Source: Mazda

The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Is Your Teeny Key to Freedom

It's not fast, but it's fun. And since you didn't break the bank on it, you'll feel incredibly lightweight behind the wheel.

If you’re worried that the new Miata isn’t as good as the original icon that captivated fanboys and fanladies for decades, don’t.

The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata has the same playful mien, the same whip-tight body, and the same toy-like dimensions as earlier models.

In fact, while SUVs and crossovers keep driving the market toward bulkier vehicles every year, the lithe Miata has gone against the trend, shortening its wheelbase and dropping its ride height by almost an inch, compared with its predecessor.

The MX5 Club 2016.
The MX5 Club 2016.
Source: Mazda

With aesthetic changes like a lower hood, sculpted sides, a pronounced rear lip spoiler, and bolder curves over the new 17-inch wheels, it looks better, too.

This is not a fast sports car. It takes more than 7 seconds to hit 60 miles per hour. The steering scampers a bit at quick, breakaway speeds. But the rear-wheel-drive MX-5 retains the pure joy-of-driving fun that endeared it to thousands of drivers a generation ago.

Consider it against the likes of Scion FR-S and Subaru BR-Z. Or if you want to pay thousands more for considerably more power and performance, pit it against a Lotus Elise (good luck finding one in the U.S.) or an Alfa Romeo 4C Spider; I’m throwing those in only because their size compares well. If you’ve always heard how great the Miata was but were too young to own one during its heyday, or if you want an inexpensive but diverting little sports car, this one is better than anything else.  

Manual Must-Do

The 2016 MX5.
The 2016 MX5.
Source: Mazda

If you do buy an MX-5, promise me you’ll choose the 6-speed manual version. Do I even need to say this? Not only does it get better gas mileage than the automatic version, the manual model maintains the simple pleasure principle Mazda envisioned when it conceived this car. This toy has the shortest, easiest-to-use gear-box I’ve ever felt. It’s a stick-shift roadster in the purest, best form.

I used that manual on a 2016 MX-5 Miata “Grand Touring” edition in New York for a few days last week. The Grand Touring is the most expensive variant of this car, which starts at $25,000 for the “Sport” edition. It includes as standard such things as lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring, navigation, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. 

The Touring edition has the same 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine as the other variants. It’s set inside a 2,350-pound body svelte enough to capitalize on the 155-horsepower and 148 foot-pounds of torque it can offer. (The weight savings here come from a new aluminum chassis, front fenders, and bumper supports. So while it’s heavier than the 2,210-pound original, with a 7-second 0-60 mph sprint time and 27 miles per gallon in the city/34 mpg on the highway, it is faster and more efficient.)

On paper, as you may have deduced, the MX-5 is decidedly unimpressive. The Scion and Subaru each deliver considerably more, as will any proper luxury roadster. But the emphasis here is on play rather than performance, passion rather than power. The MX-5 will make you giggle as you throw it into curves and smirk as you whip around slowpoke drivers. 

The rear tail light.
The rear tail light.
Courtesy of Mazda

The body roll you feel inside—and you will feel it—serves in this case to enhance the thrill rather than detract, as it does in most cars.  In fact, from the moment you get behind the wheel (an effort made easier because Mazda has lowered the seats and increased headroom) you are unconstrained by overprotectiveness. Because of the price tag, you are also free of low-level anxiety about any number of things (pot holes, fender benders, chip-on-the-shoulder cops) often associated with driving more-expensive or powerful cars. You can have fun with a Miata because you didn't spend a crazy amount of money on it.

The MX-5 requires no coddling. You might even find yourself wondering how it could all be so easy as you cackle through traffic. It’s a very liberating feeling.

Minimal, and That’s OK

Life inside the new Miata is great, too, so long as you don’t ask for extra fluff. Upgrades therein remain virtually unnecessary if you choose the Grand Touring version. It comes standard with remote keyless entry, Bluetooth, leather-trimmed and heated seats, auto-dimming and heated mirrors, along with 24-hour roadside assistance. The paltry nine-speaker Bose sound system could stand a complete replacement, but the seven-inch center touchscreen, while small, is effective. Such details as the two removable cup-holders add to general usability without cluttering the minimalist dashboard and center console. 

The compact interior.
The compact interior.
Source: Mazda

The (only) two seats in the car afford less space than those of other two-seat roadsters, and the trunk is only slightly more practical than something “for show only.” This is not a car for big guys or long trips.

But thanks to the aforementioned seat height adjustments, and the fact that they recline more in this modern incarnation than previously, I didn’t have to crane my neck under the top bar of the windshield in order to watch the stoplight while I waited for it to turn green. (I do this with surprising regularity in luxury roadsters.) 

On the other hand, the rear visibility in the car with the black cloth top raised is abysmal. I kept adjusting my rear view mirror, thinking it had somehow gotten bumped off-kilter. Alas, no.

With a little bit of luck, though, you won’t often have to deploy it. Here’s hoping.

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