The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata receives the most significant redesign in its 25-year history. It reverses the recent trend of getting bigger and heavier while still improving comfort, feature content and refinement. If you want fun on a budget, this is your car.
What Is It?
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata represents the fourth generation of the venerable two-seat convertible that debuted in 1990. The folding cloth top is manually operated and a hardtop is not available. The base Sport trim has a starting price of $25,735 with feature highlights that include LED headlights, 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, cloth seats, power windows and an audio system with USB/iPod integration.
We spent some time with the performance-oriented Club trim which adds 17-inch wheels with wider tires, a limited-slip differential, a sport-tuned suspension, sporty body cladding, a premium Bose audio system and the Mazda Connect infotainment interface. On top of the $29,420 pricetag for the club, was the optional $3,400 Brembo/BBS package that adds upgraded front brakes, lighter wheels, side sill extensions and a rear bumper skirt. The as-tested price jumps to $32,820.
The more luxurious Grand Touring trim foregoes the performance upgrades in favor of creature comforts like leather upholstery, heated seats, automatic climate control, a navigation system and advanced safety features. In the end, it will set you back $30,885. All models come standard with a six-speed manual transmission, but a six-speed automatic is available for $1,480.
How Does It Measure Up?
Compared to its most recent predecessor, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 is smaller and lighter. Overall length is 3.2 inches shorter thanks to shorter overhangs while the roof height and wheelbase both lose about half an inch. The engine is lower and further aft for an improved center of gravity.
In addition to the smaller footprint, strategic use of high-strength steel and aluminum further drops the Miata's curb weight. Our test vehicle tipped the scales at a very light 2,309 pounds — an astounding 195 pounds lighter than the 2015 Miata Club we last tested. It is worth noting, however, that our preproduction model was missing the body cladding that is part of the Club trim and Brembo/BBS package.
As significant as the size and weight reductions are, the new Miata's styling is the real attention-getter. The aggressive creases, sweeping curves over the wheels, sharper headlights and a more angular grille give it a more serious appearance than any of its forebears. The bright-eyed, cheerful look has been replaced by a more focused and predatory impression, and we approve.
How Does It Drive?
The Miata's DNA is undeniably present in this latest reboot. Here in the U.S., we get a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's good for 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. It gives up 12 hp to the previous Miata, but gains 8 lb-ft of torque. The rest of the world has to make do with a weaker 1.5-liter powerplant. In Edmunds' testing, the American-spec Miata reached 60 mph in 6.3 seconds. That's half a second quicker than its predecessor but it requires high engine speeds and some serious wheelspin to get a decent launch. It has solid midrange punch, but "the engine is done making power at 6,000 rpm," according to our test driver.
Clutch effort is appropriate for a sporty roadster and the engagement is very intuitive. At full throttle, the engine doesn't feel as though it's being overtaxed and the throaty exhaust sounds decent without being overly theatrical. Rowing up and down through the gears is a pure joy thanks to the short-throw shifter and pedals that are perfectly situated for heel-toe downshifts.
Gear ratios make the most of available power without constant driver attention. In everyday driving it's well-mannered and easy to live with in heavily congested areas. On the highway, if you're not rushed, there's still enough power to pass slower traffic without having to downshift. Rain grooves do tend to make the car wander within its lane, though.
Stopping from 60 mph required 111 feet — a few feet longer than what we'd expect from a lightweight sports car. The brake pedal remained firm after several runs and the car slowed in a composed and controllable fashion.
Is It More Fun to Drive?
As with all Miatas, this latest generation is a willing dance partner when the road begins to bend. Approaching a curve with aggressive intentions rewards drivers with precise and predictable results. Trailing the brakes deep toward apexes while gently feeding in steering gets the tail subtly swinging to the outside without stability control intervening. During our slalom test, the ESC was more intrusive. We had trouble getting decent times until we shut off the system, at which point our speed through the cones went up considerably.
Steering effort is a bit too light for our tastes and feedback to the driver is slightly muted, but reactions to inputs are immediate and accurate. Reminders of the car's lightness are obvious in its hummingbirdlike reflexes. As the handling limits are approached, however, the suspension responds best to deliberate and smooth commands.
There's no surplus of power coming out of a turn, but that's part of the Miata's allure. Maintaining momentum and easing into the throttle early require a certain level of finesse, a point that may be lost on drivers preoccupied with power. Even those folks, however, can have fun with the new Miata.
What's New About the Interior?
Better materials, more engaging design and fewer obstructions for the driver all contribute to the latest Miata's interior improvements. In our Club-trimmed test vehicle, many surfaces were covered with a reasonable leather facsimile. There are some hard plastic elements, but they're high quality and/or color coordinated with the body.
With its windshield moved further aft and thin roof pillars, visibility is excellent. On Club- and Grand Touring-trimmed Miatas, the large infotainment screen is placed perfectly atop the dash and can be read in a quick glance. The system's dial controller and intuitive menus make it one of the best in the industry, but the controller's placement just behind the shifter is not optimal. Drivers will need to rest their arm just off center to avoid unintentional button and dial taps.
Expect little in the way of convenience features like cupholders and storage. Yes, there are cupholders. No, they aren't great. Yes, there is a trunk. No, it's not roomy. This is a tiny sports car that makes adequate use of its minimal space. Want more space? Buy a bigger car.
Is It Comfortable?
Revised steering column geometry now provides a bit more knee space, giving taller drivers more room to dance on the pedals. With the top up there's just enough headroom for a 6-footer. Angled seat rails provide more headroom as the seats slide rearward, but there is no seat-height adjustment. The seats feature an elastic mesh support construction, not unlike a Herman Miller Aeron office chair that suspends occupants in a hammocklike cradle. After several hours they proved comfortable, supportive and never stifling.
Even with the Club trim's sport-tuned suspension, the overall ride quality is pleasantly compliant. Larger potholes and bumps, as well as road reflectors do have a tendency to cause sharp jolts, though. Wind and road noise are loud as expected, but purists will argue it's just part of the experience. With the top down, that noise is irrelevant. Buffeting is minimal at highway speeds, so your cap won't fly off.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
The EPA estimates fuel economy at 30 mpg combined (27 city/34 highway) for the manual transmission. The automatic increases highway mileage to 36 mpg. We easily exceeded these estimates by attaining a 35.1-mpg result on our highway-heavy evaluation loop and 28.5 mpg overall during our three-day test.
What Safety Features Are Available?
Miatas in Sport and Club trims come with minimal safety features but do include rollover hoops and side airbags. If you want more advanced items, you'll have to step up to the Grand Touring model that comes standard with blind-spot monitors, rear cross traffic alerts, adaptive headlights and lane-departure warnings.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The 2016 Miata is essentially in a class by itself. Mini's Cooper Convertible and Roadster provide lively driving experiences for front-wheel-drive cars, but you'd have to spring for the pricier S or John Cooper Works models to come close to the level of entertainment that the Mazda delivers. The Fiat 500 C Abarth may have the Miata in its crosshairs, but it lacks the MX-5's focus, driver engagement and capability.
Among rear-wheel-drive convertibles, the field is further narrowed to the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro, but their heavier weight, larger dimensions and higher prices (for comparable feature content) put them in a different league.
Why Should (or Shouldn't) You Consider This Car?
If top-down engaging driving is high on your list, you can't do any better than the 2016 Mazda Miata. You get a lot of performance for the money, great fuel economy and the sacrifices in terms of comfort are negligible. The only significant downsides are the lack of cargo and passenger space.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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