EUREKA SPRINGS, Ark. -- A 2015 Mazda MX-5 -- the Generation 3 treatment of Mazda's iconic Miata 2-seat roadster convertible outfitted with a clever power retractable hard top -- zooms across the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas with some of the tightest curves on blacktop and our wheel-screeching trek delivers about as much fun as you can find on four wheels.
This pint-size roadster, stretched longer and broader on a monocoque structure for the Generation 3 design and spiked now with ideally balanced firepower, rides on a stiff chassis with a wide track.
Its ideal weight balance -- the 4-in-line engine mounted up front and all power directed to the rear wheels with about half of the vehicle's mass resting on the front wheels and the other half on the rear ones -- sets up that magic Mazda mix of keen and predictable vehicle control for a hands-on kind of driver.
Mazda marks the MX-5 Miata's 25th anniversary in 2014.
The vehicle first appeared in the creative mind of Tom Metano, Mazda's California-based designer in the 1980s, and it emerged as a production reality in 1989 dubbed Miata.
The Generation 3 design and nameplate switch from Miata to MX-5 came in 2006. Gen-3 MX-5 scored an expanded structure and revised sheetmetal with an aggressive prow and bulbous wheel flares, a stronger engine and more standard safety features. It also offered a power retractable hard top (PRHT) for year-round comfort and security.
For 2015 editions Mazda makes the MX-5 with a manual folding convertible top in trim grades of Sport, Club and Grand Touring, with the PRHT available on Club and Grand Touring models.
All 2015 MX-5 issues tote the same dual-cam 2.0-liter and 4-cylinder Mazda engine which employs variable valve timing (VVT) on the intake cam plus electronically controlled port fuel injection. Output tallies to 167 hp at 7000 rpm with the torque spiked to 140 lb-ft at 5000 rpm.
A close-ratio manual 5-speed transmission works for the MX-5 Sport, as Club and Grand Touring models use a 6-speed manual for the stock shifter or an optional 6-speed automatic with sequential shift control via paddles mounted on the steering wheel for upshifts and downshifts.
MX-5's nimble independent suspension system consists of a double wishbone up front with forged aluminum control arms and a multi-link rear with tubular control arms and aluminum knuckles. The Club edition receives sport-tuning with monotube Bilstein shocks plus a limited slip differential working to roll 17-inch gunmetal alloy wheels capped by 205/45R17 low-profile performance tires.
For stopping power, all MX-5 models get ventilated front disc brakes and solid rear discs with single-piston aluminum calipers in conjunction with an anti-lock brake system (ABS), electronic brake force distribution (EBD), a traction control system (TCS) plus dynamic stability control (DSC) anti-skid device.
The standard manual folding convertible top, easiest to operate among all drop-tops, has a glass rear window with built-in defogging heat element. A driver can unlock this top and flip it down in seconds while stopped in traffic.
The optional PRHT is lightweight, using sheet molding compound and polypropylene for front and middle sections and glass in the third section which is the rear window. It's the quickest-closing power top in the business, as the push-button conversion from hardtop coupe to airy convertible consumes only 12 seconds.
Base model MX-5 Sport rolls on 16-inch aluminum alloy sports wheels capped by 205/50R16 high performance tires and stocks manual air conditioning, two high-back bolstered bucket seats with black cloth upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and analog gauges in the instrument cluster ringed in beads of chrome.
MX-5 Club models carry black-colored outside mirrors and headlamp bezels, foglamps, a front air dam and rear diffuser. In the cockpit, Club models gain red contrast stitching on black cloth seats, power controls for windows and door locks via a remote key fob, cruise control, a trip computer and audio control tabs on the steering wheel.
MX-5 Grand Touring trim adds heated leather seats, automatic climate controls and a Bose audio kit. The optional Premium Package includes xenon HID headlamps, a keyless entry system and Bluetooth connectivity.
Mazda's MSRP chart for the 2015 MX-5 ranges from $23,970 to $32,205.