When Mazda launched the first Miata, it made no secret of its intention to clone the Lotus Elan, minus the puddle of oil on the garage floor. The new car became a hit with buyers who remembered other roadsters?classic MGs, Austin-Healeys, Triumphs, and even the long-in-the-tooth Alfa Romeo Spider, which was somehow still in production though would become immediately unsellable in the face of the new competition. If it seems to you like this happened just yesterday, that is because you?re old, which is why Mazda has dreamed up this latest version of its halo car. The 2016 MX-5 is meant to at once go back to the original template, while updating the franchise for the foreseeable future. And convince you to buy another.
As we detailed in our first drive of the European-spec 1.5-liter MX-5, the new car is dimensionally quite close to the 1990 Miata and smaller than the outgoing version. Our test car, equipped with the largest 17-inch wheels and the U.S.-spec 2.0-liter inline-four-cylinder engine, tipped the scales a mere 99 pounds heavier than our 1990 test car. Weighing only 2309 pounds, the new MX-5 is 231 pounds lighter than the last third-generation car we weighed in 2009. It even has a 155-pound advantage over the carbon-fiber Alfa Romeo 4C, which used to be the lightest new car on the market that we?d actually want to drive.
Yet the downsizing has not harmed cabin roominess, which actually seems to have improved from the last MX-5, even if Mazda?s interior measurements don?t show it. While anyone pushing six-and-a-half feet is still unlikely to fit in the car, a new seat design that?s closer to the floor and reclines a bit more opens the Miata?s fitment to larger people?and leaves the rest of us with more space to stretch out. The company?s focus on the driver that we lauded in the Mazda 3 has now been implemented in the Miata. So the heavy but smooth shifter is ideally positioned, while the narrowly spaced pedals are perfectly aligned underneath the thin, small-diameter wheel. Performance notwithstanding, the MX-5 is an extremely rewarding car to drive just in the manipulation of its controls.
Not only does the fourth-generation MX-5 have the most comfortable cockpit of any Miata, it?s also the highest performing. The 2.0-liter four is derived from the base engine in the Mazda 3, but adapting it for the Miata has changed its character. A lighter flywheel and tuning for premium gasoline (recommended but not required) make it quicker to rev with improved throttle response, which means the new MX-5 feels a lot like the original 1.6-liter Miata?though a whole lot quicker. We managed to crack the six-second barrier at the test track, recording a 5.9-second sprint to 60 mph and 16.2 seconds to 100. Even the turbocharged second-generation Mazdaspeed Miata can?t hang with this thing: It took 18.3 seconds to hit the century mark when we tested it in 2004. There is a small penalty for the MX-5?s newfound speed, as the boisterous intake noise drowns out the exhaust and makes the new car louder under acceleration than any Miata that has come before.
On the road, significant changes can be felt in the MX-5?s steering. Mazda switched from hydraulic to electric assist, which has toned down some of the car?s twitchiness. The wheel has a strong on-center feel, and it takes some effort to initiate turn-in, although once you start to dial in that effort, force builds proportionately. This change makes the car feel more planted than before, although there?s plenty of lean in turns, just as in previous Miatas. We recorded 0.90 g in our skidpad test and a 158-foot stop from 70 mph; both results are consistent with past models.
So is the price, sort of. A base 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Sport is $25,735. That?s a bump of $945 from last year for a car with quite a bit more equipment, including Bluetooth, LED headlights, cloth material for its top rather than vinyl, and an extra cog in its manual transmission. More impressively, it?s also only $267 more than the inflation-adjusted price of a 1990 Miata. But the pricing of the higher trim levels escalates more steeply now, with Club models starting at $29,420 and the Grand Touring at $30,885.
The Club is the only way to get the sport suspension with Bilstein shocks and a limited-slip differential, or the optional Brembo package ($3400) that includes forged BBS wheels. Naturally then, our test car was a loaded Club, although it was missing some aero add-ons (front and rear air dams, a trunk spoiler, and rocker-panel extensions) that would normally be included were it not a preproduction vehicle. Leather seats, automatic climate control, and sensor-based safety features are available only on the GT, and while both of the upper trims include Mazda?s Connect touch-screen infotainment system, only GT models get it with navigation. A six-speed automatic transmission is a $1075 option across the board, but choosing it in the Club means losing the sport suspension and the limited-slip diff. Even if you don?t make that mistake, it?s probably best we all start thinking of the Miata as a $30,000 car.
Which is why Mazda has dipped the 2016 model in its Kodo design language, transforming it into a car that actually looks like something substantial. We?re not sure exactly what*?the face of the MX-5 seems alternately feline and fishlike?but consensus says the car looks better from farther away. Up close it seems less of-a-piece, and also less like all the Miatas past, cars that almost seemed to eschew styling. Whatever you think of it, the new MX-5 courts attention like an Easter hat. To our eyes it still looks best from behind the wheel, where it remains the most fun you can have for the least amount of money.
Text Source: Car and Driver