Neither exotic nor supercar, the MX-5 Miata remains Mazda's halo car, a roadster that distills the automaker's philosophy of fun, inspired driving into an ultra-compact two-seater. For 2016, the Miata will be smaller and lighter, but should remain one of the most rewarding convertibles you can buy.
Being fun to drive remains its primary mission; should remain affordable; Skyactiv fuel-efficiency technologies baked in to new chassis and powertrain.
More polarizing exterior design, new technology and manufacturing features may escalate base price.
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is redesigned from the ground up. It's lighter and smaller, and incorporates Mazda's full suite of Skyactiv fuel-efficiency technologies.
That the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata marks only the fourth generation of the model in 25 years shows just how precisely Mazda's engineers and designers nailed the roadster's original formula. It's also a testament to the Miata's broad, enduring appeal as a coastal highway cruiser, cute commuter or affordable track day special.
What's Special About It?
Mazda redesigned the next-generation Miata from the ground up. The engine moves closer to the roadster's center, which helps achieve the sports-cars ideal of 50 percent front/50 percent rear weight distribution, and sits a half-inch lower.
A revised rear suspension design, a stiffer chassis and reduced mass help revive the sharp handling performance that has dulled as the Miata has grown and aged. We drove it and the improvement is dramatic. Aluminum used in suspension components and select body panels, along with a lighter convertible soft top, contributes to a weight savings of more than 220 pounds.
Outside, the Miata loses some of its cuteness for a more curved, muscular tone similar to the Mazda 3 or CX-5, two recent models infused with Mazda's new design philosophy. The Miata is also 3 inches shorter in overall length and a half-inch wider. A lower hood height and windshield moved back nearly 3 inches promise improved visibility.
What's the Interior Like?
Inside, the cabin has moved slightly rearward and the seating positions are lower, yielding more headroom. The tachometer sits dead center behind the steering wheel -- itself slightly smaller than the current wheel -- emphasizing the Miata's sporting roots. Cabin materials receive a noticeable upgrade and the entertainment and navigation systems will be controlled with the slick master dial-and-button array found in other newer Mazdas.
What's Under the Hood?
The current Miata's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes way for the new-generation Skyactiv version. It's the same size and should be more efficient. The new engine makes 155 horsepower -- less than the outgoing engine, actually -- but more low-end torque at 148 pound-feet.
Combined with the new Miata's weight loss, this new powertrain promises fun and snappy performance. A six-speed manual transmission will remain standard (an automatic is optional) because this is, after all, a Miata.
How Much and When Is It Available?
Look for the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata to go on sale late this summer. With the new technology used in the next-gen Miata, expect the starting price to eclipse the current base model's sub-$25,000 sticker, but probably not by much. Mazda will need to stay competitive, however, to preserve one of the Miata's fundamental charms: affordability.
Then again, the Miata has this field largely to itself. The closest rival might be the Mini Cooper convertible or Mini Cooper Roadster convertible, which is cool, handles well and like the Miata, has a legacy loaded with fun and performance. But the Mini is a front-wheel-drive car and comes by its convertible nature largely by lopping its roof off at the factory. It also costs more than the Miata, but does offer the option of a backseat.
You have to travel much farther upmarket to find cars with the same general size and philosophy: the BMW Z4, Mercedes-Benz SLK and even the Porsche Boxster.
Check back for a full review of the next-generation Miata, including specs, driving impressions and buying advice as it becomes available.