When the Mazda Miata debuted in 1989 (as a 1990 model), the smart money would have been on, well, another horse. The day of the traditional British sports car had long past, according to conventional wisdom, and the Miata would fail as wishful thinking came up against reality. Yet here we are with the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata, celebrating the fourth return of the Miata for its fifth generation, twenty-five years—a quarter of a century—after it had all begun. The Miata is simply the world’s favorite sports car.
Yet each generation, while staying true to the original concept, grew larger and heavier and required more horsepower just to keep up. With the new generation, however, Mazda elected to go back to the Miata’s roots.
The 2016 Miata is lighter than its immediate predecessor, with weight in true Miata fashion taken off just about everywhere around the car. New front brake rotors, for example, save 14 lbs. Twenty-six pounds was shaved off the suspension, 16 off the transmission. The driveshaft is three pounds lighter, and Mazda engineers took eight pounds out of the air conditioning and instruments. Individually it’s not much, but altogether Mazda reduced weight from 2,500 lbs for the 2015 model to 2,332 lbs for the 2016 MX-5 Miata with the manual transmission.
Compared to fourth generation, the engine is down on power, from 167 horses to 155. Torque however increased to 148 lb-f from 140, with the torque peak occurring at 4600 rpm instead of 5000 rpm. Instead of racing to the highest engine revs possible, the new Miata gets more twist at lower, if not exactly stump-pulling rpm, that combined with the weight, gives more acceleration at more moderate engine speeds, which means more performance without having to constantly keep with revs up, which can be tiring on the road.
Mazda continues with a six-speed manual transmission (there’s a six-speed paddle-shift automatic available for those who don’t fully appreciate the idea of a sports car) and that’s a good thing. The Miata is the gold standard against which shifter feel is measured and the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata won’t disappoint. The stubbly lever flicks from gear to gear with magnetic precision. Hard core enthusiasts may prefer a shorter throw. Never fear. Throw money in the right direction and a short-throw shift kit is yours.
We either need wider feet or Mazda needs to move the brake and throttle pedal closer. It’s a stretch for a number nine shoe to cover the distance easily for accurate heel-and-toe downshifts. (If you don’t know what that means and you own a Miata, hie thee to a driving school. It’s an art form being lost thanks to the pervasiveness of automatic transmission, particularly manu-matic paddle shifters in sports cars. The purpose of a Miata is immersion in sports car experience, and drivers should learn to do it right).
The interior is admittedly snug. For this 5’ 10” driver, the Miata was a perfect fit, but a 6’ 2” passenger was less approving. Said passenger’s knees were up against the dash, and with the top up, headroom was scant. But complainers walk home, you know?
The Miata is simple inside, though not to the point of plain. Mazda brings something of the exterior inside with swaths of outside color on the doors. The Miata Club and Grand Touring gets the tablet multi-information screen set on top of the dash. It’s a hybrid setup, combining a touch screen with a controller on the center console. The latter is poorly positioned. We frequently bumped it with a forearm, changing whatever we had put on the screen, when we relaxed slightly between shifts.
A rearview camera is not available, even on the top of the line Grand Touring trim level. With the top up—which realistically is how most Miatas will be driven most of the time—the rear quarters are blocked by the top. The rear window is relatively small and partially obscured by the windblocker between the headrests. Review cameras are going to be mandated by the government. Mazda should have made it standard now.
The windblocker works, by the way. Our tenure with the 2016 Mazda Miata coincided with high temperatures in the 40’s, and with the windows up and heater on full, the Miata was comfortable at speeds most people drive on the Interstate. We’ll note that the Miata is quieter with the top down than up, and that although the fabric top isn’t powered, the effort required to put it up or down means the only reason to keep it up is (a) rain, or (b) not enough sunscreen. Keep that lotion in the trunk for ready access.
