2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club

Soul in motion is alive and better than ever in the latest MX-5.

Take a look at the old MX-5 Miata and then say hello to the new one. The only similarities include the two-seat, front-engine roadster profile and circular black rings of rubber filling each wheel cutout, plus Mazda’s stylized “M” badge front and back. Yes, most every performance enthusiasts’ favorite Japanese brand has just witnessed their beloved sports car transformed from yesteryear’s retro ride to tomorrow’s futuristic concept car in a single model year, but as folded, creased and sharply modernistic as the new Miata looks, it’s actually more retrospective than you might think.

What made the original Miata such an instant hit, other than its obvious nod to the ’62-’73 Lotus Elan that few have ever seen in its composite flesh yet everyone seems to love vicariously due to being the chosen steed of Diana Rigg’s Emma Peel in the British spy-fi TV series The Avengers, was said sporty styling as well as rear-drive, lightweight, ideally balanced, brilliantly nimble yet relatively cheap and dead reliable performance. Few British or Italian sports cars remained when it took the world by storm in the late ‘80s, at least affordable ones, and where these were serious commitments financially as well as in personal and mechanical downtime the little Mazda was a car you could buy for the price of a well equipped 323 (well, maybe a 323 Turbo 4×4 as the 1989 Miata was $14,000) and rely on to get you back and forth from work just as ably.

The same holds true for the entirely redesigned 2016 MX-5 Miata, my reason for taking you back 26 years only a stage setting preamble to help you appreciate that this radically redesigned version has a lot more in common with the original than just its name and heritage. Mazda has trimmed the new car’s fat to the point that its featherlight body mass is nearly the same as that 1989 model, the new car weighing just 2,200 lbs, which is only 128 lbs more than its great grandpa. That’s a 1.5-liter four-cylinder powered model we don’t get, however, our base 2.0-liter infused Sport and the Club I’m reviewing here considerably heavier at 2,332 lbs, although compared to last year’s lightest U.S.-spec model that tilted the scales at 2,606 lbs it’s a shocking 273 lbs lighter.

Mazda Miata rear view

How did Mazda cut so much weight? Rather than let the Miata grow moobs along with an unsightly midriff spilling over its beltline as it heads towards 30-something, Mazda sliced off much of its sheetmetal and plastic composite, the new car now about three inches shorter than its predecessor with almost an inch less wheelbase, while width has actually grown by about half an inch. This actually makes it shorter than the original, while its expansion from side-to-side improves both handling and interior roominess. The result is a more comfortable and accommodating sports car than the outgoing Miata, that’s also more fun to drive.

Mazda Miata engine

Less weight meant that Mazda didn’t need to add more output to its direct injected 2.0-liter four-cylinder, although they did change it up a bit. Now it makes a max of 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 148 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm, whereas last year’s car produced more twang with 167 horsepower at 7,000 rpm albeit less twist with 140 lb-ft at 5,000 rpm. The difference will no doubt improve off-the-line acceleration with the optional six-speed automatic, but being more of a manual fan and attuned to high-revving performance this was a bit of a letdown. Either way it doesn’t take much to get the little roadster up to speed, although the car’s mid-six-second zero to 60 mph sprint is not what’s been making news, nor is this engine’s somewhat loud and course sound, or for that matter the drivetrain’s improved fuel economy that’s now rated at 27 mpg city, 34 6.9 highway and 30 combined with the manual I drove or 27 city, 36 highway and 30 combined with the autobox, but rather the biggest news is what hasn’t changed.

Mazda hasn’t messed with the slick little six-speed short-throw manual that’s still ideally placed for wrist-flick action, nor the perfect positioning of its pedals along with its superb clutch take-up, and of course how brilliantly it all comes together when up to speed. Actually, as you may have expected due to the aforementioned weight loss, the MX-5’s overall drivability is now better than ever.

It might be a bit firmly sprung for some, but the Miata is no poseur, so let those who’d be happier in a pre-owned BMW Z4 remain in their overweight boulevardier. Then again the little Mazda is a luxury sled compared to a Lotus Elise, but rather than criticize I praise Mazda for finding the right balance of comfort and sport, the MX-5 a fully livable day-to-day commuter endowed with the extra ability of transforming serpentine stretches of two-laners into straight lines of speed.

Mazda Miata interior

Yep, get some momentum pushing its backside and it’ll whip through a set of tight S-curves like there’s no tomorrow, and when those combination corners result in an abrupt 90-degree twist or yet more radical hairpin just point it at a right angle, let its tail hang out in seemingly wild abandon while flinging the wheel around for some opposite lock and get back on the throttle, the MX-5 will follow in dutiful obligation with hardly a sound of disagreement other than a little chirping from the rubber below. It’s otherworldly. I wouldn’t recommend this course of action around town, but the little Mazda is a superb point and shoot companion amid thick traffic, while it also delivers satisfying highway performance along with acceptable comfort.

I did all this with the top down, by the way, only lifting it for testing purposes; it’s quieter, but not all that much. If I sound like I’m complaining, I’m not. I happen to like the Miata’s rawness, one of my favorite cars of modern time being that aforementioned Lotus Elise. This Mazda provides close to the same visceral experience in a much less expensive yet much more refined daily driver. Stowing that top couldn’t be quicker or easier, requiring the release of a single handle under the windshield frame and a light tug backward before clicking it into place. I didn’t need to leave my seat and the procedure didn’t strain my rotator cuff, elbow, wrist or any of my other aging joints, the task completed in seconds. Ditto for the return process.

