,500 MX-5 Miata Sport, $31,210 Club, and $32,590 Grand Touring have added features. All but the base model now have standard blind-spot monitors; all models now have automatic emergency braking. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard on Club and Grand Touring Miatas, while manual-shift Grand Touring cars get a limited-slip differential, a sport suspension, Bilstein shocks, and front shock tower braces.
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Last year, the Miata made news with a big injection of horsepower that came from a freer-revving 2.0-liter inline-4. That powertrain is again the only one offered, with the choice of either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic. Get the auto if you must, but the manual is a true joy, notching through the gears with a lovely mechanical romp.
This latest Miata, which debuted for 2016, has made marked improvements in livability. There’s better materials, nicer appointments, and a modern—if frustrating—infotainment system. The Grand Touring trim is particularly nice as an affordable, optioned-up roadster, but we like the performance-focused Club the best.
Whatever trim you opt for, the Miata dances along roads with the immediacy and intimacy of a go-kart. You sit low, but the whole car is impossibly low, so sightlines are excellent, especially once you flick back the manually-operated canvas top (a power-retractable roof is available as well). Every input feels like a direct analog connection.
By keeping it cheap and primitive, Mazda has made the Miata into something special. It remains an entertaining sports car with its heart—and its wallet—in the right place.