By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
Each time an automaker starts from a clean sheet of paper to do an all-new version of a popular model, or to ‘reinvent’ a great car, we hear all the auto enthusiasts of the world suck air into their lungs and hold their breath, praying silently that “they won’t screw it up” in the process.
When it came to the creation of the all new Mazda Miata, the auto enthusiast’s prayers were answered. Mazda not only did not screw up the legendary Miata, or MX-5 as they prefer to call it, they made it even better.
All the new Mazda vehicles are designed with what Mazda calls their Skyactiv technology, which is essentially their interpretation of the adage “less is more.”
Many manufacturers have catchphrases like “Skyactiv” to describe new and improved technologies, but in Mazda’s case it’s a total-effort philosophy to reduce weight and improve efficiency. We’ve driven at least four other Mazdas designed with the Skyactiv technology, and there is a difference.
The first thing that we noticed about the 2016 Mazda MX-5 was its looks. We think it is one of the best-looking Mazda ever. A product of another of Mazda’s Zen-like attributes the MX-5 was developed from KODO – which translates to “Soul of Motion Design”. Whatever it means, the KODO looks great in the classic sports car design of long hood, short overhang with the cockpit pushed toward the back. The profile is low and sleek with the wheels pushed toward the corners and the design line sweeps over the tires conveying a feeling of movement.
It still looks very much like we expect a Miata to look like but with new purpose and sophistication. And, it looks good, top up or top down. With the top up the cabin is quiet and solid feeling. Lowering the top takes the twist of a handle at the center of the upper windshield frame and a push of the top toward the rear where the folded top latches into place with a section of the cloth top acting as a flush cover. Raising the top requires releasing a lever between the seat backs and the top can then be easily pulled forward and re-latched to the windshield frame in just seconds. When the top is down the cabin gets only a minimal wind intrusion with the roll bars behind each seat and a deflector shield between them channeling much of the wind above the passengers. Headrest speakers make listening to the audio system easier when the top is down.
All versions of the MX-5 have LED headlights, which allowed the designers to keep the front end low. In addition the LED headlights stay cooler, produce a brighter light and weigh less than HID headlights.
One of the major accomplishments of the Skyactiv technology is the significant reduction of weight. At 2,332 pounds (2,381 with the automatic transmission) the MX-5 is 150 pounds lighter than the third generation and 182 pounds less than the original 1990 model. The engineers used the “Gram Strategy” and stronger and lighter high-tensile steel to help shave off every excess gram. In the end, the weight reduction translates to better performance, agility and safety.
The MX-5 engine and transmission are a product of the Skyactive technology, too. Combined these two Skyactiv components were able to improve fuel economy by 25 percent which translated to an EPA rating of 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. We actually averaged 29.8 mpg during the week we drove the Miata.
The Skyactive 2.0-liter, DOHC four-cylinder engine is rated 155 horsepower. It’s mounted farther back in the engine compartment on this new model to help lower the center of gravity and improve the roadster’s balance. The six-speed manual with short-throw linkage in our test car is smooth and precise as any manual transmission we’ve driven. Buff magazines indicate a 0 to 60 mph time of 6.1 seconds. It has an estimated top speed of 130 mph.
Driving the Mazda Miata on the winding mountain roads near our home in Southern Washington State we were thrilled by the outstanding handling. The car feels so precise and well balanced it would have been easy push it much harder but we just enjoyed a spirited drive through the mountains. This is one of the best handling cars we’ve driven in the last year. And the Brembo brakes do exactly what we expect “Brembos” to do, they stop quickly time and time again.
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is available in three trim levels: Sport, Club and Grand Touring. The MX-5 with six-speed manual transmission starts at $25,735, including the destination charge. The optional six-speed automatic transmission and advanced keyless entry add $1,075. The Club, which we tested, has a base price of $29,420 and a Brembo brake and BBS wheel option is available for $3,400. The Grand Touring is $30,885 and adds features like the Mazda Connect infotainment system, Bose audio, leather trimmed seats, rain-sensing wipers, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive front lighting and high beam control along with lane departure warning.
Whether someone buys the 2016 as an everyday driver, for weekends drive or for club racing, it’s an amazing car and easily the best value sports car you can buy.