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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Jason Fogelson July 2015

We've driven each generation of the Mazda MX-5 Miata, and they all displayed similar virtues: near perfect balance that lead to great handling, and an eager, modestly powered engine hooked up to a sublime transmission with rear-wheel drive. The roadster (two seats and an open cockpit) setup provided just enough comfort and amenities to facilitate a user-friendly driving and cruising experience. Small, light and balanced, the Miata is one of those cars that puts a smile on your face as you run through the gears.

We're happy to report that in its fourth generation, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata follows the philosophy of refinement over revolution. The first-generation vehicle was undeniably cute, and some drivers made the mistake of rejecting it because of its looks. Each generation has progressively shed some of the toylike quality, leading to the current edition's downright assertive appearance.

Sporty and Capable Exterior

The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata sports short front and rear overhangs and muscular rear haunches. The windshield has moved back farther from the front axle, leaving a longer hood that slopes down and away from the driver. From the front and rear, the MX-5 has a planted shape that conveys stability and strength.

Full LED lighting in the front and rear allows for a very expressive package. The open mouth grille still gives the front fascia a very anthropomorphic face, but the expression is determined rather than smiley. Rich paint and complex surfaces lend interest on the body sides, and the whole car comes across as sporty and capable.

High-Quality, Updated Interior

Inside, the big upgrade is on the driver's side. Special attention was given to driving position. Sitting behind the wheel puts you in perfect alignment with the pedals and steering wheel, and there's a great dead pedal to help keep your hips straight between shifts. Outward visibility is great with the top down, and acceptable with the top up.

Interior fit and finish have been bumped up a notch, with visible stitching and a nicer trim. All the touch points have a high-quality feel, and the doors have been deeply scalloped to increase the feel of space in the cabin.

The MX-5 will only be offered with a cloth top for now. No retractable hardtop is available, as it was in the previous version of the car. The cloth top is operated manually, going up and down with ease, and features an aluminum front section that reduces wind noise. Driving with the top up delivers a level of quietness that is similar to a coupe. Our only quibble with the interior has to do with the cupholders, which are not easy to access while driving.

Strong Setup

Under the hood, there's a 2.0-liter 16-valve 4-cylinder engine with variable valve timing that's tuned to produce 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque. In a new car market that's mad about hp and includes the 707-hp Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat, 155 hp sounds like a mistake. In the manual version, which weighs 2,332 pounds, or the automatic version, which weighs 2,381 pounds, 155 hp feels just right. The MX-5 accelerates briskly and always seems to have power on tap when you need it. The 6-speed manual transmission and buttery clutch deliver precise, quick shifting. The available 6-speed automatic transmission comes with paddle shifters, and the top two cogs are overdriven.

The real strength of the MX-5 isn't its engine or transmission -- it's the setup. Much of the weight of MX-5's engine is behind the front axles, with the goal of centralizing weight, which results in better balance. With the mass and weight distributed equally from front to rear and from side to side, handling becomes much more precise and predictable. The MX-5 is very easy and fun to drive at any pace.

Very Versatile

Thousands of MX-5 roadsters spend their time on the track. Most MX-5 buyers, however, are just looking for a fun commuter, weekend or getaway car, and it excels in those roles as well. Trunk space is tight at 4.9 cu ft., but that's enough for groceries and travel clothing.

The MX-5 comes in three trim levels for 2016. Sport (the base model) models starts at $24,915. Club models get a sport suspension, BBS wheels and Brembo brakes, and start at $28,600. Grand Touring models (starting at $30,065) come with leather seating, navigation and other amenities, including available driver-assistance technologies. At these price points, there are few competitors in the roadster category. Scion's FR-S and Subaru's BR-Z are bargain-priced, track-worthy front-engine/rear-drive performance coupes, but neither has a factory drop-top. The MINI Cooper Roadster is front-wheel drive, but still a lot of fun. Audi's TT, BMW's Z4 and the Porsche Boxster also enter the ring, but with substantially higher price tags.

The appearance of the new MX-5 passes our test. For the greatest bang for your buck on the road or on the track, rush out and get any generation of the MX-5. For the best experience, splurge on the 2016 MX-5. And do yourself a favor, buy one with a manual transmission while you still can.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata: First Drive Review - Autotrader