2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata: In Defense of the New Engine
by Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor on June 24, 2016
My coworker Josh Sadlier wrote a couple updates about 2016 Mazda Miata that I've been meaning to respond to. In the first one, Josh said he'd rather buy a used Honda S2000 instead of our Miata. In the second, he noted his disappointment with our Miata's "SkyActiv" engine.
In both cases, the crux of Josh's argument is that our Miata's engine isn't special enough because it doesn't deliver an extra rush of power at high rpm or even rev very high to begin with. I originally thought about titling my update "Why Josh is Wrong." But to his credit, Josh soundly defended his arguments. He even explained that his opinion is an "outlier by American standards."
Well, Josh, I guess that puts me in the majority, as I happen to find our Miata's motor pretty enjoyable.
Unlike Josh, I don't have a desire to treat redline as a "shift here!" indicator on every drive. Most of the time in our Miata, I'm just driving around town like I would in any other car. And it's here that the 2016 Miata's improved torque delivery is appreciated. It's not so much the peak output, which is just 8 pound-feet more than before (148 lb-ft versus 140). But having informally compared some engine dynamometer graphs on the Internet, it seems to me that the 2016 engine has a flatter and more usable torque curve, i.e., there's more torque at lower rpm and less of a drop-off past 5,000 rpm. The Miata's roughly 200-pound weight reduction per our testing scales (2,309 lbs versus 2,504 for a 2015 Grand Touring model) is certainly a factor here, too.
In the real world, the new Miata is quicker, and you don't have to wait until 6,000 rpm to get it. Around town, just mat the gas and Miata scoots forward. On highway mountain climbs, you can likely just leave it in 6th gear the entire time. Sure, you can still work that fabulous shifter if you want. But this time around it's not a requirement. The 2016 Miata's four-cylinder is almost mini V8-like in character.
Not V8-like is its fuel economy. The 2016 Miata checks in with 30 mpg for the EPA's combined fuel economy average. Last year, it was 24 mpg with the six-speed manual. That's real savings going into your pocket each year.
Our Miata's four-cylinder sounds sporty, too. Interestingly, our car has an "induction sound enhancer" feature that comes on manual-equipped Club models, which looks to be that extra tubing ported into the driver side of the firewall (see top photo). My memory isn't good enough to recall whether the sound of our car is better or worse than the old Miata. But I'm enjoying it, for what it's worth.
Josh is correct that the new Miata's 2.0-liter engine lacks that "loves to rev" character. But all things considered, I'm not missing it much.
Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor @ 10,545 miles