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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 9/26/2016 AARON ROBINSON
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata© AARON ROBINSON 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

WHAT WE LIKE: The new Mazda Miata is all ate up with charisma, such that only the most dedicated cynic would be immune to its charms. We don’t drive this little car so much as slip into it like silk pajamas. It’s small in the way 1960s roadsters were small, seemingly all four corners reachable by extended arms from the well-appointed cockpit. Thus, the human-machine bond is strong when we hit the road, the car slaloming from corner to apex as if an extension of the limbs, the steering and gearbox sublime in their organically direct operation. And the speed feels real even when it’s not. More than one driver noted that this car makes legal limits fun, no small feat these days. The softtop is so easy to drop from behind the wheel that you’ll do it on a whim even for a five-minute drive, and we’re currently averaging a very thrifty 32 mpg. It’s a car for youth, meaning both the young and those who want to be young again.

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE: Well, it’s small, which means a small trunk, a small gas tank, a passenger footwell crowded by a floor hump where the body is shrink-wrapped over a catalytic converter, and so on. Not everyone fits, either, the sliding seat running into the rear bulkhead just a bit too soon for some staffers. You’ll want to try one on first before buying. The connectedness that makes it such a delight on back roads is proving tiring on freeway excursions, when we just want the wind and road noise to go away. With winter tires on the car the interior thrum invited headaches. Some drivers say the suspension is too soft in twisties, allowing more body roll than they’d like. Others say the stiffer Club version that we have is not soft enough for highway work, where the poor Miata can get body-slammed by frost heaves. In the end, though, everything we would add to the Miata, from a telescoping steering column to more sound insulation, would only increase weight.

WHAT WENT WRONG: Los Angeles, that’s what. With just over 5000 miles showing on the odometer, the Miata made the trip to L.A. for a five-month, circa-9000-mile stay. There, Angeleno parkers used it as a punching bag, driving into both the front and rear of the car and doing mild body damage. Then some lowlife kicked out the circular section of the right taillight while the car was legally parked at a metered spot in Culver City, where The Wizard of Oz was filmed in 1938 and 1939. We say “kicked” because the only clue in the heinous crime was some black impact streaks on the bumper that looked suspiciously like they were from a Dr. Martens heel. Alas, it’s all conjecture until the perpetrator, described eloquently in the car’s logbook as a “f--king s--tbag,” is caught. We’re told CSI: Culver City is on the case. The replacement cluster cost $269.25 and was easily installed by our own selves, the black marks coming off with rubbing compound. The other damage wasn’t so cheap to fix—we paid the body shop $2353 to repair and refinish both bumpers and a front fender.

WHERE WE WENT: Two trips across the U.S. took the Miata to places as far flung as Mesquite, Nevada and Tucumcari, New Mexico. In between it roamed up and down the California coast, top down and open to the Pacific breezes, doing what it does best.

Months in Fleet: 11 months Current Mileage: 17,475 miles

Average Fuel Economy: 32 mpg Fuel Tank Size: 11.9 gal Fuel Range: 380 miles Service: $207 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $0 Damage and Destruction: $2622

Specifications >VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door convertible

PRICE AS TESTED: $32,910 (base price: $25,735)

ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve Atkinson-capable inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection

Displacement: 122 cu in, 1998 cc

Power: 155 hp @ 6000 rpm

Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 90.9 in

Length: 154.1 in

Width: 68.3 in Height: 48.8 in

Passenger volume: 49 cu ft

Cargo volume: 5 cu ft

Curb weight: 2324 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS:

Zero to 60 mph: 5.8 sec

Zero to 100 mph: 17.3 sec

Zero to 120 mph: 29.5 sec

Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 6.5 sec

Top gear, 30–50 mph: 8.6 sec

Top gear, 50–70 mph: 8.4 sec

Standing ¼-mile: 14.6 sec @ 94 mph

Top speed (drag limited): 129 mph

Braking, 70–0 mph: 158 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.88 g

FUEL ECONOMY:

EPA city/highway driving: 27/34 mpg

C/D observed: 32 mpg

Unscheduled oil additions: 0 qt

WARRANTY:

3 years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper;

5 years/60,000 miles powertrain;

3 years/36,000 miles roadside assistance

We have recently welcomed into our long-term fleet a 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata because, well, of course we did. Why wouldn’t we?

We’ve been enamored of this newest Miata from the moment we first got behind the wheel. But we’ve been enamored of Miatas for a very long time before that. Our parking lot is littered with first- and second-generation cars—some bone stock, others modified for track duty. The older members of our staff remember experiencing the first Miata as the rebirth of the simple, light British sports cars of their youth. The middle-aged among us remember going to the local Mazda dealership when we were in high school at the very end of the ’80s just to gawk at the newly arrived Miatas, resplendent in one or the other primary colors. And the young guys, well, they’ve never known a world without Miatas. It’s those guys, the ones without children, who own our back-lot collection of old Mazda two-seaters.

