- As light and lean as ever
- Classic sports-car proportions
- Improved gas mileage
- Still a small interior
- Front-and-center infotainment disrupts the mood
- More extroverted styling
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata shouldn’t disappoint driving purists, yet it’s been reformulated for a new generation to enjoy.
For 25 years, the Miata has conjured up memories of what it used to be like to drive modest, genuine sports cars, all while converting a new crowd to the top-down joys of a simple, back-to-basics roadster. The MX-5 Miata has been completely re-engineered and redesigned for 2016 and, we’re relieved to say it's every bit the intimate, sensory experience we expected. And more.
With the 2016 model, Mazda has brought Miata up to some modern safety, efficiency, and tech expectations, all while preserving that delicate sweet spot that makes it different than anything else on the market.
At about 154 inches, the new Miata is actually a bit shorter than the outgoing car, yet it becomes somewhat wider, at around 68 inches, and its wheelbase longer to 91.1 inches. The proportions aren’t that much different, but the more you take in the MX-5 Miata’s new design the more you notice the greater sensuality in the sheet metal and details. It’s definitely less subtle than the current car—and perhaps a little more contemporary, which is something that most shoppers will probably like.
The MX-5 Miata borrows from Mazda’s latest "Kodo" design philosophy, evolved from the Mazda 6, Mazda CX-5, and Mazda 3, and made a little more pert. Compared to its predecessor, the Miata has a more curvaceous beltline, as well as a hoodline that now bows dramatically downward at the front, resulting in a crisp, open front-end design that does without the black-plastic snout of those more family-oriented models. Sculpting in the hood streams sideways into the beltline, which wraps into a tail that’s a continuation of neat, conservative Miata tradition, only a little more aggressively sculpted down below. And new LED lamps bring a modern finish to it.
Inside, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata adopts a design that keeps its low seating, with a prominent center console separating the driver and passenger areas, as well as big, cockpit-style analog gauges and a horizontal, shelf-like instrument panel that helps keep the interior from feeling too confining. Air vents and climate controls keep with the classic round look, for the most part, while there’s a new infotainment system that, as in the Mazda 3 and in the refreshed 2016 Mazda 6, stands up above the low-set dash.
While the concept behind the Miata, and its layout, hasn’t fundamentally changed, everything under the hood and underneath has. Mazda’s 2.0-liter SkyActiv direct-injection inline-4 and a short-throw 6-speed manual gearbox provide the sort of high-rev zippiness—as well as surprisingly good fuel efficiency—that has made the Miata essentially a class of one over its quarter-century on the market. The 6-speed manual shifts neatly, and although it’s almost sacrilege to get a Miata with an automatic transmission, the 6-speed automatic that’s available has a Sport mode and does the job exceedingly well. The engine’s 155-hp and 148 pound-foot ratings are perhaps eyebrow-raising (and not in a good way) in a sports car, but with a curb weight of around 2,300 pounds in base form, it’s plenty for the Miata, bringing 60-mph times around six seconds, and plenty of gusto, provided you’re willing to keep the engine revving into its upper ranges.
We were concerned that some of the core driving character of the Miata—namely its top-notch steering, nimble handling (yes, really go-kart-like), and dynamic prowess—wouldn’t carry over to the new car. Yet Mazda truly made the Miata better, bringing this model’s roll center closer to the driver. The electric-assist rack-and-pinion steering is very precise, and the front wishbone, rear multi-link suspension, with an even lower seating position this time, helps keep the driver feeling bonded with the car in every twist and turn.
Of course the MX-5 Miata is a very small roadster, and while this model doesn’t perform any magic with available space, Mazda engineers have packaged the Miata so that it’s just a little roomier than the previous car while actually being slightly shorter and lower on the outside. The trunk is very small, yet don’t be too misled by the official cargo volume of just 4.59 cubic feet, as there’s enough space for a couple of carry-ons, or maybe three backpacks. You also get a decent glovebox, plus a hinged-and-covered storage compartment between the seats.
