2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata - The sleeker 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata sports car is much improved, but keeps its roadster charm.


Prices: $24,915-$30,065

Everyone with even a casual interest in cars should know about the Mazda MX-5 Miata sports car. After all, it was introduced here at a 1990 model and more than 950,000 have been sold globally.

The fourth-generation MX-5 Miata has arrived as a 2016 model, with a wider, sleeker body, wider tracks and a more muscular look. There are new front and rear fascias and smoother, sportier body lines. The hood has been lowered, and the windshield pillars pushed back and made more upright for better visibility.

Mainly, the 2016 rear-drive Miata (let's drop the "MX-5" designation for now) remains a blast to drive--much like a grown-up go-kart.

My favorite car as a kid was a 1953-56 low-slung, rear-drive 49-inch-high Austin-Healey, which still looks great. Even sporty American cars towered above it. The new  Miata is (barely) lower at 48.8 inches, and modern sporty cars also tower above it. It's got a short 90.9-inch wheelbase and is a bit shorter than the last-generation Miata.

The new  Miata comes in three trim levels with a six-speed manual or $1,075 six-speed automatic transmission.

The entry model is the $24,915 Sport, followed by the $28,600 Club, which I tested, and the top-line $30,065 Grand Touring.

Standard iems for all models include air conditioning, push-button starter, manual cloth convertible top that can be operated with a flick of the wrist, power door locks, USB input, Bluetooth wireless phone pairing and audio streaming, leather shift knob and CD player.  

Sport models come with 16-inch wheels and 50-series tires, cloth seats, 6-speaker audio system with an auxiliary jack, cruise control and keyless entry when optioned with the automatic transmission.

Club models have 17-inch wheels and 45-series tires, limited-slip differential on manual-transmission versions, Bilstein shocks, front air dam, rear lip spoiler, infotainment system with a 7-inch color touchscreen display and smart keyless entry.

The Grand Touring also has 17-inch wheels with 45-series tires, along with  leather-trimmed seats, automatic climate control and a 9-speaker audio system with headrest-mounted speakers.

For safety's sake, there's blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-departure warning, adaptive front lighting, high beam control and rain-sensing wipers.

The power metal hardtop is gone, but it was popular and just might be offered again.

My first test drive in the 2016 Miata was alarming. Every bump or significant road imperfection caused the steering wheel, dashboard and other car parts to shake and shudder a lot. Even the very first Miata I drove--a 1990 model--had much better composure.

I guessed the problem was caused by wildly incorrect tire pressures. Sure enough. Mazda suggests 29 p.s.i. per tire, but they were set at a sky high 60-plus p.s.i. A dealer had installed winter tires, and somebody had forgotten to check pressures. Dropping tires to the correct pressures transformed the car.

As always, this is a genuine sports car, so the ride is firm, although supple. The early 1950s Austin-Healey had a modified four-cylinder engine from the fusty British Austin A90 passenger car. The new Miata 's 2-liter four-cylinder overhead-camshaft engine is a modified version of the one in the Mazda3 passenger car.

The Miata's high-revving engine generates 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. That doesn't sound like a lot, but Mazda went to extreme lengths to lighten the new Miata, and thus more horsepower really isn't needed for good acceleration.

The new Miata is stronger, thanks partly to much use of high-tensile steel in the body, frame and underbody crossmembers. It's approximately 150 pounds lighter than its predecessor at 2,332 pounds with the manual transmission, or 2,381 pounds with the automatic. That's impressive, especially since the new Miata is only 182 pounds heavier than the original 1990 model despite the numerous technology and safety features of the new car, versus the original.

My test car had the manual, which shifted crisply and worked with a light, but long-throw, clutch. Sixth is an overdrive gear for good fuel economy, so a downshift to fifth or fourth is needed for good 65-75 passing times. Third gear also can be used for fast highway passing, but the engine then sounds harsh.