It should come as no surprise, then, that we ordered a new one at our earliest opportunity. Now it sits in our lot, all evil eyes and flared fenders, looking like the devious gremlin compared with the earlier Miata’s cute and cuddly Mogwai.

The Miata (er, MX-5 Miata) no longer is available in its original, happy primary colors or in the British Racing Green of special-edition Miatas of the past. Instead, it’s offered in gray and black and white. Heck, even the available red and blue paint colors are relatively dark and moody. We chose one of the grayscale options. It’s called Ceramic Metallic. But it’s actually very light gray. It’s like white with attitude. It is, in fact, a little like the color of the Ducati 899 Panigale superbike that passed us as we drove our Miata to the office one morning.

With only 155 horsepower, the Miata obviously is no match for a superbike, but we ordered our little roadster to be as sporty as a stock fourth-generation Miata can get. We started with the Club model, which sits between the base Miata Sport, with its 16-inch wheels, and the relatively luxurious Grand Touring, with its standard leather seats. The Club version, which starts at $29,420, brings a torque-sensing limited-slip differential, a strut-tower brace, and a sportier-than-stock suspension tune that includes Bilstein shocks. Well, the Club version includes those things assuming you choose the six-speed manual transmission, which—come on—of course we did. The Club also brings larger 17-inch wheels finished in gunmetal gray and wrapped with 205/45R-17 Bridgestone Potenza S001 summer tires.

To that we added the $3400 Brembo/BBS package, which includes, well, Brembo front brakes with red-painted calipers, handsome BBS wheels in the same gunmetal finish as the standard Club wheels, side-sill and rear-apron extensions, and, curiously, keyless entry. The Brembos are said to offer better resistance to fade and in our initial instrumented testing we noted exactly no fade. The forged BBS wheels are each about two pounds lighter than the standard 17s, according to Mazda. Because we live in Michigan and will be driving the car through the winter, we also grabbed a set of all-weather floor mats for $90. Total damage: $32,910. That’s less than the average price of a new car in 2015.

All models share the same 2.0-liter engine, making the same 155 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 148 lb-ft of torque at 4600 rpm. All Miatas with manual transmissions share the same gear and final-drive ratios. So it’s not like we built a hellfire-fast Miata. But our 2324-pound car made it to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 14.6 seconds at 94 mph. That’s quick enough for a car that’s not exactly built for drag racing. And despite being down on horsepower compared with the 167-hp, previous-generation car, it’s about a second quicker to 60 mph. The new Miata carries a slightly better weight-to-power ratio (15.0 versus 15.2) compared with the last previous-generation car we tested, thanks to an overall weight reduction of 216 pounds.

With 0.88 g of lateral grip on the skidpad, the Miata won’t be challenging any fat-tired pony cars or sports cars. But the Miata never has been about maximum grip any more than streetlight drag races. It turns in an excellent braking performance, stopping from 70 mph in 158 feet.

It’s a well-rounded performance package. But as ever, the Miata is about how all of those various parameters combine to generate fun. The steering is delectable. The shifter remains one of the better mechanical devices in any automobile. Clutch takeup is progressive and easy. Heel-and-toe downshifts are a breeze. The car just flows in a way that makes you wonder why more cars aren’t like this. It feels like the natural order of things.

We’ll see how natural it feels through the errand running, soul-crushing commuting, and winter nastiness that all of our long-termers must sometimes endure. Will the cranks on staff stop complaining about the car’s body roll? Will we be able to fit anything in that little trunk? We shall see. For now, we’ve only just accumulated enough miles on the car to safely take it testing and be free of the break-in restrictions.

And so the Miata epoch begins, again.

Months in Fleet: 1 month Current Mileage: 1751 miles

Average Fuel Economy: 30 mpg Fuel Tank Size: 11.9 gal Fuel Range: 360 miles

Service: $0 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $0

Damage and Destruction: $0

Specifications >VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door convertible

PRICE AS TESTED: $32,910 (base price: $25,735)

ENGINE TYPE: DOHC 16-valve Atkinson-capable inline-4, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection

Displacement: 122 cu in, 1998 cc

Power: 155 hp @ 6000 rpm

Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual

DIMENSIONS:

Wheelbase: 90.9 in

Length: 154.1 in

Width: 68.3 in Height: 48.8 in

Passenger volume: 49 cu ft

Cargo volume: 5 cu ft

Curb weight: 2324 lb

C/D TEST RESULTS:

Zero to 60 mph: 5.8 sec

Zero to 100 mph: 17.3 sec

Zero to 120 mph: 29.5 sec

Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 6.5 sec

Top gear, 30–50 mph: 8.6 sec

Top gear, 50–70 mph: 8.4 sec

Standing ¼-mile: 14.6 sec @ 94 mph

Top speed (drag limited): 129 mph

Braking, 70–0 mph: 158 ft

Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.88 g

FUEL ECONOMY:

EPA city/highway driving: 27/34 mpg

C/D observed: 30 mpg

Unscheduled oil additions: 0 qt

WARRANTY:

3 years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper;

5 years/60,000 miles powertrain;

3 years/36,000 miles roadside assistance

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