By Keith Buglewicz
The all-new 2016 Mazda MX-5 roadster carries over an important component of its predecessors: the driving fun that is integral to the MX-5's legacy. Formerly known as the Mazda Miata, the new Mazda MX-5 is a little smaller than its predecessor, weighs less and has a bit less power, yet it's still as nimble, quick and fun as ever. Best of all, it has a newfound sense of refinement thanks to a modern interior inspired by the Mazda3, and an unprecedented focus on driver placement makes the new MX-5 comfortable even if you're well over 6-feet tall. While the Ford Mustang, Chevrolet Camaro and Scion FR-S/ Subaru BRZ are around the same price, the new 2016 MX-5 roadster stands alone as an affordable, 2-seat, driver-focused sports car.
If you think driving should be a fun experience that stimulates your senses without costing an arm and a leg, or if you just want the thrills of classic top-down motoring without the headaches of owning an old car, then there's no other choice but to buy the new Mazda MX-5.
If you think your driving fun should include more than one additional person, or if you measure your life a quarter mile at a time, then the Mazda MX-5 isn't for you. Check out V8 muscle coupes like the Chevy Camaro and Ford Mustang instead.
The 2016 MX-5 is all-new this year, with virtually nothing held over with the exception of the driving philosophy behind the car. That, and the 6-speed automatic transmission.
They key to what makes the new Mazda MX-5 so wonderful to drive is balance. Since the original Mazda Miata, the MX-5 has never been a car for drag racing,...
... or for maximum cornering loads, or any of the big-tire, big-engine shenanigans generally associated with inexpensive sporty cars. Instead, the new MX-5 carries on the tradition of offering enough power to be quick but not so much that the car's a handful. The suspension is firm enough for spirited cornering, but not so harsh that it rattles your teeth. The steering is quick, and while the electric assist suffers from a slight dead spot on-center, it actually helps make the MX-5 feel less nervous on the road than its predecessor. Around town the 2016 MX-5 is quieter than before, but it's still a small, lightweight roadster, so it's still a relative difference.
We're used to cars getting bigger and heavier over time, and it's something that even the Mazda MX-5 isn't immune from. However, the new Mazda MX-5 is notably smaller and lighter than its predecessor, and is in fact dimensionally and gravitationally closer to the original from 1989 than ever before.
EXTRA RECLINE CLICK
They say life's a battle of inches, and Mazda found an additional smidge of room in the new MX-5 in terms of the seatback recline. It's just one additional click on the recline mechanism, but for tall drivers, that single click is huge.
The new Mazda MX-5 roadster has a simple, straightforward and modern interior. It's similar to the new Mazda3, with an upright infotainment screen on the dash, push-button start on some models, and a surprising amount of soft-touch materials, considering last year's hard-plastic everything. Mazda says it literally designed the car around the driver, and the MX-5 offers excellent steering-wheel, pedal and shifter placement. Despite the small size, it's surprisingly accommodating for tall drivers, with a tilt steering wheel, and a convertible top that affords good headroom. There's even a usefully sized trunk.
This is the most radical departure from the original Mazda Miata since pop-up headlights disappeared in the 2nd-generation car. The tiny headlights are LEDs, complemented by taillights that look like miniaturized versions from the Jaguar F-Type. The profile keeps the classic long-hood/short-deck proportions, with the driver placed exactly in the middle. The three models are distinguished by subtle exterior differences, mainly in the wheels. However, Club models with the handling package also sport notably better brakes from Brembo.
The 2016 Mazda MX-5 lineup is divided into three different models, each with varying levels of equipment. However, all new MX-5 models come with LED headlights, push-button ignition, air conditioning, power windows and the world's easiest-to-use folding cloth top. Also standard is a 6-speed manual transmission. The 6-speaker audio system includes Bluetooth and a USB input. Cruise control is also standard, and the little steering wheel is packed with audio and cruise-control buttons. Club models include the Mazda Connect infotainment system with its touch-screen display and multifunction knob, plus headrest speakers. Grand Touring models get leather upholstery and navigation.
While most upgrades are available only through model levels, there are a couple noteworthy stand-alone options. First is smart keyless entry which is extra on manual-transmission models, but comes along with the automatic transmission, which is also optional across the board. Finally, the racy MX-5 Club model can be upgraded even further with a Brembo/BBS package. It ups the braking power through the use of Brembo components, adds BBS dark alloy wheels (they look terrific), and adds exterior styling bits to the side sills and rear bumper.
The only engine in the new Mazda MX-5 is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 155 horsepower. It comes standard with an all-new 6-speed manual transmission, and even if you don't know how to drive stick, it's worth learning just so you can enjoy this one. The action is light, the shifts are short, and the clutch operation is simply spot-on. If you must, a 6-speed automatic is available, and it's the sole carryover component from last year's model. It also adds a notable amount of weight, and despite the manual-shift mode, we still think it's worth getting the manual. Either way, you'll fill it with premium unleaded, but with up to 36 mpg on the highway, you won't do it often.
155 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
148 lb-ft of torque @ 4,600 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 27/34 mpg (manual), 27/36 mpg (automatic)
You'll pay about $25,700 (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price [MSRP]) for a 2016 Mazda MX-5 Sport, including the $820 destination charge. If you're looking for the ultimate drive, the MX-5 Club starts at $29,400; add $3,400 for the Brembo package. The more lavish MX-5 Grand Touring starts at about $30,900. The automatic transmission adds about $1,000 to each model, and keyless entry adds $130 to manual-transmission models. That's not bad for a nicely equipped 2-seat roadster, especially one as fun to drive as the MX-5. Ostensibly, competitors include convertible versions of the Camaro and Mustang, but they're considerably more expensive. The Scion FR-S is also fun to drive and costs about the same, but it doesn't come as a drop-top. Check the KBB Fair Purchase Price on Mazda MX-5 models in your area to see what others are paying, and note that resale value for the MX-5 has historically been above average.