2016 Mazda MX-5 Review

A Smaller Miata is a Better Miata

In a world as scripted as pro wrestling, every once in a while a new superstar bursts on the scene with an undeniable charisma that makes everyone sit up and take notice.

But as time moves on, they get older, softer and flabbier, losing some of that luster that initially made them a fan favorite. But just when you think they’re completely played out, the truly great entertainers remember what made them successful. They reinvent themselves, return to form and come back stronger than ever.

This is more or less the story of the Mazda MX-5 Miata. A complete coup d’état in the world of sports cars in 1989, the Miata turned performance car convention on its head. Not only was a small Japanese manufacturer making a raw, exhilarating roadster, but it was also completely reliable and affordable.

As time rolled on, the MX-5 Miata grew in popularity, performance and, unfortunately, weight. Like most of us, after 25 years of hard work, the MX-5 was no longer as svelte and razor sharp as it once was.

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Returning to the Original Formula

So, for the 2016 MX-5, Mazda’s engineers wanted a return to what made the first generation Miata so popular; minimal weight combined with maximum fun. Rather than stiffen up the new MX-5’s body structure, the engineers focused more on shedding pounds. Every aspect of the MX-5 was scrutinized for weight savings, from suspension components to body panels to interior materials.

SEE ALSO: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Club Video, First Look

It all falls in-line with Mazda’s SkyActiv philosophy and makes for a lighter MX-5. With a base curb weight of 2,332 lbs., the new MX-5 is roughly 150 lbs. lighter than the old model. True it’s nearly 200 lbs. heavier than the original Miata, but the 2016 MX-5 features a ton of added safety features that weren’t available with the original Miata. Plus, for the first time in the MX-5’s history, air conditioning is standard on all models, which adds a bit of heft to the curb weight.

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Stop Calling it a ‘Girl’s Car’

Mazda has given the MX-5 a much more aggressive appearance with this new generation. Featuring tiny LED slits for headlights and plenty of defined creases, the 2016 model abolishes long standing stereotypes that the Miata is a cute little car that should only be driven by a certain gender.

The MX-5 does remain little though. Not only is new MX-5 three inches shorter than the current car, it’s actually shorter than the original 1990 Miata as well. And like the original, the 2016 MX-5 is once again a soft top convertible only. That’s not to say a hard top won’t ever join the lineup, it’s just not available at this time.

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Fun Factor Zulu

The beauty of the MX-5 has always been how it drives. Not the quickest or necessarily the best handling sports car, the Miata’s magic lies in how it connects man and machine in a way that most cars just can’t. It’s not about going the fastest; it’s about having the most fun. The front to rear weight distribution is a near neutral 53/47 percent and everything possible has been done to make the car more engaging.

2016-Mazda-MX-5-09The entire steering rack mechanism has been reengineered to boost steering feel and feedback while the shift linkage has been reworked to minimize effort between throws. Steering has always been a strong suit of the MX-5, but with the 2016 model, it’s that much better. Instantly, the driver is instilled with an incredible level of confidence behind the wheel as the car responds to every input with hair trigger accuracy. All the MX-5’s peripheral controls send gobs of information back to the driver as if their brain is hardwired to the car through one of the dual USB ports.

A hallmark of the MX-5 has always been its soft, yet very capable suspension set-up. Having driven 8,000 miles in less than two weeks in a previous generation MX-5, it was how comfortable the car remained on various road surfaces that surprised me most. With the 2016 model, Mazda has intentionally kept the suspension set-up soft since the low curb weight, great weight distribution and responsive controls allow drivers to extract a lot of performance out of the MX-5 by manipulating weight transfer and power delivery.

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And For More Performance

The new MX-5 comes standard with 16-inch wheels and 195 mm wide tires. But if you want more performance, there’s the Club model that has 17-inch wheels with wider tires, a limited-slip differential, Bilstein shocks, a shock tower brace, a front air dam and a rear lip spoiler. It’s important to note that the LSD and tower brace are only available with the manual transmission. Opt for the automatic and you don’t get these go fast bits.

And if that’s not enough, there is even more performance available with the Brembo/BBS package that adds lighter 17-inch BBS wheels, Brembo front brakes with red calipers all around, a rear bumper skirt and side sill extensions.

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No, It Doesn’t Need More Power

The biggest controversy since the new MX-5 was introduced is the reduction in power. Now under hood is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 155 HP and 148 lb-ft of torque. That’s down 12 HP and 10 lb-ft. compared to the 2015 MX-5. But writing this car off solely based on its engine output is like saying a heavy duty pickup truck is crap based on its Nurburgring lap time or there’s no point in buying any Lamborghini because it can’t tow a horse trailer.2016-Mazda-MX-5-21

The MX-5 is light, gearing is short and as always, it’s one of the most fun cars to hustle on a beautifully twisting mountain road. Standard now on the MX-5 is a six-speed manual transmission while an optional six-speed automatic remains. Regardless of which tranny is chosen, the exhaust has been tuned to give the engine a nice snarl out of the twin tailpipes, complimenting the car’s more aggressive look.

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

Although the new engine is the same basic unit found in the Mazda3, it’s been retuned for much better throttle response, which sadly means premium fuel is recommended. But that shouldn’t be a big deal as the new MX-5 is much more efficient than the previous model, capable of achieving 27 MPG city and 34 MPG highway with the manual transmission.

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Familiar Inside

The 2016 MX-5 features Mazda’s familiar corporate interior design, yet still feels very much like a Miata. The protruding display screen, center infotainment controls and integrated HVAC system all have become trademarks of Mazda design. But not all the materials are usual high standards found in the manufacturer’s other models. This may be due to weight savings measure, but a few materials look more about function than form.2016-Mazda-MX-5-22

A six-foot tall driver can fit in it with either the roof up or down, thanks partially to the driver now sitting a bit lower and closer to the center of the car. Passengers will still find the right seat a bit tight and the transmission hump still intrudes into the foot well.

Along with a stylish new interior, the 2016 MX-5 can also be had with some impressive technology like a lane departure warning system, rear cross-traffic alert, blind spot monitoring, adaptive front lights and rain sensing wipers. And all cars now come standard with push button start. Best of all though is the soft top roof that has been heavily reworked to make one arm opening and closing from the driver’s seat a breeze.

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The Verdict: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Review

Starting at $25,735 after destination charges, the 2016 MX-5 will be rolling into dealerships soon.

Going back to basics has paid off for Mazda, as an already excellent car is now better in almost every way. The Miata has a rabid fan base the world over and the new 2016 MX-5’s return to form shouldn’t just please them, but attract a whole new generation of Miata-philes.

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