Although the 2016 MX-5 Miata isn't expected to hit U.S. showrooms until the third quarter of 2015, Mazda flew us to Barcelona, Spain to get some seat time behind the wheel of a few Japanese-spec prototypes. Aside from right-hand-drive and a 1.5-liter engine in lieu of the U.S. model's 2.0-liter mill, both cars share identical interiors, underpinnings, and feature content. With that out of the way, here's our early impressions of Mazda's forthcoming flagship roadster. 

Tighter packager, lighter weight

The prevailing development strategy behind the fourth-generation MX-5 came down to trimming excess mass. More extensive use of aluminum combined with tidier exterior dimensions and a wheelbase shorter by just over a half-inch amount to a near-220 lb. decrease in weight over the outgoing car. Combine that with a lower center of gravity and plunging hoodline, and it wouldn't be a stretch to say the MX-5 provides a driving experience akin to an open-wheel racer. Plus, unlike the first-generation NA model, this bite-sized package doesn't yield a claustrophobia-inducing cabin - more on that later.

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On the dynamics front, Mazda engineers left no stone unturned. Body lean has been reduced drastically without compromising overall ride quality. The responsiveness and feedback of the brakes could paint a Porsche Boxster green with envy. But the main attraction is unquestionably the new 6-speed manual transmission, whose short-yet-precise throws, predictable clutch, and natural ergonomics all but justify the price of admission. If our tester's 1.5-liter 4-cylinder is any indication of what U.S. customers can expect from the new 2.0-liter engine, we're in for a treat. Because where Miatas of yore lacked usable low-end torque and fell flat on top, Mazda's new Skyactiv-G engines produce 90 percent of maximum torque at 2,000 rpm and continue to develop power in a smooth, linear fashion until 7,500 rpm. The only gripe we have with regards to dynamics is the new electromechanical steering. Although we are proponents of electric-assisted steering, Mazda has some work to do in the area of progressive weighting. As the steering angle increased effort remained virtually the same (conventional steering systems require more steering effort as wheel friction rises). On the bright side, Mazda engineers hinted at the fact that production cars would undergo a steering software update to help remedy the issue. 

Oxymoron no more: A sophisticated Miata

From standard LED headlights and taillights to a cabin laden with French stitching and high-quality materials, the 2016 MX-5 Miata is heads and shoulders above its predecessors when it comes to refinement. Everything placed in front of the driver is laid out symmetrically, including the pedal arrangement. And while the steering wheel doesn't offer a telescoping function, the driving position remains surprisingly neutral, even for taller drivers. The new Miata features just under a half-inch of additional headroom and greater adjustability for the driver's seat, including an adjustable seat bottom. 

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Opening and closing the soft-top is a now an in-car, one-hand operation thanks to a lighter, more rigid structure. Wind control during open-top driving has been addressed as well. By moving the windshield rearward and slimming-down the quarter windows, air is channeled into the cabin through the side of the vehicle rather than over the top and into your face. Lastly - and for the first time ever - the MX-5 Miata can be equipped with an in-car navigation/infotainment system featuring a 7-inch touch-or-remote-controlled display. 

Break down the weight savings, sharper handling, and superior refinement, and what you're left with is a sportscar destined to reignite the world's love of driving. If that was indeed Mazda's prime objective in developing the fourth-generation MX-5, we say, "Mission accomplished." 


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