2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata: Shifter Is a Benchmark
by Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor on February 22, 2016
Simply put, our long-term 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata's shifter is a model of how to do it right. Also, our long-term 2015 Dodge Viper's shifter is a model of how to do it right.
You wouldn't want the shifter from either car in the other one.
The Miata's shifter moves through its gates with low effort but not low satisfaction. It glides unusually smoothly through the pattern. Each gate is well-defined and there's no notchiness. But you can feel the little rises and troughs of effort as one cog is deselected and the next one taken up. It's a subtle reminder that you're piloting a machine and helps make it one of the best shifters in any car today. It might even help a neophyte improve their game.
Similarly, the Viper's shifter is satisfying to use. It finds its gates with no excuses and feels immensely solid, slamming home with authority. You'll never miss a shift, and if you get lost in this H-pattern, it's no fault of the shifter. I love using this shifter even in casual driving.
The character of these shifters is poles apart in actual use, and the Miata's friendly, slickly low-effort shifter would be totally out of place in the brutish Viper, and vice-versa.
As an aside, one reason why the gearchanges in the both the Miata and Viper are so rewarding is because they're both directly integrated into the extension housings of their respective gearbox. Appropriately, they're known as "direct-shift" transmissions.
By contrast, so-called remote shifters guide the shift forks in the gearbox via an external linkage of some sort. The linkage of a remote shifter has pivots and rods/arms (or cables) and bushings that isolate the shifter from noise and vibration. But in the bargain, remote shifters lose precision and generally are more vague and slower to shift than direct-shift 'boxes.
You can feel the difference yourself. A modern Camaro SS, the LSA-powered Cadillac CTS-V and Mustang GT500 all employ the same fundamental Tremec TR6060 gearbox as the Viper, but the Viper is the only one among them to use a direct shifter. And while none of those cars' remote shifters could fairly be described as clumsy, nor do any of them approach the gearchange quality of the Viper.
Jason Kavanagh, Engineering Editor @ 4,521 miles