The car defining Mazda and defying the competition just launched a highly anticipated fourth-generation redesign now reaching dealers.
Known in other corners of the world as MX-5, here in the States, it's still lovingly revered to as a Miata, the memorable name Mazda specifically bestowed for the U.S. market more than quarter century ago, although only MX-5 badging adorns the 2016 model year two-seat roadster.
Its humble beginnings trace back to the Windy City. The year: 1989. The place: McCormick Place. The Event: 81st Chicago Auto Show. There, the 1990-model-year Miata debuted. For many years thereafter, Mazda utilized the annual Chicago Auto Show to showcase special editions of the punky two-seater.
The wickedly simple formula continues today: design a two-seat, fun-to-maneuver, rear-drive open top roadster without pricing that exhausts the kid's or grandkid's college fund.
During the first decade of the new millennia, a few upstarts tried and succeeded for a time only to end up as automotive foot notes. Honda's S2000, the Saturn Sky and Pontiac's Solstice kept pricing competitive, but failed to match Miata's volume, longevity or loyalty.
This Gen Four effort sheds about 150 pounds, a result of Mazda's vehicle wide newly implemented SkyActiv architecture, revising chassis structure, transmissions and lighter, higher compression engines.
The sole engine, a rather pedestrian naturally aspirated, 2.0-liter four-cylinder cranks out 155 horsepower, not overpowering by any stretch, but with only 2,332 pounds to lug around, adequate. With lighter weight comes significantly improved fuel economy; 25 percent better. Mazda recommends premium 91 octane fuel for optimal four-cylinder engine performance, although regular, 87 octane is accepted.
Three trims include entry Sport, Club and Grand Touring. All three include black interior while Grand Touring includes a tan option. Sport and Club trim feature cloth fabrics while Grand Touring opts for leatherette. Sport trims with six-speed manual starts at $24,915. Automatic transmission remains optional in all trims. By contrast, a Maserati Gran Turismo convertible costs $164,000 and change.
Our tester, a mid-grade Club trim checked in at $28,600. With a $300 upcharge for Soul Red exterior paint and $3,400 Brembo brake package, the bottom line ended at $33,120 including a $820 destination charge.
Performance wise, Miata's rear-wheel drivetrain keeps the light-weight body in optimal balance. The engine up front and weighty drivetrain in back enhances spirited turns.
Occupants sit low, close to the ground, so a young-at heart body helps when entering and exiting. The vehicle stands four-feet high (or low) with the roof prone. Wind and tire noise are evident when tooling down the highway with the top up or down. Low-riding roadsters employ a oneness with the all the pavement has to offer and MX-5 is no exception. Those seeking a smooth, sterilized experience need not apply. It's a go-cart-like experience, except with air bags and a bevy of other safety nuances present.
The manually-operating soft top includes a single inside pull latch unhooking the fabric from the windshield frame after which the entire soft-top material folds neatly behind the seats into a waiting recessed area, clicking into place once complete. No secondary coverings to mess with or store. All can be accomplished with one hand. Raising and reattaching the roof to the window frame takes very little muscle effort. As with Gen Three, the glass rear window is equipped with defrosting capabilities.
Seventeen-inch high-performance tires teamed with 17-inch alloy wheels may look small on other designs, but with the low-slung Miata, take on a larger presence.
Miata's exuberant, curvaceous design includes boldly arched front fenders between the long aluminum hood. Lightweight doors swing out nicely, but are shorter in length then conventional coupes, requiring taller folks to bend and twist that much more when settling behind the three-spoke steering wheel. Cruise control and secondary audio controls adorn the face of the manually tilting steering wheel, but without a telescoping option, some long-legged drivers may find arm positioning a bit constraining.
The pleasant six-speed manual transmission includes short, easy-glide foot clutch action with predictable catch point. The right-hand smoothly assists through all six gears with little resistance. A hill-holding clutch allows drivers a welcome couple seconds when moving the right foot from brake to accelerator pedal before gravity takes over sending the car into a neutral roll.
A stationary, seven-inch flat touch screen protruding up from the center dash highlights 'Commander Control' found in other Mazda offerings. A large chrome scroll dial and narrow 'volume' stalk are found between the bucket seats. The tactile dial includes a push-down function, serving as a screen select command. Three push button icons ahead of the dial (Home, Navigation, Audio) serve as quick select keys. The screen, more at home in permanent-topped transports, has concerns. With Miata's top down, direct sun rays impede viewing.
Push-button start comes standard. Three circular air vents adorn the upper dashboard left to right. Below the four-color screen, three large, easy-to-operate old-school dials for monitoring single zone temperature, fan speed and direction.
A sudden casualty of portable electronic devices: the glove box. Once home to multi-fold road maps and yes...even form-fitting gloves, the 2016 Miata has foregone the conventional passenger-side, lower dash storage icon. Can't blame Mazda; every inch of a two-seat roadster's interior must find constructive use. Shot-gun riders benefit from extra knee room. And despite the cozy confines, Mazda still retains a squarish storage bunker behind the center arm rest with lockable drop-down door and enough depth to hold a pair of gloves if needed.
The narrow storage bin/arm rest is deep enough to swallow a typical iPhone and i-Pass, but not much more. Non-traditional antenna-like plastic beverage holders protrude up from behind this bin; but it's quite a reach back to grab a refreshing soda while cruising. Both are removable. Each holder yanks out from their base with a gentle tug and stow in the backside bunker.
The tri-circled instrument panel deviates from the norm with a tachometer front and center flanked on the right by an analog speedometer. The left-side gauge includes bottom-dwelling fuel gauge and other digital information (outside temperature, miles to empty). The center tach included a small digital window displaying the current gear and a hint when to manually shift up or down depending upon the conditions.
At 4.5 cubic feet of space with the top up or down, the diminutive truck is deep enough to handle three or four stuffed back backs or a couple of overnight bags. Don't expect a spare tire; conventional or temporary, but do expect a first-aid kit.
When auto writers and bloggers gathered for the annual Midwest Automotive Media Association Fall Rally at the Autobahn Country Club in Joliet this month, the 2016 MX-5 proved the belle of the ball. While scores of well decked out, high-horsepower, vehicles eagerly awaited a spin around the 1.46-mile corridor, Miata's dance card remained full all day, effortlessly pirouetting while showboating its subtle curves, and the only participant with enough self-confidence to shed its top in the process.
At A Glance
2016 MX-5 Miata
Price as tested: $33,120
Engine: 2.0-liter four cylinder
Wheelbase: 90.9 inches
Overall Length: 154.1 inches
Overall Height: 48.6 inches
Overall Width: 68.3 inches
Curb weight: 2,332 pounds
Fuel Economy: 27 mpg city 34 mpg highway