From an ergonomic standpoint, there are a few things to gripe about—like the Command Controller, which is placed low, in a place that’s difficult to reach for some, and the cupholders that snap into clips that are a bit in the way. And top-up visibility isn’t great. Yet Mazda has gotten everything critical to the soul of this car right. The driver is positioned perfectly with respect to the steering wheel, the pedals, and outward visibility is good with the top down. You can even carry on a conversation, at natural volume, at 70 mph. Or flip the top up or down, with one arm, in less than ten seconds.
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata may adhere to a driver-centric, keep-it-simple approach to its design and engineering, but it makes plenty of concessions to modernity.
Three different models of the Miata are offered for 2016: a base Sport model, an enthusiast-oriented Club model, and a touring-oriented GT (Grand Touring). The Club model is the most aggressive performance setup available and has a limited-slip differential, Bilstein shocks, and a shock tower brace—brought to its best with a Brembo/BBS brake-and-wheel package. GT models add Bose audio with a subwoofer, a garage-door opener, heated seats, automatic climate control, and leather upholstery, plus 17-inch bright alloy wheels, and you can now option a Miata up with a suite of active-safety features.
New EPA fuel economy ratings for the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata ring in at 27 mpg city, 34 highway, 30 combined for models with the manual gearbox and 27/36/30 mpg for those with the 6-speed automatic transmission. Based on its combined ratings, the MX-5 is the most fuel-efficient normal-production sports car in the North American market.
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata strays little from its pert roadster profile, yet there’s a lot more nuance in the design.
For 2016, Mazda has essentially redrawn the Miata, keeping the long-hood, short-deck proportions of a classic front-engine, rear-wheel-drive roadster but tweaking, sculpting, and detailing everything in between. And it’s introduced a dramatic new interior that is for the most part a well-coordinated, sporty complement to the exterior and to the Miata’s mission—although some enthusiasts may be a bit put off by the dash real estate given to connectivity technology.
Mazda has applied its "Kodo" design language to the Miata, and you can definitely see some design traits common with the current Mazda lineup in the low-set yet blunt grille, the finely detailed headlamps, and the arced fender lines. The hood is curvier than Miatas of the past, and there’s a lot more nuance in the design that lets your eyes linger for a longer time, taking in the fine surfacing work, the arcs of the fenders, and the taper of the tail.
About the only thing that keeps us from giving the Miata a 10 rating in styling is its interior—specifically the standalone navigation-system screen that perches atop the dash. We can’t help but think that the automaker could have done a better job integrating the screen with the low-set dash in a way that wouldn’t be so disruptive to this model’s essence—and it’s go-simple ethos.
Otherwise, the Miata’s interior is cohesive, and it feels like it ends up with a near-ideal mix of design traits and cues from the original Miata and Mazda’s other contemporary products like the Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 lineups.
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata delivers a driving experience that’s thrilling and satisfying in every way—and you don’t have to get in trouble with law enforcement to enjoy it.
The Miata is just 154 inches long, rides on a small 91-inch wheelbase, and has a little 2.0-liter inline-4 making 155 horsepower.
Many of today’s savvy shoppers might dismiss those numbers as the specifications of an inexpensive subcompact sedan; yet in the Miata they add up to 0-to-60 mph times in the 6-second range, and performance that’s likely thrilling even for the most jaded performance-car enthusiasts.
The MX-5 Miata’s ace, however, is weight—and that makes all the difference. At just over 2,300 pounds in base form, the Miata weighs less than any other roadster on the market. And with its classic, front-engine, rear-wheel-drive layout—it pairs simplicity and straightforward driving dynamics.
The driving experience is fundamentally perky, but if you know how to drive the Miata, it’s positively quick. To make the Miata quick, you have to keep the engine on the boil. If you don’t let it rev past 3,000 rpm you won’t see that side of it; but push the revs up toward and past its 4,800-rpm torque peak and it’s noticeably more spirited.
The new Miata ditched the old version's engine. All the components are off Mazda’s new shelf of SkyActiv kit—redesigned from scratch for modern needs and optimized efficiency. The engine is all-aluminum and has direct injection and a high, 13:1 compression ratio.
Mazda has redesigned both of the transmissions in the Miata, and the manual gearbox snicks smoothly from gear to gear—although perhaps with a little less mechanical precision than the previous car—while clutch takeup is light, smooth, and progressive. The Miata’s far easier than just about any other manual-transmission sports car to drive in stop-and-go traffic because of that light clutch. There’s a 6-speed automatic transmission available. While we’d have to admit that its Sport Mode effectively keeps revs up when you need it, the automatic has great drivability, but we think you’re missing the point in choosing it.
