2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata vs 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Is the Newer Miata the Better Miata?

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The Who burst onto the scene in 1965 with their first studio album My Generation, changing the landscape of music forever.

Two successful albums later, the band had cemented their status as rock and roll icons. But The Who’s best work was yet to come. Their fourth studio album would be an absolute masterpiece; Tommy.

The MX-5 Miata is The Who of roadsters. It changed everything for small sports cars when first introduced in 1990. During its first three generations, the MX-5 Miata would inspire a swarm of imitators that have never quite lived up to the real thing. But like The Who, it appears the best was yet to come. For 2016 there is a new, fourth generation of the MX-5 Miata and it appears Mazda may have created the brand’s own Tommy-like masterpiece.

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Good, But Just How Good?

First impressions of the MX-5 Miata were positive when I got to drive it on some twisting mountain roads through California. But now the honeymoon period is over and it’s time to revisit the 2016 MX-5 Miata and see if it’s really as good as I initially thought.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Review

Since the MX-5 Miata doesn’t currently have any real competitors, I was a bit perplexed on what to benchmark the new car against. The answer was staring back at me like an inquisitive one-month old baby. Why not put it up against a 2015, previous generation MX-5 Miata?

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It Always Starts with Handling

Where else to start when discussing the MX-5 Miata other than its handling? It’s what’s made the car an icon for over 25 years now. Acting as if the car knows what I want it to do before I even realize it, the MX-5 has always been one of the easiest cars to drive fast. With the new generation, Mazda has amped up all the responses, as throttle, turn-in and braking all happen a little quicker now. The delay from human input to car response is minuscule.

The Miata has always been well-known for its soft ride. It continues to offer quite a bit of body roll, which may sound like a big no-no in a sports car, but because the MX-5 is so light, it can get away with it. In fact, a little bit of body roll can be fun, as it allows skilled drivers to really play with the weight transfer when ripping through corners.

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A Diet Helps Lap Times

After a few laps around the AutoGuide.com test track, I was blown away by how much faster the 2016 MX-5 is than the 2015 model. Clocking in at a time of 1:26.53, the 2016 Miata was some three seconds faster than the 2015 MX-5 that could only muster a time of 1:29.50.

2016-Mazda-MX-5-01So what gives? The 2016 MX-5 Miata Club wears the exact same sized tires, similar sized brakes and upgraded Bilstein shocks as the 2015 MX-5 Grand Touring PRHT. Why the big discrepancy?

SEE ALSO: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Curb Weight in Perspective

Most of it comes down to weight. The 2016 MX-5 weighs 2,332 lbs, some 261 lbs lighter than the 2015 Grand Touring PRHT. But it’s more than that. The setup and balance of the new car is better suited to a track environment and the faster revving, more flexible engine makes better use of its power.

Compare Specs

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
vs
2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Vehicle 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Advantage 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Engine 2.0 L Four-Cylinder - 2.0 L Four-Cylinder
Horsepower 155 HP 2015 167 HP
Torque 148 lb-ft. 2016 140 lb-ft.
Weight 2,332 lbs. 2016 2,593 lbs.
Legroom 43.1-inches - 43.1-inches
Cargo Space 4.6 cubic feet 2015 5.3 cubic feet
Fuel Economy (US) 27 MPG city, 34 MPG Hwy 2016 21 MPG City, 28 MPG Hwy
Fuel Economy (CDN) 8.8 L/100 km City, 6.9 L/100 km Hwy 2016 11.1 L/100 km City, 8.4 L/100 km Hwy
Lap Times 1:26.53 2016 1:29.50

2015-Mazda-MX-5-04

Is the Thrill Gone?

So I know what you’re thinking. Sure, the new car is quicker on a track, but is the thrill gone? After all, it does have electric power assist steering now. Well, that is actually the weakest point of the 2016 MX-5 Miata. It’s not like the steering feel is bad, because it’s not. It’s just that the old car’s hydraulic assist steering was so damn good, it’s hard for the new car to replicate this feeling with electric assist.