The Miata is tuned for premium fuel. Estimated economy is 27 miles per gallon in the city and 34 on highways, or 27 and 36 with the automatic. Part of the fun of driving a "pure" sports car such as the Miata is shifting gears. But I found while testing the last-generation Miata with a six-speed automatic with a manual shift feature that it performed very well. Consider the automatic if in heavy traffic a lot.

The Miata dos 0-60 m.p.h. in approximately 6 seconds, but nobody ever bought a Miata for sheer acceleration. Rather, the car's major attraction is its handling. It really comes alive on winding roads. It has precise electronic power assist steering, hugs the road like it loves it and brakes well.

But this is no long-distance car. Its wind and tire noise and firm ride get tiring during prolonged highway travel. A Miata shines best with the top lowered on winding summer roads.

Doors open widely, but have no storage pockets. There's no glove box, and the small storage compartment between and behind the seats doesn't hold much.

The cockpit is snug, and the driver's seat should move back more for long-legged motorists. The steering wheel tilts a little, but doesn't telescope.

There's only so much room in the small car's snug cockpit, so the dual beverage holders are awkwardly located between and behind the seats, where they're difficult to reach.

 Although small, the cockpit didn't feel cramped to me, at 6 feet and 160 pounds. But getting in and out of the low seats called for athletic moves.

Surprisingly, the nicely shaped trunk  had a low opening and swallows a modest supply of weekly groceries or several overnight bags.

The Miata resurrected the popular sports car market in America that the British invented in the 1950s and then virtually destroyed with outdated models years later. With its improvements, the new version of the MX-5 Miata should keep the car going strong.

Dan Jedlicka

Dan Jedlicka's Website

Dan Jedlicka joined the Chicago Sun-Times in February 1968 as a business news reporter and was named auto editor later that year. He has reviewed more than 4,000 new vehicles for the Sun-Times--far more than any newspaper auto writer in the country. Jedlicka also reviewed vehicles for Microsoft Corp.'s MSN Autos Internet site from January, 1996, to June, 2008.

Jedlicka remained auto editor at the Sun-Times until October, 2008, and continued writing for the newspaper's AutoTimes section, which he started in 1992, until February, 2009. While continuing his auto writings at the Sun-Times, he served as assistant financial editor of that newspaper from 1970 to 1973, when he began his automotive column.

He has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including NBC's "Today," ABC's "20/20" and "The CBS Evening News." He was a host, consultant and writer for Fox-TV Channel 32's 1991 New Car Preview show and that Chicago-based station's 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1995 Chicago Auto Show Previews.

Jedlicka's auto articles have been printed in national magazines, including Esquire and Harper's. His auto columns have been reprinted in U.S. government publications and economic textbooks and he is profiled in the "World's Greatest Auto Show" history book about the Chicago Auto Show. In late 1975, Jedlicka was host and technical advisor for three one-hour television specials, "Auto Test 76," which aired nationally on PBS and were the first nationally televised auto road test shows.

In 1995, Jedlicka was the recipient of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois Inc.'s Consumer Education Award, given annually to a person who has gained distinction in the field of consumer education. He received a Lifetime Achievement Award in the Media category and inducted into the Legends of Motorsports Guild at the Carquest World of wheels custom car show in Chicago in January, 2006.

Jedlicka was a member of the North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, composed of a select number of auto journalists from throughout the country, from 1995 until 2009. From 2010 to 2012, he was a member of Consumer Digest magazine's auto experts panel that gave Best Buy new vehicle recommendations.

He is a 1987 graduate of the Bob Bondurant Race Drivers School and later of the BMW "M" and Skip Barber Advanced Driving schools. He was a member of the U.S. team that participated in the 1987 1,000-mile Mille Miglia race/rally in Italy and has been a race winner at the Chicago area's Santa Fe Speedway.

Jedlicka has owned 25 classic cars, including 1950s and 1960s Ferraris and 1950s and 1960s Porsches, a 1965 Corvette, a 1967 Maserati and a 1957 Studebaker supercharged Golden Hawk. Jedlicka resides with his wife, Suzanne, in the Frank Lloyd Wright historic district of Oak Park. They have two children, James and Michele.

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