The Miata has very well-calibrated electric-assist rack-and-pinion steering and four-wheel disc brakes (vented in front and solid in back). It rides on a double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear setup—all with a geometry that’s designed to stay intact as the car rolls (leans) into corners slightly. Mazda has intentionally—counter to many high-performance and sports cars—tuned the Miata to do that because it makes the car handle more naturally and predictably.
One thing that we especially admire about the new Miata is its dynamic consistency. You can push the Miata faster to your ability, and there aren’t any dynamic surprises. The Miata is easy to drive quick, yet at the same time, this is a sports car that you don’t have to drive at illegal speeds to enjoy. The low driving position, and the driver’s connection with the car—due in part to how engineers have aimed to coordinate the roll center of the car with the driver’s seating position—combine to bring you a driving experience that feels natural.
Manual-transmission Club models, with their stiffer Bilstein shocks, front strut brace, limited-slip differential, and other upgrades, trade off some ride comfort for sharper performance. You feel this change the most in the fraction of a second just after you turn into a corner, as in the Club there’s little if any weight transfer due to the front suspension loading up before the rear. It can make the Club feel almost hair-trigger responsive at first, but it still tracks very well and kept that same glorious consistency on curvy roads.
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Comfort & Quality
The 2016 MX-5 Miata is snug and makes some tradeoffs in the name of its little roadster form factor; yet it’s surprisingly practical.
The MX-5 Miata is a very small roadster; and while this model doesn’t perform any magic with available space, Mazda engineers have packaged the Miata so that it’s just a little roomier than the previous car while actually being slightly shorter and lower on the outside.
It’s lowered the hip point in the Miata by nearly an inch—actually yielding more head room than before. It’s also better in terms of usable leg room, and the seat has at least a full "click" of additional travel versus the previous version. Seats have also been redesigned—they’re a new design that uses suspended fabric instead of springs and foam—and while they’re not super-comfortable they help open up more precious interior space.
The trunk is very small, yet don’t be too misled by the official cargo volume of just 4.59 cubic feet, as there’s enough space for a couple of carry-ons, or maybe three backpacks. You also get a decent glove box, plus a hinged-and-covered storage compartment between the seats.
From an ergonomic standpoint, the Miata is a home run in how the driver is positioned with respect to the steering wheel, the pedals, and outward visibility with the top down—all that matters. Yet, move to some of the ancillary controls and it’s less on-the-mark. The Commander Control, for instance, is placed down low, behind the shifter, where it’s difficult to get to without bumping elbows against the covered bin at the back of the cabin; cupholders are removable affairs that clip into place in a couple of spots—none of them ideal; and top-up, outward visibility isn’t great.
One thing about the new Miata that surprised us, versus previous versions of this model, was our ability to carry on a conversation, at a normal tone of voice, up to about 70 mph. It’s an indication that the automaker paid a great deal more attention to aerodynamics and wind turbulence this time around. The Miata isn’t hardtop-quiet with the top up, but it’s quieter than it used to be, with a new aluminum backing plate that’s directly above the occupants and part of the top arrangement (it helps eliminate flapping at high speed). GT models also get an additional padded headliner layer.
If you’ve owned sports cars in the past, you’ll likely find ride quality in the Miata to be quite good; it’s on the firm side but definitely compliant enough to filter out major bumps and minor potholes. Just keep in mind that there is a noticeably sharper and harsher ride in the Club model. It perfectly fits the Miata’s purpose for track use and mostly smooth-surfaced mountain or canyon roads, yet it’s a reason to favor the other models for urban use.
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
An all-new platform and modern body construction should help the latest Miata fare better in crashes—and great handling may help you avoid them.
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata has been built on an all-new platform that takes advantage of ultra-high-tensile strength steels where it matters for rigidity and safety. It also includes dual front airbags, stout side-impact door beams, and side airbags in all of its versions.
There are some points that bear emphasis here, however. The 2016 Miata is one of the lightest and lowest vehicles in the current U.S. market, and that puts it at a natural disadvantage in car-to-car collisions. Furthermore, visibility with the top up isn’t great.
