By Steve & Tamami Laser
Mazda has sold nearly a million MX-5 Miatas worldwide since it first went on sale more than 25 years ago. Through the years and several generations, it never lost sight of the characteristics that made the original roadster so popular. It’s small, light, agile, remarkably well-balanced, fun to look at, affordably priced, and a joy to drive.
We’ve been waiting patiently for our turn behind the wheel of the new MX-5. Meanwhile, we’ve had many close encounters in the U.S. and Japan. Our first sighting of a right-hand-drive prototype was at the Japanese Classic Car Show. The second was at a holiday party sponsored by the Motor Press Guild at Mazda R&D in Irvine, Calif. where Mazda North America’s Director of Design gave the group a walkaround of the 2016 MX-5. The third was at the press days of the Los Angeles Auto Show.
Production models for the U.S. market went on sale last year in Sport, Club, and Grand Touring editions. We had the opportunity to see Japanese market models (called the “Mazda Roadster”) at the Tokyo Motor Show, and again at the Tokyo Auto Salon.
Come along for a ride in the Mazda MX-5 as our intrepid editor visits a local attraction and explains how the new roadster drives us happy. (video © CarNichiWa.com)
Our request for a week-long test drive was finally granted. Our test car was the top-line MX-5 Miata Grand Touring. The new fourth-generation MX-5 “pairs the driver as one with the car.” In Japanese it’s loosely translated as “Jinba Ittai.” In other words, the driver and the car become one unit.
Mazda says the new MX-5’s proportions make the occupants look good, from the car’s low, short front overhang to its compact cabin that positions the driver and passenger in the center (viewed from the side). A low and wide trapezoidal form makes the vehicle appear as though it’s firmly gripping the road and conveys an image of stability and agility. The body panels wrap around to extend right into the door trim, dissolving the visual boundaries between the vehicle’s interior and exterior and creating an open-feeling interior design.
We take a closer look at the new MX-5 in our walkaround video, including the view from our favorite spot – the driver’s seat. (video © CarNichiWa.com)
The new MX-5 is the latest expression of Mazda’s “KODO” design theme that conveys agility. Mazda designers worked overtime to create a shape that was reminiscent of previous models, while moving the design language ahead with a lower, sleeker profile.
At 2,332 lbs. (2,381 lbs. with 6-speed automatic transmission), the new MX-5 is about 150 lbs. lighter than the third-generation and only 182 lbs. heavier than the original 1990 model. That’s amazing considering all the advanced technologies and safety features in the new car.
Keeping the front of the car low was a challenge, says Mazda, given regional bumper-height regulations in different global markets. So they installed LED headlights on all models because of the smaller space they require to produce a given amount of light.
The new roadster uses a double-wishbone front suspension and rear multilink setup that’s lightweight and highly rigid. Coupled with the extensive use of high-tensile steel in the body, frame and underbody crossmembers is a new double-pinion electronic power assist steering (DP-EPAS) rack with a smaller steering gear ratio for improved road feel and less steering “kickback.”
The SKYACTIV-G engine that powers the MX-5 delivers 155 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 148 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 RPM. It sits lower and farther back in the engine bay for a lower center of gravity resulting in quicker handling and response.
While that doesn’t sound like a huge amount of power, this rear-drive roadster is lightweight and well-balanced with 50:50 weight distribution. Our tester was fitted with the standard 6-speed manual gearbox that’s an excellent match for this engine.
The cockpit offers an ideal sports-car driving position with outstanding visibility, pedals that are centered to the driver’s body and controls laid out for maximum comfort and convenience. Our tester was fitted with leather-trimmed heated sport seats that are lighter and thinner than before while providing excellent comfort and support.
Mazda’s attention to detail includes a net and urethane design seat material that replaces traditional springs. Altogether, the redesign allowed engineers to remove about 17 pounds from each seat while positioning them lower in the vehicle.
The small-diameter, leather-wrapped steering wheel includes controls to operate the audio system, cruise control and Bluetooth. Positioned up high between the seatbacks is a lockable center box that offers secure storage when the car is parked with the top down. Removable cupholders attach separately to the front of the console by the passenger’s leg, or to one of two positions between the seats.
A trio of analog gauges allows the driver to view critical information at a glance. We liked the design with a centrally mounted tachometer flanked by a speedometer on the right and temperature and fuel gauge with a trip meter to the left.
The Grand Touring tester included the Mazda Connect™ infotainment system with seven-inch color touchscreen, navigation, voice command, a centrally mounted multi-function controller, HD Radio, two USB ports, a great sounding BOSE® nine-speaker audio system with headrest-mounted speakers, automatic air conditioning, auto-dimming rearview mirror with HomeLink, and push-button start.
Mazda’s i-ACTIVESENSE safety features on our tester included a Lane Departure Warning System, Rear Cross-traffic Alert, Blind Spot Monitoring, High Beam Control, and Adaptive Front Lighting.
The trunk has been designed for improved usability. The previous generation MX-5’s trunk could only hold one airline sized carry-on suitcase. With its longer and deeper trunk, the new car can carry two.
As we showed in our walkaround video, the MX-5’s convertible top is easily lowered and raised from the driver’s seat. To help reduce wind noise when the top is up, a “partial open-close system” automatically raises and lowers the side windows by 6mm when the doors are opened or closed to allow for a tighter seal to the roof when driving.
Over the years, we’ve been fortunate to test every generation of the MX-5 Miata. We think that the new 2016 model is the best one yet. It delivers the fun-to-drive sensation of its predecessors while it feels like a more solid and sophisticated car.
We drove the new MX-5 on a variety of roads from narrow country lanes, to wide boulevards, to high-speed freeways. We went from sea level to 1,200 feet and back. The little roadster never missed a beat. It’s incredibly fun to drive whether the top is up or down.
Prices begin at $24,915 for the MX-5 Sport. Our Grand Touring, with a base price of $30,065, added an interior lighting kit, Soul Red paint, keyless entry, and an interior package with alloy pedals and doorsill trim plates for a bottom line of $32,090.
Mazda calls the MX-5 Miata the “World’s best-selling roadster.” All the changes and upgrades to the new generation are designed to please a loyal group of enthusiasts and repeat buyers while helping to attract a new generation to this iconic sports car. And now that we’ve completed our test drive, we can truly say that the new MX-5 was worth the wait.
MX-5 press fleet vehicle provided by Mazda North American Operations. (Prices and vehicle information applies to models offered in the U.S. at the time of publication. Prices, features and specifications are subject to change without notice by the automaker.)
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