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First Drive: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata (Manual)

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So one of the best roadsters in the world arrives at our office in the middle of January – you think we’re just gonna say “no.”  We bundled up, put the top down and shivered till our face was permanently frozen with a smile.

In a world surrounded by muscly V-8’s and 700-horsepower cars, we’ve lost sight of what is important – driving. We’ve allowed horsepower and torque figures to monopolize our opinions and persuades us into thinking anything less is unworthy. With the all new Mazda MX-5 Miata, you have to take horsepower out of the equation. While figures may be down from the previous generation Miata, its 2.0-liter 155-horsepower motor is just the start of a very good recipe.

Settling into the cockpit of any small car is going to be challenge – whether you’re tall and/or wide. But once inside, everything makes sense. Everything is engineered perfectly for the driver. The pedals are close together for good heel-to-toe action, the shifter is at perfect arm’s length, the skinny steering wheel has comfortable placement and bucket contouring seats wrap your body without giving you a claustrophobic snug feel. Even the gauges here are in perfect line of sight and the overall visibility is excellent giving the driver a good view of the arched nose and the road ahead.

The interior design is straight-up Mazda’s latest architecture and has a good overall feel – soft touch materials presented throughout with body color matching panels giving the cabin a warm welcoming atmosphere. Technology is up there too with the latest features like lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, adaptive LED headlights and navigation on our sampled Grand Touring.

I have a confession – I wasn’t too much of a fan with the previous generation Miata. I didn’t get it. I didn’t get all the hype and what made it one of the all-time greatest. Sure it handled great, but its performance never stacked up to the handling. To me, a sports car is about how it carries itself – handling is just half the equation and if the power isn’t there, then what’s the point.

Mazda did right by staying true to the Miata’s values. It’s set up like a proper sports car – 2.0-liter engine in the front, rear-wheel drive in the back and a six-speed manual gearbox in the middle. It makes for a perfect 50/50 weight distribution. Its delivery of power is immediate through the nicely weighted clutch – 148lb-ft of torque kick in at the higher end of the rev limiter but because it only weights 2300lbs – the Miata is virtually on all the time indicating a quick 0-60 in just under six seconds.

Supposedly the way to spec out a new Miata is by opting for the Club – it brings a limited-slip differential, sport suspension with Bilstein Shocks and an optional Brembo package. However our tester arrived as the top trimmed Grand Touring for a mere $30,065. Unless you’re a true performance nut, the GT here was just fine the way it was – besides the ride was firm enough. A limited-slip is nice – but to the average driver out for a weekend drive it doesn’t matter – you can still get the tail to slide out and have a little fun – just not as dramatic. And we also found the standard brakes here stop just as quickly as it accelerates.

Driving the Miata is like playing with a puppy – it requires constant attention but yet always puts a smile on your face. Channeling the power is easy through its excellent six-speed gear box – the transmission is engaging with short throws between gears and stubby little lever. It corners flat and true like a pup on wood floors – you can feel it hug the corners in and out constantly egging you on to go little faster, go a little harder – Mazda incorporated just a hint of body motion to the chassis on purpose just to give the driver an added feel for the road and feel the car in the corners. Quite honestly, if you ever have a bad day, drive one of these – its little 2.0-liter grunt and high rev pitch will be sure to make you laugh out loud.

Now I’m afraid it comes to the bad news. While it may get 37 MPG’s and 350 miles to a tank on its recommended premium fuel – it’s not ideal for the everyday lifestyle. First of all, it’s difficult to get in and out of – after 7 days, our knees and back ached, there is no available storage compartments except for the center glove box, the ride is too harsh, with the roof up, road and wind noise is annoying, the cup holders are an after-thought and just look at it for a second, it’s got this grrrrrr I’m angry, but happy bi-polar look going on – how is that going to age over the next 25 years.

That said, you cannot find anything on today’s market that provides this much entertainment for less than thirty-grand. I can see why, it is now one of the world’s most iconic machines. Now, the only thing left to do is, to sign on the dotted line.

Price (As Tested):
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata (Manual): $30,065
Destination: $820
Performance Specs:
2.0-liter SKYACTIV 4-Cylinder – 155-horsepower/148lb-ft of torque – 0-60 MPH: ±6 seconds
EPA MPG: 27/34/30 (city/highway/combined) – SSB Average: 37 MPG’s | Fuel Range: 350 miles
Featured Options:
Advanced Keyless Entry System: $130
Rear Lip Spoiler; Black: $350
Grand Total: $31,365

 

9 Comments »

  1. I like the puppy analogy with this one. Very fun but definitely requires a great deal of attention. The pics from Gisela turned out awesomely – especially that interior shot. I was lucky to be airport shuttled in this car and was surprised that even in the cooler weather with the top down, the climate control had sufficient power to keep the open-air cabin comfy.

  2. An ND review that does not mention BRZ FRS – good stuff. I think the ND is a great affordable roadster but wish we were getting the 1.5l here in the US

    • Yeah, I didn’t want to bring them up. This is on a completely different level. I don’t know about the 1.5-liter though, this 2.0-liter I think fits perfectly into the mind set of what people are looking for in a small roadster.

      • <$30k, <3000lbs and RWD I understand some comparisons can be made, but nice to read a review just about the car itself. I had a 67hp MGB for a bit, the 1.5l would be fine 🙂 Joking aside wonder what the MSRP would be on a 1.5l, just above 20k? Definitely the cheapest RWD on the market and for some who like nimble cars, then would work just fine. Agreed though this market usually wants more not less.

        • Considering a pure base model MX-5 starts at 24k… I’d be interested too to see what the 1.5L would start at. Probably 22k-23k – probably just not worth it in our market. It is by far the cheapest RWD you can buy with proper driving dynamics.

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