2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata: First Drive Review

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceDriving Fun Done Right
We’ll say this up front — we’re big fans of the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Not surprisingly, staffers were excited to drive the all-new 2016 model, but with high expectations there was a strong possibility of disappointment. Mazda knows how important this lightweight 2-seat roadster is to the brand as well as to its strong fan base. We’re happy to report after a day behind the wheel of the new Miata (yes, the car is officially the MX-5, but to us it will always be Miata) on twisty roads in Southern California, the engineers and designers got it right (again) by making dramatic improvements while staying true to the MX-5’s fun-to-drive formula.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceNew Look
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 is the fourth-generation Miata — called the ND (following the NA, NB and NC). Although the previous three generations share the same basic design, this MX-5 Miata has a completely new look. Yes, some iconic elements —such as the wide grille — are incorporated into the new model, but the headlights, taillights and integrated fender flares are unique.

© Mazda North AmericaModel Lineup
The 2016 MX-5 Miata is available in three trims: Sport, Club and Grand Touring. Sport is the base-level Miata, and the Club and GT branch in different directions — the Club is more aggressive for true driving enthusiasts, while the GT offers more amenities and a more pliant ride. All feature the same 2.0-liter engine and remain a blast to drive.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSport
Priced at $24,915, the Sport may be the entry-level trim of the Miata line, but it still comes well equipped. Features include a manually-operated cloth soft-top, LED headlamps, a 6-speed manual transmission, Bluetooth connectivity, an AM/FM stereo with aux jack, cloth seats, stability and traction control and 16-inch alloy wheels.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceClub
For those looking to get the most performance out of their Miata, consider the Club, which is priced at $28,600. Club is easily identified by its front air dam, rear lip spoiler, piano-black side mirrors and 17-inch Gunmetal alloy wheels. Club also gets a limited-slip differential, Bilstein shocks, a Bose audio system with head restraint speakers, a color touchscreen display and the Mazda Connect infotainment system. A Brembo/BBS package ($3,400) is exclusive to the Club; it includes Brembo front brakes, side sill extensions, a rear bumper skirt and 17-inch dark alloy BBS wheels.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceGrand Touring
Priced at $30,065, the top-line Grand Touring features leather seats, automatic climate control, a Bose 9-speaker audio system with head restraint speakers and 17-inch bright alloy wheels. The GT also includes Mazda’s i-ACTIVSENSE suite of safety technologies, including blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive front lighting, lane-departure warning and rain-sensing wipers.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceUnder the Hood
The 2016 MX-5 gets power from a SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter DOHC 4-cylinder engine that produces 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. When Mazda announced that the new Miata would have less peak horsepower than the outgoing model, there was considerable grumbling from the press as well as Miata enthusiasts — but peak horsepower is not the whole story. The new car is between 150 and 200 pounds lighter than the outgoing version (depending on the trim), and peak horsepower and torque occur at a lower rpm. The most telling difference: Although peak horsepower is less, the new engine produces more power and torque up to 5000 rpm than the outgoing engine, so — unless you were told — under most driving situations you would never know the new engine has less power.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceTransmission
All MX-5s come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission, which in our opinion is the proper way to drive a Miata. However, for those who prefer an automatic, a 6-speed tranny with paddle shifters is available on all trims for an additional $1,075.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceFuel Efficient
Miata has always been fuel efficient, but the new lighter car with the SKYACTIV engine allows for huge jumps in fuel economy. With the manual transmission Miata is rated at 27 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. The automatic is even more efficient, returning 27/36, respectively.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInner Space
Engineers made every effort to improve the MX-5’s driving position to sustain — dare we say it again —the signature Miata fun-to-drive feel. The driver sits slightly lower and closer to the center of the vehicle than in the previous generation. The windshield is moved rearward and a lower hood gives the driver a wider view as well as a feeling of being closer to the road.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceInnovative Seats
Seats in the 2016 MX-5 have a unique design that provides excellent support while taking up considerably less space. Seatbacks are very hammock-like, for lack of a better term — comfortable when you get in, they tighten as G forces increase during acceleration or turning. We like the leather seating surfaces best (no surprise), but the cloth buckets are comfortable as well.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceBuilt-In Speakers
One of our favorite new features are stereo speakers integrated into the head restraints. Not overly loud, they provide just enough sound so the stereo can be heard clearly even with the windows down at freeway speeds — especially useful during hands-free phone calls.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceSoft-Top
The new cloth top has been redesigned to be lighter and easier to operate. To open, pull the latch and push back until the top locks — which takes about three seconds. Mazda also added a spring — when you pull the release to put up the top, the top raises about six inches so it’s easy to reach from the driver’s seat without injuring your shoulder. Just pull up and latch.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceDrinks, Anyone?
Cupholders have been moved to the back of the center console, which gets them out of the way during shifting but makes access rather inconvenient. Both holders are removable, and one can be repositioned near the passenger’s knees.

© Mazda North AmericaStorage Space
There is no longer a glovebox in front — the only accessible storage is between the two seatbacks. There are additional storage cubbies behind each seat, but these cannot be accessed while the seats are occupied.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceWind Blocker
The wind blocker between the seats calms cockpit air while driving at speed. However, unlike the previous generation that folded out of the way, this one is removable — and unfortunately once removed it must be stowed somewhere. Engineers say this change occurred due to diligent weight savings —a bit of an annoyance, for sure.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceOn the Road
Like the first-gen and all that have followed, the MX-5 inevitably puts a smile on your face after a few minutes behind the wheel. The Miata differs from most sports cars since acceleration numbers are not terribly impressive — the car has always been better in real-life experience rather than on paper. That said, it isn’t slow. The Miata simply feels quick — the combination of sporty exhaust note, a low-slung driver position and the wind in your hair all combine to create one satisfying motoring experience.

© Mazda North AmericaTwisty Roads
We had the opportunity to spend some quality time in the new Miata on some very twisty roads in Southern California, which is where the car really comes to life. This perfectly-balanced roadster always does what you expect. Steering is light and precise, so carving corners is easy and enjoyable. The 6-speed manual is very smooth — shifting a gear is like flipping a switch.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceClub vs. GT
When comparing the Club to the GT (we didn’t have the opportunity to drive the Sport), we prefer the GT. The Club’s stiffer ride is quite noticeable; although it’s not uncomfortable, we did feel every bump and irregularity in the road. The Club’s more aggressive suspension will provide better performance when pushed to the limits, but for daily driving and the occasional winding road the GT offers a better balance of comfort and performance.

© Mazda North AmericaQuiet at Speed
On the freeway at high speeds the Miata keeps wind noise to a minimum, especially with the windows up and wind blocker in place. Conversing with a companion or listening to the stereo does not take extra effort. However, with the windows down in a vehicle not equipped with head restraint speakers, it did take full volume to enjoy music.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRight for You?
If you’re looking to have fun on the road, the MX-5 could be your ticket to drive. Surprisingly, the Miata doesn’t really have any direct competitors — the Nissan Z is the closest roadster based on price but starts almost $20,000 higher and weighs considerably more. The Subaru BRZ is closest in performance, but it isn’t available as a convertible. So in the world of affordable open-top sports cars, the Miata may be the only car just right for you.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content ExperienceRating: 9.5
Pros: Fun to drive, fuel efficient, low starting price.
Cons: Limited storage space, smaller-feeling interior, annoying cupholders.

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata with 1990 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

© Perry Stern, Automotive Content Experience2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

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