Mazda Miata dashboard

Like the exterior design the new Miata’s interior is an altogether more modern affair, but don’t fret one iota as it hasn’t lost any charm. The body-color retro bits are still there, although on the door uppers instead of the dash and more curvaceously bent to form around the HVAC vents, while the instrument panel gets a nice leather-like semi-soft bolster with red stitching in Club trim to match the same treatment on the more padded door panels, as well as on the leather-wrapped steering wheel, shifter knob and boot, plus the handbrake lever and skirt (both of which are still present and accounted for thank goodness, unlike Porsche that’s ditched these wonderful mechanical bits for an electromechanical unit that has no place in a sports car), while the red thread on my Club tester’s sport seats gets a tri-stripe pattern down the center of each cushion, although we’re talking cloth here, not leather.

They’re comfortable and wonderfully supportive, especially laterally so you won’t get tossed about while performing hero-defining feats of driving skill, while they sit lower than in previous generations, not a problem for we shorter jockeys as the hood has also been lowered thanks to an engine that was dropped further on its mountings, all of this lowness resulting in a ground-hugging center of gravity as well as better pedestrian safety.

It’s a simply laid out cabin, but nevertheless miles more advanced than any previous mid-grade Miata. There’s lots of nice satin-silver trim adorning the steering wheel, which is also fitted with an upscale set of switches, while more metallic trim surrounds the primary gauges, the base of the shifter and shifter knob, the infotainment controller just next to it, plus the rim of the tablet-style display screen that juts out of the dash top. Mazda chose piano black lacquered plastic to define the three circular dash vents and console-mounted cupholder rims, while a carbon-look surface treatment adds depth to the powered window, lock and mirror switch panels. You couldn’t get much simpler when it comes to the HVAC controls, a rudimentary three-dial setup finished in unadorned black plastic, but it looks good enough and worked flawlessly. Stop your search for a CD player amid the audio controls, mind you, as it’s not there, but turn around instead and you’ll see it facing rearward just above the cupholders, under the locking glove box between the seats.

Mazda Miata front seats

And yes, this brings up an important point to the roadster uninitiated: in-cabin storage is at a premium, although I found the MX-5’s trunk to be amply large for my day-to-day needs, which admittedly don’t include baseball, football or hockey practice, its 4.6 cubic-foot cargo compartment possibly good enough for a weekend getaway if you and your partner pack tight and light.

Speaking of light, don’t look to an MX-5 Miata if you want a roadster loaded up with all the latest convenience, comfort and tech features, but for $24,915 plus freight and dealer fees it’s still nicely done out. Certainly the windows and locks are powered and even include proximity sensing access in top-line trim as well as a still-cool switchblade-style remote key fob and pushbutton ignition in standard Sport trim, but as noted that base model requires you to manually fold the fabric roof, although the rear window is now glass with standard defog (hard to believe it was still vinyl last year). Additional base Sport features include auto-off LED headlights, LED taillights, 16-inch alloy wheels, powered mirrors, a trip computer, cruise control, air conditioning, six-speaker AM/FM/CD/USB/AUX audio, a mesh aero wind blocker, and more.

Move up to my mid-grade $28,600 Club model and the wheels grow to 17s (a sweet looking set to boot), while additional features include, LED daytime running lights, plus the body-color interior trim, satin-silver detailing, red stitching and leather-wrapped shift knob and parking brake handle mentioned earlier, as well as the seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system atop the dash with a very utile navigation system I might add, nine-speaker Bose audio with headrest-mounted speakers, a second USB port, HD radio, and a strut tower brace that no doubt helped my tester handle as well as it did. Adding to that my manual-equipped Club also included a sport-tuned suspension with upgraded Bilstein shock absorbers, a limited-slip rear diff, and an induction sound enhancer to (sadly) artificially make the engine sound better than it really does — sigh. Club models with the optional six-speed automatic get a set of paddles to enhance manual-mode.

I’ll get into details available with the top-line $30k-plus Grand Touring later, as Mazda has promised me one to test, but suffice to say that along with its auto on/off headlamps with adaptive cornering and auto high beams, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming driver’s side mirror, heatable leather upholstery, auto HVAC, suite of electronic active safety goodies and more, its sound absorbing roofliner should make it a much more upscale ride, although the price paid being a bit more weight. So far there’s no power retractable hardtop version, but there seems to be space enough for the old car’s optional roof system so stay tuned if that’s your thing. I doubt very much if Mazda were to give up on an option they paid a lot to develop, especially when it helps so much to pad the profit margin of what remains a niche vehicle.

That model wouldn’t be my choice, however. I like the way Mazda has outfitted this Club model, and especially appreciate that its curb weight hasn’t increased over the base car. I don’t know about you, but the new 2016 MX-5 Miata speaks to my soul’s inner purist. The classic curves have been replaced by an edgy, angled design that better suits the times and the Japanese brand’s more upscale, high-tech image, styling that I happen to like a lot. And yes, even with those squinting headlamps and Ferrari meets Jaguar F-Type taillights it’s a helluvalot more unique than the aforementioned Elan-inspired original that rekindled our modern-day roadster love affair, but more than just styling, Mazda’s unusual yet welcome decision to reduce size and weight while maintaining similar engine output for better performance and much improved fuel economy has made for a more enjoyable sports car, and joy at the wheel has always been a Miata attribute. Yes, the big news is that soul in motion is alive and not only well, but better than ever in the new MX-5 Miata.

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press Inc.

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