What Is It?
Hot on the heels of its 25th anniversary, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is the thoroughly redesigned fourth generation of the iconic roadster. Known to expectant Miata aficionados by its "ND" code name, every part of the new Miata has been redesigned with one mantra in mind: Innovate in order to preserve.
What Mazda engineers strove to hang on to were the qualities that made the original 1990 Miata a runaway success: a light feel, direct response and a high level of driver engagement. But it also resonated with buyers because it came wrapped in a friendly and inexpensive two-seat convertible package that anyone could drive and enjoy.
Staying true to your roots is tough sledding. Other inexpensive hero cars of the past (the Datsun 240Z, Toyota Supra and even Mazda's RX-7) lost sight of what made them initially successful as they grew more luxurious, expensive (and less relevant) with each successive redesign.
Mazda would have to apply some brainpower if the 2016 MX-5 were to combat bloat and meet its aggressive weight-loss target of 220 pounds in the face of the steady march of safety standards and the increasing list of must-have convenience and connectivity features.
What Has Changed?
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 wears a more athletic skin with taut lines and tightly sculpted surfaces. Its new 91.1-inch wheelbase is just over a half-inch shorter, but overall length has shrunk by a full 3.2 inches thanks to equal reductions in the front and rear overhangs. This is the stubbiest Miata to date.
Despite this, the hood is actually longer because the windshield has been moved back 2.8 inches. Underneath, the engine sits a half-inch lower and 0.6 inch farther aft. The car now stands 0.4 inch shorter at the roof and the driver's butt sits 0.8 inch lower.
These tweaks conspire to shrink the Miata, which trims mass. But these alterations are directionally positive for handling, too.
Additional weight savings came from substantial increases in the use of high-strength steel, especially in critical structural areas. Selected parts — including the front suspension knuckles, differential housing, front fenders and convertible top frame — are now made of aluminum. Just about everything else has been subjected to a general diet and optimization program. The seats, for example, shed 8.5 pounds apiece.
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 kits that are part of the Club trim and Brembo/BBS package.
All of this eases the burden on the new 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine. We've seen the block, head and moving parts of this direct-injected engine before in the CX-5 and Mazda 3. But the MX-5 rear-wheel-drive version is built on a longitudinally oriented block with new intake and exhaust manifolds. In Miata trim this U.S.-only offering will make 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. It's backed by a six-speed manual transmission that weighs 15 pounds less than the current version.
How Many Trim Levels Are There?
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 tested the performance-oriented Club trim which adds 17-inch wheels with wider tires, a limited-slip differential, a sport-tuned suspension, sporty body cladding and the Mazda Connect infotainment interface. On top of the $29,420 price tag 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 premium Bose audio system, 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 Drive?
Here in the U.S., we get a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that's good for 155 hp and 148 lb-ft 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 due with a weaker 1.5-liter powerplant.
In Edmunds' testing, the U.S.-spec Miata reached 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, which is a half-second quicker than its predecessor. Working up and down the gearbox is wonderfully familiar, thanks to perfect pedal placement, very intuitive clutch engagement and the sort of satisfyingly direct shifter the Miata is known for.
Stopping from 60 mph required 111 feet — only a few feet longer than what we'd expect from a lightweight convertible. The brake pedal remained firm after several runs and the car slowed in a composed and controllable fashion.
What's missing is cowl shake, which has been pared back to near zero via structural optimization of the windshield pillar and dashboard supports. The feeling would be that of a fixed-roof car if fresh air wasn't filtering through our follicles. But even that is less pronounced than before thanks to improved cabin airflow management.
What Is the Interior Like?
Though smaller on the outside, the new Miata's interior is more friendly and spacious. The lowered seating position adds 0.4 inch of headroom, and at the rearmost seating position the maximum backrest recline angle improves 2 degrees (from 25 to 27).
The inside door tops are painted to match the exterior, but the really cool part is the character line that seems to penetrate through the dash and join up with the hood — a clever visual trick that connects the driver to what's going on outside.
There's a symmetry to the cockpit that centers around the large centrally mounted tachometer. Two gauge clusters nestle up to its sides and a pair of eyeball vents sit just outside the steering wheel. The steering wheel is a smidge smaller than last year and the steering column has been repositioned to improve the driver's pedal workspace below.
The new top is easy to flop forward because of its newfound lightness, and a removable windblock panel sits between the standard twin roll hoops.
All of the cabin materials have been upgraded, and the newly redesigned seats offer seamless comfort owing to the lighter net-style suspension system that replaces steel springs. Mazda's recently upgraded palette of buttons and knobs is here, and we're particularly fond of the master control array used to manipulate the well-conceived entertainment and navigation system. Unfortunately, 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.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
The EPA estimates fuel economy 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 over the few days we spent with it.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The closest offering comes from the Mini stable in the form of the Mini Cooper convertible or the Mini Cooper Roadster convertible. Right away you can see a problem. The Mini is cool, handles well and has heritage on its side, but it's a front-drive roof-cut-off vehicle that strikes a more upright pose. It costs a bit more, too, but the option of a backseat is on the table.
At one point the BMW Z3, Mercedes-Benz SLK and Porsche Boxster seemed like competitors. All were launched, one could argue, in response to the runaway success of the Miata. But today all three have marched decidedly upmarket to the point where it's a matter of calculating how many MX-5s you can get for one of them.
The Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky were conceived to go head-to-head with the Miata, too, but both of them are now long gone — along with the very brands that sold them.
Why Should You Consider It?
Anyone who wants a simple and engaging rear-drive roadster should look no further. There's a lot of fun-to-drive on hand for less than half the cost of what the German competition is peddling. And the Miata is the far more accessible car, in that you'll never feel the need to attend a racing school to enjoy it.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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