The all-new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata represents a return to its roots. Though completely redesigned and reengineered, this fourth-generation Miata is more like the first-generation 1990 roadster than any of the intervening generations.
The 2016 Miata adheres to the same basic concept as the original: a lightweight, rear-wheel-drive, two-seat roadster. And it follows the same mission as before, that of a classic British sports car.
It’s fun to drive, easy to toss around, a delight whether charging up a mountain road or cruising along the ocean. It’s simple, straightforward and traditional. You can drop the manually operated top while belted in the driver’s seat, even while at parking lot speeds. And if a thunderstorm occurs, you can pull it up and latch it just as easily, without getting out of your seat.
The styling of this all-new MX-5 is more contemporary and a bit more aggressive than the previous generation. It is about the same size as before, slightly shorter in overall length at 154 inches and slightly wider at 68 inches. The wheelbase has been stretched to 91.1 inches.
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 comes in Sport ($24,915), Club ($28,600), and Grand Touring ($30,065) models. A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard, a 6-speed automatic is optional. The Club features a sports suspension with Bilstein shocks and high-performance tires and upgraded cloth upholstery. The Grand Touring upgrades with leather-trimmed upholstery, climate control, navigation, and blind-spot and lane-departure warning systems.
Compared to its predecessor, the new MX-5 has a more curvaceous beltline. The hoodline plunges downward at the front, and a large opening at the front of the car sucks in air like a blue whale inhaling plankton. In many states, a license plate will obscure this opening appearing as a single tooth at the top of the maw.
It is a small, tidy car. After driving it you get out and almost feel like you should be able to slip it into your pocket, like a cellphone, before walking off.
The top is very easy to operate. Dropping the top can be accomplished with one hand even while underway. The same can be said about raising the top. While belted in, the driver can simply reach back, release a latch and pull the top to the top of the windshield. Mazda cleverly engineered some mechanical assistance to the help the driver pull the top up at just that moment where help is needed. Pull it closed. One latch secures it. The whole operation takes less time than it took to read about it.
The Miata cabin is spartan. The look is classic basic roadster. The pedals and the steering wheel are positioned directly in front of the driver, a rarity of seating precision.
A prominent center console separates driver and co-driver. Big analog gauges and a horizontal instrument panel keep the interior from feeling confining. Air vents and climate controls use the classic round look. Mazda’s latest infotainment system display is perched above the low-set dash.
By moving the roll center closer to the driver, Mazda made its latest MX-5 the best-driving yet. Transitioning from steady hard cornering in a left turn on a mountain road to steady hard cornering in a right turn in the Club model is seamless; now we’re going this way, now we’re going that way.
The tires lose grip gradually when cornering at high loads and the chassis is evenly balanced, so handling is predictable. It’s enjoyable, entertaining, satisfying to hurl this car into corners on deserted back roads. Yet it rides nicely and does not beat you up when puttering around in the neighborhood at 25 mph. Even the sport-tuned Club model rides smoothly enough to use as a daily driver.
The Miata does what is expected and never surprises its driver, so car and driver become one. Braking and turning at the same time tends to result in mild oversteer. Even braking through a transient maneuver is easy to control, a benefit of its near-perfect balance.
Power is not excessive. There is no surge of force at high rpm. Torque is lacking. The engine is rated at 155 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque. With a curb weight of just 2,300 pounds, however, the Miata can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in about 6 seconds, a quick performance indeed. More important than those numbers is the joy you get from using this engine. The engine revs freely and smoothly. Blipping the throttle with the side of the foot while braking is wonderfully easy and enjoyable.
We strongly recommend choosing the manual gearbox for this car. It is required equipment for that blipping and downshifting thing we just mentioned. The clutch pedal is light and friendly and the 6-speed manual snicks into gears neatly and easily. Also available is the 6-speed automatic transmission with Sport mode and, though it is not our preference, we found on several test drives that it performs its duties exceedingly well.
Choosing among the three models comes down to what the driver wants from the car. The Club offers the sportiest handling and is the choice of the serious enthusiast, though the ride quality of the Club is not harsh and should be fine for everyday driving. The Grand Touring model is the best choice for cruising along the ocean or enjoying top-down motoring, yet its handling will still satisfy the driver who enjoys spirited motoring. The base MX-5 Sport model has the same suspension as the GT and comes with a cloth top, so the Sport offers the best value for someone who simply wants the joy of a classic sports car.
The new Miata offers top-down motoring and a rewarding, classic driving experience. We think it’s the most fun you can have in a sports car in its price range.
Mitch McCullough and Bengt Halvorson reported from Westlake Village, California.