2016 Mazda MX-5Posted on February 8th, 2016
Fourth-generation sports car is an instant classic
By Nina Russin
There are a lot of reasons to buy a Mazda MX-5: style, performance and affordability among them. Fans of the two-seat roadster, now in its 26th year of production can now add ‘instant classic.’
Hagerty Insurance CEO, McKeel Hagerty, considers the MX-5 Miata to be one of the best investments in the classic car market. He bought one himself. With its timeless styling inspired by British roadsters of the 1960s, a powertrain that functions as well on city streets as it does on the track and modern amenities such as keyless start, Bluetooth interface and automatic climate control, the Miata might just be the sexiest, most practical new car enthusiasts can buy for less than $30,000.
Is the MX-5 a car for everyone? Probably not. It has close to zero cargo space and for larger individuals, access and egress can be a challenge. But it is easily one of the most perfect executions of a niche vehicle on the market.
The test car is the upscale Grand Touring model priced from $30,065. Standard convenience features include a Bose premium audio system, keyless start, LED daytime running lamps and tail lamps, automatic climate control, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, power side mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, navigation and heated front seats. Adding two options- a rear spoiler and keyless start plus the destination charge brings the final MSRP to $31,365.
Evolved KODO styling
The newest MX-5 is loosely based on Mazda’s KODO- ‘Soul of Motion’- design language. Although proportions are similar to previous generations, individuals familiar with those cars will notice that the newest MX-5 has a longer hood with more aggressive character lines.
Too often today, car designers feel the need to adhere to a given DNA. It rarely works. A grille that looks good on a truck looks silly on a small passenger car. The 2016 MX-5 is a Mazda through-and-through. Nobody who sees the car could mistake it for anything else. But rather than being a watered-down derivative of the OEM’s 2010 Shinari concept, the MX-5 is the logical evolution of 26 years of Miata, influenced by Mazda’s current design culture.
Skyactiv technology boosts fuel economy
For this generation, Mazda engineers introduced Mazda’s proprietary Skyactiv technology: a groups of chassis enhancements that maximize fuel economy. Skyactiv isn’t the magic bullet, but rather a systematic approach to engineering that considers everything from engine compression to under-car aerodynamics, intake manifold runners, and gearbox ratios.
The 2016 MX-5 averages 34 miles-per-gallon on the highway and 27 around town according to the EPA. The two-liter direct injection engine runs just fine on regular unleaded gasoline despite its high compression ratio. A six-speed manual gearbox offers enough range within the gears for stop-and-go traffic, with a clutch pedal that’s light enough for everyday driving.
Test drive in Phoenix
I test drove the new MX-5 during the annual Scottsdale Auction Week at the end of January. This year the event was blessed with exceptionally good weather and brought record crowds. While driving through crazy traffic isn’t ideal for a car of this type, I got a good idea of what it might be like for the average urbanite who is considering the MX-5 as his or her only car to live with it.
From a performance perspective, the MX-5 does everything its predecessors did only better. Steering response from the electric power steering system is virtually indistinguishable from a traditional hydraulic setup, the advantage being fewer parts to wear out and less parasitic power loss.
The two-liter engine produces plenty of power and low-end torque. While 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque doesn’t seem like much, it’s all a car weighing 2300 pounds needs. Front-to-rear weight balance is close to 50/50.
A four-wheel independent suspension consists of a compact double wishbone suspension in the front and multi-link setup in the back. For small car, the MX-5 does a surprisingly good job of isolating occupants from road chatter. Designers pushed the roadster’s 17-inch alloy rims to the corners of the chassis to enhance high-speed stability through the corners.
Ventilated front disc brakes can withstand the hard use of track days without issue.
The only downside to driving the MX-5 through dense traffic is visibility. In the Southwest, at least half the vehicles on the road are full-size trucks. As a result, I spent much of my time peering up at the differential of the car in front of me. This made it harder to anticipate breaks in traffic or vehicles making panic stops several cars ahead.
On the flip side, visibility around the car’s perimeter is quite good, even with the hardtop in place. Standard blind spot monitoring illuminates LED signals in the side mirrors when cars in adjacent lanes pass through the driver’s blind spots. The MX-5 also comes equipped with lane departure warning: a feature I found to be more of an annoyance than an asset. In a construction area, the system misread lane lines that had been covered and replaced by temporary markers, so when I had it turned on, it chimed constantly.
I was surprised by the lack of a rearview camera, since parking the MX-5 nose-in would make it virtually impossible to monitor cross-traffic when backing out. There is a cross-traffic monitoring system with audible signals, but a camera that displays a wide-angle view to the back of the vehicle would be much more effective.
The MX-5 interior is small but well laid out, with enough room to stash a small purse or backpack in back of the seats, nicely designed controls and gauges that are easy to read in bright sunlight and after dark. Redundant steering wheel controls for the infotainment system minimize driver distraction.
I found the manual seat adjustments easy to use. The driver’s seat had adequate lower lumbar support for trips of an hour or more.
The MX-5 trunk is quite small. It will hold the weekly groceries or a roller board suitcase but not multiple pieces of luggage. If you plan to take road trips and carry a lot of gear, you’ll probably need the passenger seat for extra storage.
The Mazda MX-5 comes with front and side airbags, adaptive front lighting, daytime running lamps, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane departure warning, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control and tire pressure monitoring.
Mazda produces the MX-5 in its Hiroshima, Japan assembly plant.
Like: A beautifully designed and engineered two-seat roadster that is surprisingly affordable, offers excellent fuel economy and is capable of functioning equally well on road and track.
Dislike: Low ride height can limit visibility in dense traffic. A rearview camera is not standard equipment.
Model: MX-5 Grand Touring
Base price: $30,065
As tested: $31,365
Horsepower: 155 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 148 lbs.-ft. @ 4600 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: N/A
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 27/34 mpg city/highway