Disregarding steering, everything else about the 2016 MX-5 is more engaging. Although it’s hard to think that it’s even possible, the shifter operation is smoother now and throttle response from the new 2.0-liter engine is crazy quick.

2015-Mazda-MX-5-15

But It’s Slower Right?

One of the biggest misconceptions about the new MX-5 is that it’s slow. Reading the spec sheet and seeing it has a new engine making only 155 hp, I can see where that train of thinking comes from. The 2015 MX-5 made 167 hp, after all. But don’t be fooled, the 2016 is the fastest MX-5 in a straight line ever. Yes, even faster than the fabled turbocharged Mazdaspeed Miata.Mazda-MX-5-Miata-05

To prove it, I raced the 2016 MX-5 against not one, but two 2015 models. Besides a Grand Touring PRHT, we also had a 2015 MX-5 Sport with the five-speed manual and soft top.

This was the lightest way to get a MX-5 in 2015. Tipping the scales at 2,480 lbs., it features a 14.85 lbs per horsepower power to weight ratio, which is better than the new car’s 15.05 lbs per horsepower ratio. But that stat didn’t matter. With an extra eight pound feet of torque and a far more responsive engine, the 2016 MX-5 pulled away from both of the older cars in repeated heads-up drag races.

2016-Mazda-MX-5-06

E-Z Top

And while on the topic of soft tops, a nice bonus with the new MX-5 is how easy the top is to open and close. Every MX-5 Miata soft top has had the same basic roof closing format, which should allow for a single arm to close of the roof from the driver’s seat.

SEE ALSO: Top 10 Best Mazda MX-5 Miata Models of All Time

As a former owner of a first generation MX-5, I can tell you this wasn’t the easiest thing to do. Even in the 2015 model, the roof requires some effort to close with one arm. In the 2016 car, it’s just so easy. Simply pop up the roof, grab it and slide it closed.

2016-Mazda-MX-5-08

More Modern, Less Storage

Comfort, for better or worse, remains about the same in the new MX-5. Despite it losing over three inches in length this year, headroom and legroom remains the exact same as it did last year. Where space has been sacrificed is in the trunk, which goes from tiny to miniscule, as well as the removal of virtually all interior storage areas.

Of course, the interior is much more modern in the new car and there’s a whole whack of new technology not previously available in the MX-5 like blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and, yes, finally, not one but two USB ports.

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The Verdict: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata vs 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata

It appears that, yes, with the manufacturer’s fourth release, Mazda has quite possibly made the best MX-5 Miata to date. Those of you worried this may be the high water mark and it’s all downhill from here, remember, The Who’s next two albums were Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. If it continues down this path, the MX-5 Miata has a bright future ahead of it.

Discuss this story on our Mazda MX-5 Miata Forum

  • Ash

    So if you actually tested with a Soft Top NC 6 speed (not the NC 5 speed which has different trans ratio’s than the 6 speed with LSD) the NC would have been much closer to ND 6 speed.
    Something just did not look right when the heavy PRHT was level with ND and it looked as if the NC driver almost stopped, anyway I guess the ND Skyactiv Mazda Engine with it’s direct fuel injection make the difference as the Ford designed NC engine does not have Direct Injection, but has more horse power…go figure.
    In the end there really is not much in it, add in a few hills where power is needed and it would be line ball.
    Don’t get me wrong, the ND is great, it uses the same suspension design as the NC, but until the ND Manual Retractable Hardtop is released in a few years, you wont see many PRHT owners dropping back to a soft top.

  • phil

    interesting comparo … one of my fav video from you guys.

  • Mark S

    Great comparison. Some say that the ND’s really competitor are just the Miata’s that went before. Sad to hear that the ND steering is not as sharp as the NC’s, otherwise it sounds like the ND was a clean sweep (of the important stuff anyway, who cares about a glove box). Was this tester fitted with Bilstein shocks and LSD?

