There’s something to be said about a cult classic. In the automotive industry, cult classics are either loved or hated, and the Mazda MX-5 gets tons of love from our entire team. I currently have a first-generation (NA) Miata in the garage, one of the first 500 cars off the line, with only 37,000 lightly driven miles on it. After a full decade of production, the third-generation car has been replaced with an all-new one. Since its reveal last summer, I can safely say I’ve sacrificed plenty of sleep researching it. The 2016 Mazda MX-5 (codenamed “ND”) is easily my most anticipated car in a very long time, so the week I spent with it was definitely an eventful one.
The most obvious thing about the new MX-5 is that Mazda has pulled out all the cards to lighten the car, bringing it back to its roots as a proper rear-wheel-drive, lightweight roadster. It’s down nearly 90kg in base form, and this top-trim GT tester rings in at 1,060kg. The biggest ‘sacrifice’, if you can call it that, is the omission of the power retractable hard top (PRHT), in favour of a cloth convertible top. All of this weight reduction goes a long way to return the overall feeling of driving the new MX-5 to that of the original model that debuted just over 25 years ago.
Styling-wise, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 is a winner in my books. While the original model looked cute and goofy with its pop-up headlights, the new model looks mean and aggressive, while maintaining playfulness. Aggressive LED headlights and daytime running lights set off the styling beautifully, and the lines flow to make a stunning side profile and an attractive rear end. The taillights are reminiscent of the Jaguar F-Type, and the MX-5 also borrows fresh styling cues from the Alfa Romeo 4C and BMW Z4. Mazda’s iconic roadster has always been gracefully designed, but until now, it has never really been “sexy”.
What’s been truly controversial amongst both enthusiasts as well as our media colleagues throughout the launch of the new MX-5 has been Mazda’s choice of powertrain. Other markets also get a 1.5L motor, but Canada gets the SkyActiv 2.0L inline 4-cylinder that we’ve previously seen in the current Mazda3. Don’t be confused though; the engineering is completely different in this application. This motor is direct-injected and high compression (13:1), putting out 155 horsepower at 6,000RPM and 148 lb-ft of torque at 4,600RPM. This may not seem like a lot, but the result is a sprint to 100 km/h nearly a full second quicker than the outgoing model (NC).
The new engine is more responsive, has a better powerband and torque curve despite having less power, and is lighter than the outgoing 2.0L motor. We actually had the chance to take all four generations of MX-5 on our annual DoubleClutch.ca drive to Muskoka, through some of the best twisty driving roads in Ontario, and put them through their paces. The new steering rack is lighter and quicker than the outgoing car, but I do have to say it has a little bit less feedback. However, the electrically assisted steering servo is mounted to the actual steering rack rather than the steering column in order to maintain feedback.
My MX-5 GT tester was equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. The Miata has always boasted a great gearbox, but the new one is even more improved. I’ll go as far as to say this is my current favourite gearbox out there, and is a poster child for the #SaveTheManuals movement. The shifter is light and precise, with short throws and a comfortable round knob. The clutch has just enough feedback and an easy-to-find bite point. Heel-and-toe downshifts are effortless, and it’s nearly impossible to miss a shift, grind a gear, or stall the car unless you’re a manual transmission newbie. The shift knob has a faux-suede finish with red stitching to match the rest of the interior, and looks high quality. Note – this shift knob does not get extremely hot if left in the sun for hours on end, a definite benefit.
Back to the handling; as we know, the MX-5 is a true handling champion. It’s an eager dance partner that hugs the road through the curves happily. If pushed hard with the traction/stability control off, it will easily kick the back end out playfully as well. The ND is capable of flying through the corners while keeping a huge grin on the driver’s face, and there’s minimal body roll thanks to strut bars and a very sorted suspension setup. Weight distribution is nearly perfect too, and ride quality is excellent. This model also comes with a sport suspension with Bilstein shocks that maintain a good ride that’s on the better end of firm. A limited-slip differential is also standard equipment on GS and GT manual transmission models.
The driving position on the outgoing MX-5 was near perfect, and I didn’t think it was possible for Mazda to improve upon it even more. Somehow, they’ve done it. The exterior of the car may be smaller, but the interior is roomier for my 6’1/175 self. I’m no longer scrounging to find legroom, and the wheel is the perfect distance away from me. The hood is lower and visibility is vastly improved, and the hood lines are almost reminiscent of the Batmobile from the driver’s seat. Rearward and side visibility is ample with the top down, but with the roof in place, extra caution should be exercised as there are some blind spots.
