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.