    I think though since Autoguide has extolled the virtues of the FR-S/BRZ twins so much, a comparison between the ND in Club Form (with or without the BBS/Brembo extra) vs the FR-S/BRZ would be great. Heck why not throw in the EB Stang at the same time and really have an RWD fest.

  • Mike Schlee

    Yup, both cars had the LSD and Bilsteins. Yeah, that’s a comparison we want to do for sure as well as others,

  • Mark S

    Thought I was in luck, the local dealer had an ND on their website, then found out it was an automatic, heresy!

    Look forward to the ND vs FR-S comparison, especially the handling and power train comparison on the road and on the track.

  • Mark S

    Many thanks! That was a great read. Result is a bit like the Motortrend result where the FR-S and ND were very close, with some editors going for the FR-S and some for the ND.
    Like the idea of more comparisons from different sources, they often say similar things but sometimes this a new nugget e.g. autoguides view on the EPS on the ND vs hydraulic on the older NC. Would be good to see Autoguide repeat the ND vs FR-S, just to see their take, the seem to have Miata fans (Schlee) and FR-S fans (Pratte) on their site, so should see some interesting comments.
    At moment I feel like I need the practicality and handling of the FR-S, but the powertrain of the ND! (Should add that the 228i with adaptive M Sport hits many check boxes….just not the price check box!).

  • Mark S

    Returning the favor, read this last night…not just the price puts me off the 228i.

    http://www.roadandtrack.com/new-cars/road-tests/reviews/a25780/side-by-sideways-bmw-228i-ford-mustang-ecoboost-scion-fr-s/

  • Mike

    It’s well known the third gen NC Miata is a fat, lazy little piggy of the Miata family. The Meg Griffin if you will. A better comparison for the new ND would be with either of the two other generations. The NA and NB would likely beat the ND everywhere but in mileage. Mazda needs to put forced induction into this thing to make it a REAL winner in it’s class. At $30k, the GT Miata is the same price as a convertible, or GT Mustang.

  • Mark S

    The NB is not the most comfortable :S I am only 5’10”, but the gap between the seat and steering wheel was torture, so had the seat foam cut down (foamectomy is the Miata forum joke). It is great fun to drive though and from what I have read in the magazines and forums, the ND has the same and more of that fun. I think the NB biggest problem is that you sit on, not in the car, the new mesh seat in the ND fixes this, plus it has @ 20hp more than the NB (I think, going from memory).

  • Mike Schlee

    I’m quite confident the Nc and Nd will beat both the NA and NB around the track (minus the mazdaspeed). Although the NA and NB were a lot more fun to drive, they were very slow. I’m a former owner.

  • Bug S Bunny

    I really wanted to trade my ’02 NB (with the suspension package) for a new ND. But after equipping the car as I would want it, the price put it out of reach. I ended up buying a “hot hatch” from another manufacturer.

  • Ed May

    Mike, I think it’s pretty obvious you haven’t driven the new Miata. It performs far, far better than any previous Miata. Boost will make it better, of course. But it’s fantastic stock.

  • Mark S

    Not sure the numbers support “far far” better, more evolution than revolution. End of the day, it has been a great car since the get go and just got better. Some, maybe rightly, say that the NC was a little off track in terms of weight, but still had the essence of the Miata.

  • Ed May

    The numbers don’t support far far better? Nearly 2 seconds faster 0-60 than the NA, a solid second faster than the NC. That’s an eternity.

    The NC was already faster than an NA/NB around a track, and the ND was 3 seconds faster in this test than the NC.

    Randy Pobst turned a 1.50.X at Laguna Seca in a stock ND. That’s faaaast for a Miata.

    Yes, the ND is far, far superior in terms of performance than any prior Miata. The closest is the low-volume Mazdaspeed, but that’s not even exactly a fair comparison. Even then, the ND cleans the floor with it.

