2016 MX-5 Miata: First Drive

2016 MX-5 Miata

Ok, ok, I’m going to get this out of the way.  The cup holders in the Miata are in a terrible location, but you don’t need caffeine if you have a Miata parked in your driveway.

Few cars have as much pressure to continue a good thing as Mazda’s MX-5 Miata.  The 911 comes to mind, another evolutionary design that continues to improve.  So when Mazda invited us to come take a look and drive the new MX-5 at the Washington Auto Press luncheon, I was all in.  We have been one of the ones lamenting the loss of our dear friend, the sports car.  In our clickbaitiest title yet, we even postulated the fate of the MX-5, along with its 2-seat brethren, who have had crappy sales over the past several years.

Miata-14

Unfortunately, Mr. Coleman was not present…

Last week, Rod Mclaughlin, MX-5 vehicle line manager for Mazda, visited DC to talk about the new car.  What’s so unique about the 2016 Mazda Miata?  Let’s start with the powertrain. It’s powered by a high compression Skyactiv two liter motor that produces 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque pushing around 2,332 pounds (150 pounds less than the NC).  The power is driven to the rear wheels via a slick six speed transmission.  We tested the automatic transmission as well, it has easy-to-use paddle shifters and does an admirable job.  It’s got more leg and head room than the NC.   It’s more fuel efficient.  It handles better, Mazda claims a base Sport model will out-handle the Club model from the NC generation.

But we wanted to see for ourselves, so check out the video and see what we thought of the latest Miata.

For those without the ability, or will, to watch the video, keep reading for our impressions.  To sum up the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata in a few words: plain and simple fun.  Mazda kept its core ideology of less is more and have articulated that better than ever in this Miata. For around $28,000 well equipped, the Miata will transport you back to when cars had no added bloat.  To put the Miata’s weight in context, the average weight of the Toyota Camry is 3,300 pounds – a thousand pounds more than the Miata.  The weight of the Miata is the defining driving characteristic.  The Subaru BRZ and Scion FR-S are considered to be some of the most focused driver cars to date in the $30,000 range. Even they weigh 400 pounds more than the Miata.    The Miata is the childhood go-cart that your parents never bought you, no matter how much you begged. Mazda has done something here that most car manufacturers are not currently doing at this price point.  Mazda is breaking all the rules and building cars for automotive enthusiasts.  Mazda has attained this level of driving enjoyment while still having all your standard features we have come to love in a modern day car.

 

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The car that we tested was a 2016 MX-5 Miata Club in Soul Red, with a MSRP of $33,120, the base price is $28,600.  The Club model features a limited slip differential and Bilstein shock absorbers.  These are two additions that are a must if you plan on taking the Miata to a race track. This particular Miata came with the optional Brembo/BBS package, which gives you larger brakes and wheels for the (quite large) sum of $3,400.  As we said in the video, the more we think about it the more this package makes sense.  You could buy your own wheels and brakes for less, but the Miata engineers really know the car better than you, face it.  We all have seen some Miata’s out there that have been made worse by their owners additions.  Don’t let that be you.

Mazda has lived up to its own zoom-zoom hype.  They ask customers the rhetorical, “Is it possible to turn glass and steel into adrenaline and emotion?”  And you know what?  Sounds corny, but the answer is a resounding yes!  This was no small feat.  Mazda has lightened up the car by almost 200 pounds compared to the previous generation; it almost puts it at the same weight as the original Miata that came out 25 years ago.  Mazda looked at every part of the car and saw where it could make the car lighter.  This was known as the “gram strategy.”  This creates a unique driving experience; aside from expensive exotics, you cannot find a car that handles as well as the new Miata does. On a tight, twisty road is where the Miata shines.  The steering is direct with great feedback.  It’s the first Miata with electric power steering, a controversy on its own.  All this hard work and effort by Mazda translates to one excellent car.

Miata-06

As for gripes, there weren’t many.  When you are buying a two-seat roadster there are many things you know you have to sacrifice.  It’s definitely cramped, a bit claustrophobic and most big and/or tall people will not be comfortable.  It’s definitely a second, or third, car.  If you are able to make this your only car, please call me and tell me how because I’d love to have this as my only car.  Steering effort is light compared to previous Miata’s.  This is expected because of the aforementioned electric power steering which, when compared conventional hydraulic steering, tends to give you less steering feel. Especially at low speeds.  The Miata, similar to all other Mazdas, now have a seven inch display in the middle of the dash.  If you are using navigation in a Miata you are missing the point.  You are supposed to get lost or take the long way home for once.

Mazda has decided to not give the United States an option of having the smaller 1.5 liter engine that the rest of the world will have.  Mazda is under the impression that no one in the United States will want the smaller engine, but I think Mazda is wrong.  It could attract new customers who couldn’t afford a new Miata before, and who may be looking for even greater MPG.  I think they’ve lost their “less is more”, philosophy in that one aspect.  Let us have the choice, Mazda!  When Mazda started building the first generation Miata in the early eighties they kept that slogan on the walls of the design studio; “Less is more.”  It’s quite an easy motto to comprehend, but the execution is tough when designing a car for the mass market.  We always think we need more power, bigger tires, bigger brakes, more of everything.  Mazda has rightly so ignored the critics and kept the Miata focused on its core being.

Miata-05Oh yeah, we drove a Grand Touring as well…

Final Thoughts

If you watched the video, and you should, you’ll have already heard my conclusion.  The ND MX-5 is not an evolutionary, it’s a step backwards in time.  And that’s a good thing.  It’s smaller, sized closer to the original NA than the outgoing NC.  It’s more nimble, fuel efficient, and despite being down on power from the last generation, it’s faster.  Some people have criticized the electric steering, but it’s the future and it’s here to stay.  Mazda did a pretty solid job tuning it to have some feeling and not just a vague, lifeless, wheel.  The entire car transmits a lot of feeling to the driver, so a but of numbness at low speed isn’t the end of the world.

Overall fit and finish inside has improved, with nice stitching around the dash and that trick exterior color that trickles into the cockpit along the top of the doors.  Love it.  Outside it’s a much more aggressive car.  The Club in particular.  It’s a dude’s Miata.  Finally.  Is the $3400 Brembo brake, BBS wheel and aero package worth it?  Probably.  Replicating those components on a Sport model would still be fairly costly, at least if you went with Brembo and BBS, so I generally think the extra cash is worth it.  Your results may vary and Miata aftermarket bits are cheap, so you could potentially spec out a Sport model with a few options and still be $4000-$5000 off the price of our Club test car.

I’ve been trying to figure out how I can fit a Mazda Miata in my life.  Most car enthusiasts believe the answer to any question will always be Miata; this must be because it will always put a smile on your face.  Mazda has definitely nailed the “less is more” philosophy here, this is the most distilled and well articulated Miata they’ve produced yet.  All the critics who think this little beauty needs more power are missing the point: the reason the Miata is so successful is that it’s not trying to be anything other than itself.  It’s one of the most true to itself cars built to date, I don’t see the Miata going anywhere for another generation.  In fact, if I had the last gallon of gasoline in the world, I’d put it in the tank of a Miata.

Specifications

Trim: MX-5 Club
Trans: 6-Speed Manual
Engine: 155-hp 2.0L DOHC 16-valve inline 4-cylinder
Drive: Rear Wheel Drive

MSRP $28,600
Destination Fee $820

Exterior: Soul Red Metallic
Interior: Black Cloth

Packages & Options
Brembo/BBS Package $3,400
Soul Red Metallic Paint $300
Black Rear Lip Spoiler $350

Total MSRP: $33,120