Counter to that, though, is the MX-5 Miata’s great handling. We’d say that its precise steering, confidence-inspiring handling, and strong braking may all help contribute significantly in accident avoidance.
If you’re willing to step up to the top GT model, there you’ll find a set of modern active-safety items that could help cut the chances of being in an accident. Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-departure warning system are all included in the GT, as well as automatic high beam and adaptive front lighting. You also get an alarm system in the GT.
Neither of the U.S. safety agencies that crash-test vehicles have tested the 2016 MX-5 Miata, and they’re unlikely to, as the Miata is a rather low-sales, specialty model.
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Most shoppers will appreciate that the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata’s back-to-basics, driver-centric mission doesn’t preclude a solid feature set and high-tech options.
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata may adhere to a driver-centric, keep-it-simple approach to its design and engineering, but there are concessions to modernity.
Three different models of the Miata are offered for 2016. A base Sport model includes power windows, cloth seats, air conditioning, 16-inch alloy wheels, and a six-speaker CD audio system with auxiliary and USB inputs. All models also include LED headlamps and taillights, keyless ignition, and a wind blocker.
The mid-range Club model is the most aggressive performance setup available and has a series of upgrades that include a more aggressive front air dam and rear lip spoiler, 17-inch gunmetal alloy wheels, red stitching for trim and upholstery, and piano-black side mirrors and seat back bars. In manual-transmission cars, they also get a limited-slip differential, Bilstein shocks, and a shock tower brace. Club models also include satellite radio.
Grand Touring models appeal to Miata fans who could afford a much more expensive car and want the lean Miata driving experience, with a few more creature comforts and tech features. MX-5 GT models add Bose audio with a subwoofer, a garage-door opener, heated seats, automatic climate control, and leather upholstery, plus 17-inch bright alloy wheels.
On all models except the base Miata Sport, there’s the Mazda Connect system, which includes a large, 7.0-inch touchscreen that stands up above the dash (and can’t be stowed), plus HD Radio, voice commands, Aha, Pandora, and Stitcher internet radio integration, and text-messaging functionality—as well as one more USB port. Our peeve here is that once you’re moving, the touchscreen no longer allows you to provide input, requiring you instead to grasp back to the Commander Control, which is oddly located behind the shifter and down low, in a place where it’s difficult to operate smoothly, bending wrists and elbows. However, we like the relatively simple menu structure of this system.
There aren’t all that many options to add to the Miata beyond those trim levels—just appearance extras, some cargo solutions, and a few standalone upgrades. But for $3,400 extra on the Club model, you can add a Brembo/BBS package that brings upgraded Brembo brakes, BBS alloy wheels, and keyless ignition.
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is the most fuel-efficient sports car on the market.
The MX-5 Miata takes full advantage of Mazda’s SkyActiv program, which is Mazda’s initiative to cut weight from all of its cars. Even given that, it may be a bit surprising that the automaker was able to boost fuel efficiency versus the old Miata by 25 percent—the old Miata never felt like it had a lot of fat to trim.
With an all-aluminum construction, direct injection and a high 13:1 compression ratio—as well as new 6-speed transmissions with optimized gear ratios, and redesigned ancillary components—the 2.0-liter inline-4 makes some major improvements in efficiency over the previous Miata’s engine.
New EPA fuel economy ratings for the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata ring in at 27 mpg city, 34 highway, 30 combined for models with the manual and 27/36/30 mpg for those with the 6-speed automatic transmission. Based on its combined ratings, the MX-5 is the most fuel-efficient normal-production sports car in North America.
There are a few asterisks. One of them is that the Miata is tuned to run on premium gasoline. While Mazda says that engine output is essentially the same with regular gas, we think that fuel economy may take a hit if you run on regular—especially if you drive in a more spirited fashion.
The other concern, of course, is that to get to most of the power that the Miata’s engine offers, you’ll need to rev the engine to its upper ranges—and that will push your efficiency down.
Yet, if you’re buying a Miata, why not enjoy it once in a while? And there’s one other positive indicator that the new Miata will be very efficient in real-world driving. In some exuberant driving on mountain roads, we were able to average between 27 and 30 mpg, over several different cars.