    For the record, I’ve owned 5 Miatas (1 NA, 4 NBs), including a Mazdaspeed, and currently track a 1999 model. I love them! But it’s difficult to overstate what a huge advancement the ND is.

  • Mark S

    I own an NB and like the ND a lot. That said, they are not speedy cars period (check out Car and Drivers Lightning Lap). They are just fun drivers cars and relatively affordable – I would rather have a car with great handling at a slower speed, than a car with faster straight line speed and poor handling (or numb steering!). For this latter reason, I am not throwing the baby out with the bath water and saying that the ND is the Miata revolution, more of an evolution. As I hinted I do sympathize with some who say that the NC was maybe a little off the plot line and the ND is a return to what was the Mazda target for the Miata in the first place. Serious credit that they have crammed in so much stuff into the ND compared to the NC and yet got the weight down. Personally wish the 1.5l was coming to the US, it sounds like it is a really great drivers cars.

  • Ed May

    No, they’re not that fast compared to truly fast cars, very true. That’s what the aftermarket is for!

    That’s the thing about the ND though… it’s not trading off handling in favor of speed. Have you driven the ND? The balance it has is astounding, and I’m not really sure what people are complaining about the steering for — it’s excellent, and that 2.0 has wonderful midrange torque. I also own an AP2 S2000 and while I enjoy that vehicle very much, I think the ND is the more enjoyable (and definitely the more accessible) car. In 5 or 10 years I’ll probably sell the S2k and buy a used ND and never look back.

  • Mark S

    Nope, not been able to test one yet. A lucky LE owner let me sit in their car while the dealer was prepping for delivery (it was straight off the truck with all the white film still on it). I am hoping that the local dealer gets some club trim manuals soon. Saying that the ND is better to drive than the S2000 though, one of my faves is a big deal – must be good. I am looking forward to watch Everyday Drivers (You Tube) upcoming review, where they have assembled an NA, NB, NC and ND to test back to back. Sadly though, we have need of a third seat in our fun car, so when we sell, will have to switch out to 2+2!

  • RichFrantz

    Just waiting for the PRHT for this gen…

  • jpo321

    Drove both today. The interior on the 2016 just beats the NC hands down. I’m in the market for a used one. I can get a great deal on a 2015 right now but it’s hard to justify stepping down the interior.

  • Mark S

    Congrats! What trim are you after (sport, club, club with pp, grand touring)?

  • FloridaBuckeyeMD

    Former NC2 owner (2009 GT 6MT). Spent some time in the ND GT and Club and couldn’t pull the trigger on one. In the GT, the blind spot monitors were unreliable at best, which would just annoy me, and the lane departure chime is annoying, sometimes going off when I wasn’t THAT close to the line (both can be turned off). There’s zero usable storage in the car, not even a place to stick my smartphone (doesn’t fit in the ONE “pocket” in front of the shifter). The audio/nav control knob is awkward- lays under your arm, and you can’t use the touch screen while moving. Cup holders are useless (can’t reach them while driving). Trunk is smaller.

    To me this is overall a miss. I can’t get the better suspension and limited slip in the GT model, and didn’t care for the cloth seats in the Club. Why not keep the door cup holders of the NC2, and a regular glovebox? Would that add 1lb to the curb weight? I’d take that to have a usable interior. Geez at least give me somewhere to stick my phone other than under my leg.

  • FloridaBuckeyeMD

    I’d agree with ED that the Miata is more fun than the S2k. The S2k is a much more serious car, with much more respectable performance figures. What a marvel that engine was, and the sound was unforgettable (especially in the AP1). However, there is something so likeable about the Miata handling, you can toss it around all day and it’ll put a smile on your face at 5mph, or 50mph.

  • brianOO7

    And the S2k manages only .88 on the skidpad, compared to .90 for the 2016 Miata.

  • jpo321

    Ended up with a Club.

  • Mark S

    Definitely the one to have. I was intrigued by the RF, but while I think it looks awesome, it sounds like the cabin is noisy and you get some buffetting whenthe top is down.