2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Vs 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Mike Schlee
by Mike Schlee

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?

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.

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.

So 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
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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Mike Schlee
Mike Schlee

A 20+ year industry veteran, Mike rejoins the AutoGuide team as the Managing Editor. He started his career at a young age working at dealerships, car rentals, and used car advertisers. He then found his true passion, automotive writing. After contributing to multiple websites for several years, he spent the next six years working at the head office of an automotive OEM, before returning back to the field he loves. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA). He's the recipient of a feature writing of the year award and multiple video of the year awards.

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5 of 25 comments
  • Jpo321 Jpo321 on Nov 21, 2016

    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.

    • See 2 previous
    • Mark S Mark S on Mar 20, 2017

      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.

  • FloridaBuckeyeMD FloridaBuckeyeMD on Jan 09, 2017

    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.