Thanks to the SkyActiv setup, the ND has vastly better fuel economy than the outgoing NC model. Mazda rates it for 8.8L/100km in the city and 6.9L/100km on the highway. I put a considerable amount of mileage on the MX-5 over my test week, and factoring in our Muskoka drive, the total was just over 1000km. Surprisingly, the result was 7.2L/100km with a ton of spirited curvy road driving. The higher compression ratio means the MX-5 requires premium fuel, and the 45L tank means fill-ups will be frequent, but this is made easier because they are so inexpensive.
My biggest gripe with the NC at the end of its life cycle was the dated interior and lack of creature comforts, namely a USB port and proper connectivity. As much as a good chunk of the Miata’s appeal is based on its simplicity, we now live in an age where technology and connectivity has taken over every aspect of our life. Thankfully, Mazda agrees with this philosophy and has implemented the latest version of their infotainment system. A 7” colour touchscreen is standard on the GT model, with full Bluetooth connectivity and two USB ports. The HMI Commander is excellent and the system is responsive and easy-to-use thanks to steering wheel audio controls.
For a touch over $40,000, the GT is the top-of-the-line MX-5. It offers everything a roadster enthusiast could want, from LED lighting to 17” gunmetal alloy wheels, heated leather seats, Bose audio with 9 speakers, automatic climate control, adaptive front lighting, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, satellite radio, navigation, and the aforementioned limited-slip diff. I’d pass on all of the driver aids personally, but they are inevitably becoming standardized throughout the automotive industry. There is no reverse camera, but it’s not needed in a car this small and maneuverable. Sound quality from the Bose system is great, even with the top down, and the headrest speakers are a great touch.
I’ve spent thousands and thousands of kilometers behind the wheel of all generations of MX-5. In my original NA, it’s pretty difficult to lift the convertible top back on with one hand, and operating it requires zipping/unzipping of the plastic rear window. This was improved in ensuing generations, but the 2016 model has the cleverest operation yet. Opening the cloth convertible top requires you to pull a latch located above the rear view mirror, which also drops the two front windows halfway down. The top lifts over the cabin and drops conveniently behind the seats. Pushing down with one hand “clicks” it into place. Putting it back up is equally simple and can easily be done with one hand while the car is in motion.
Of course, there’s a ton of clouded judgment floating around about this car being the reinvention of the automobile. It’s not, but it’s definitely a sharpened and vastly improved evolution of one of my favourites. That being said, there are some things I would like to see changed. The steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope, which can be a nuisance for some when trying to find that perfect driving position. The Soul Red plastic pieces atop the interior door panels look like they would scratch very easily, and the stitching throughout the cabin appears to be pinkish in the sunlight.
The MX-5’s packaging isn’t biased towards having storage space, so some careful planning is required. Trunk space is generous at 130L, but the small opening means things like a standard laundry basket won’t fit. The MX-5 will graciously accept a small carry-on and backpack for a weekend getaway though. There is no glove compartment, and the center console storage could be bigger to compensate for this. Directly behind the HMI Commander, there’s a small space to hold an iPod or garage door opener, which is convenient, but I wish the USB ports were in this space to prevent wire clutter in the cabin. One bit I absolutely love though is that the cupholders are external units that can be yanked out and tossed in the trunk when not in use – space management at its best!
Mazda’s new slogan “Driving Matters” is directly applicable to this latest offering. The 2016 Mazda MX-5 is a car that will tempt you to take the longer, more fun route home from work to de-stress after a brutal day. It’s one that will make the commute fun, and be competent enough to run at the track on weekends. Road trips with your significant other will be doable (if you pack light) and exceptional with the top down. What the MX-5 Miata offers is an irreplaceable motoring experience from a car that sports astonishing driving dynamics and great efficiency without compromising on everyday practicality. Competitors like the Scion FR-S and Subaru BRZ may have great characteristics, but they don’t offer an open-top motoring experience. Well done Mazda, well done.
2016 Mazda MX-5 GT Gallery
2015 Scion FR-S Release Series 1.0