2012 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Starting price: $23,470
Top: Soft convertible or optional hardtop convertible
MPG: 22 city, 28 highway, 24 combined
The Miata has been a retiree's dream car for some time, but it's starting to outpace dream cars well beyond its price range. Its 167-horsepower, 2.0-liter, four-cylinder and five-speed manual transmission isn't going to win many drag races, but it's giving the Porsche Boxter a good run for the money.
"This zippy little convertible is a long-standing favorite with those who like to drive, and with good reason," Edmunds.com editor Warren Clarke says. "Handling is nimble and the ride is comfortable even on long hauls."
You don't go shopping for a Porsche Boxter and come home with a Miata, but that pony's about all that's separating these two vehicles. The two cars have similar acceleration (zero to 60 in 6.5 seconds for the Porsche, seven seconds for the Miata), similar ratings from Consumer Reports (90 for Porsche, 89 for Mazda) and similar customer satisfaction. The Miata's available hardtop that kicks the starting price up above $27,000 only closes the gap further.
What the Porsche does have that the Miata doesn't is engine, cooling, electrical system, power equipment and significant brake problems that add up to a lot of future costs over the life of the car. Boxter owners pay twice as much for that privilege, but at least they're getting a bit more trunk space out of the deal.
In the end, though, the folks at Kelley Blue Book note that the Miata's go-cart handling, world-class manual transmission and low entry price are the real draws. The MX-5 melds the best of classic rear-wheel-drive British roadsters with Japanese reliability and modern creature comforts.