Like a good sports car should (and the last generation didn’t), the 2016 Mazda has a large central speedometer on the gauge cluster. To the right is a smaller speedometer. To the left of the tach is a circle that combines coolant temperature and fuel level, plus a driver information cluster including a trip computer and such. The instrument panel is in crisp white on black, as a traditional sports car’s should be, and easy to read.
Seats, even on the base trim, are well bolstered, deserving the designation sport seats, without being annoying in everyday usage while still more than adequate for track day. Seats for the $24,915 base trim level—Mazda calls it “Sport”—are finished in black cloth while the mid-level Club we tested has black cloth with contrasting red stitching. The Grand Touring Miata is available black or “sport tan” leather seating.
The 2016 Miata Club comes with a base price of $28,600, and comes with the front air dam and rear lip spoiler standard, not available on the other trim levels. Optional on our tester (available only on the Club with manual transmission) was the $3,400 Brembo/BBS package, which includes, naturally enough, Brembo front brakes (calipers and rotors), BBS wheels, and just for giggles, the proximity key entry system. (All 2016 Miatas come standard with pushbutton start).
Sport suspension with Bilstein shocks is standard on the Club with the manual transmission, as is a torque-vectoring limited-slip rear differential. The special suspension gives the Miata Club a less than cushy ride over rough roads, but it pays back in sharp response in corners and curves.
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring lists for $30,065 and adds features including blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive headlights, lane departure warning and automatic high beams. We’d rather put our money in the Brembo and BBS package, especially if any track time is expected.
Want complaints? Cupholders are inconvenient. Mazda put them on the back wall of the roadster’s cockpit, behind the driver’s and passenger’s elbows. We’re told there was some debate inside Mazda on where to put them (the cupholders, not the elbows). The elbows won.
There’s no glovebox, just a small bin in the center rear bulkhead, large enough to hold the owner’s manual, vehicle registration and not much more. At least it locks.
The trunk is small, only 4.59 cubic feet. So much for bringing anything home from Lowe’s with the Miata? It is nicely lined, but still, not much room.
It’s noisy at highway speeds with the top up. The wind roars around the rear edges of the fabric roof. We couldn’t listen to satellite radio on our test vehicle because Mazda hadn’t activated service, but it really didn’t matter. Talking required outside voices in the 2016 Mazda Miata: Not much reason for the radio.
And really, a sports car with a mere 155 horsepower? These days that’s acceptable for a subcompact sedan, but 200 horsepower is the bottom of performance respectability.
But forget all the reasons not to own the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata. Like every Miata made in the last quarter century, Mazda’s sports car abandons practicality for pure road joy. And you don’t need a bigger reason than that.
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club, price and key specifications as tested
Body style/layout: 2-door roadster, front engine/rear-wheel drive
Base price: $28,600
Price as tested: $33,120
- Type: 2.0-liter 16-valve DOHC I-4
- Displacement, cc: 1998
- Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum
- Compression ratio: 13.0:1
- Horsepower: 155 hp @ 6000 rpm
- Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm
- Recommended fuel: premium unleaded
- Fuel economy, EPA est.: 27/34 mpg city/highway
- Fuel economy, observed: 27.6 mpg overall, 34 mpg highway
Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Suspension, front/rear: double wishbone / multilink
- Wheels: 17 x 7.0-inch alloy
- Tires: 205/45R17
- Brakes: 4-wheel disc; 11.0-inch dia. front/11.0-inch dia. rear
- Steering: Electric power double-pinion
- Turning circle: 30.8 ft.
- Wheelbase: 90.9 in.
- Length: 154.1in.
- Height: 48.8 in.
- Width: 68.3 in.
- Curb weight: 2,332 lbs
- Trunk volume: 4.59 cu. ft.
- Fuel tank: 11.9 gal.
· Airbags: Front, front side
· Anti-lock brakes: Yes Traction control: Yes Stability control: Yes Electronic brake-force distribution: Yes Brake assist: Yes
Warranty: 3-year/36,000 mile bumper-to-bumper; 5-year/60,000 mile powertrain; 3-year/36,000-mile roadside assistance