Somewhere in California, the owner of a 2014+ Honda Civic Si has almost certainly been bragging to his car buddies about how he recently blew by the 2016 Mazda MX-5 in the winding canyon roads that zig-zag through the Angeles National Forest just outside of Los Angeles.
Heck, he might even have some edited dash-cam footage to back up his claims. But my day with the all-new ND Miata taught me two things about the fourth-gen roadster: this car is still a recognizable icon among enthusiasts, and almost nothing can touch it in tight switchbacks.
See, the souped-up Civic caught up to me in a construction zone and spent the next couple of miles trying to get around me. The problem (for him) was that each time we entered successive twists and turns, the Miata was able to put some distance on the Civic, although the gap would quickly close with a long enough of a straightaway.
For years, there have been cries for Mazda to bring more power to the Miata, but unlike cars such as the Scion FR-S, the Miata doesn’t need more power. In fact, my new friend in the Civic was only able to get by after a long straight had him riding my bumper. Not wanting to be part of any such shenanigans, I decided it best to pull off and let him pass.
You have serious problems if you’re not smiling after driving the Miata on twisty roads… even at just three-tenths.
In that instant, I realized why the Miata is so loved. It is far from the fastest sports car out there, but you have serious problems if you’re not smiling after driving the Miata on twisty roads… even at just three-tenths.
My recent seat time in the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata came as the first examples – the limited-production Launch Edition – started rolling into dealerships, and these cars were getting lots of looks wherever we went. It’s easy to see why.
After years of being labeled a “chick car” due to its small size, soft lines, and friendly face, the ND Miata gets a healthy dose of aggression. We often hear about designs being evolutionary versus revolutionary, and the Miata is the latter bringing a new attitude to the MX-5 Miata name.
Following the popularity of the bug-eyed NA, Mazda designed the two subsequent roadsters with styling that played it safe and didn’t push the limits too much, but the entire design – whether it’s exterior, interior or even chassis – has been redesigned to make the new Miata better than its predecessors in every way imaginable. Even though the MX-5 can no longer be considered cute, it is definitely polarizing. Mazda’s current Kodo design language doesn’t exactly look its best on this small package (especially when compared to the CX-3), but the comparisons I kept running through my head in regards to the ND made it clear that Mazda succeeded in making this car look incredible.
The front end design looks like something that Maserati might use while the rear end has a hint of a Jaguar (Mazda positioned the taillights as inboard as the law will allow, which helps make the car’s hips look even wider). The best look to me, though, was from behind the wheel where the tall fenders and low seating position made the view out the windshield somewhat reminiscent to driving a C3 Corvette.(
An interesting aspect of the ND is that just like the NA, its design was influenced by its headlights. Just like the NA’s, so too was the ND. Instead of the NA’s bug-eyed pop-up headlights, though, all 2016 MX-5s feature LED headlamps which come in a tighter internal packaging allowing the designers to shorten the nose by about 1.8 inches (45 mm) giving this car an incredibly short front overhang. In total, the ND is about three inches shorter than its predecessor.
Being a roadster, the important part of the new Miata is the top, of course. Like the rest of the car, the cloth top has been redesigned to improve functionality and comfort. Dropping the top is easier than ever before as it takes the pull of a main release, a quick toss back and a light push to get the locking mechanism to engage.
Raising the top is almost as easy and is accomplished by pulling the release between the seats causing the spring loaded top to raise about six inches and then the driver can raise the top and latch it to the windshield frame.
The whole process of raising the top can be performed in about five seconds
The inner workings of the top were redone for comfort too as a support bar commonly mounted above the driver’s head was removed and replaced by an aluminum plate at the leading edge of the soft top. The addition of this plate did give the Miata a distinct increase in headroom, although it also proved to be far from perfect as I still found myself hitting my head on a few occasions.
Looking at the design of the roof, this plate could potentially help reduce theft since it is right above where a burglar would cut to gain access to the interior door lock and/or latch, but just to be clear Mazda has made no such claims,
With the top up, the 2016 has a similar roof profile as the preceding designs, but the only color it comes in is black – unlike the NC, which offered a tan Spicy Mocha top on the Grand Touring. And before you ask, Mazda currently has no plans to offer the 2016 Miata power retractable hardtop, although judging by the popularity of the NC Miata PRHT, it seems like a good possibility.
Magnifying the Miata’s new design language, the exterior colors and lines are carried over into the cabin with sculpted door panels that make it look like the big fenders cut right through the instrument panel. And that’s just a starting point. The entire cabin has been completely reworked to bring more style and comfort to the Miata’s two occupants. The seats have been moved lower in the car and closer together (we’re talking millimeters here and there), and while the extra space will be appreciated by taller drivers, the close proximity of the driver and passenger is irritatingly noticeable. Before putting more than 30 miles on the Miata, my drive partner and I were already jockeying for elbow space on the center console. Other than that, I found no problem with leg, knee, shoulder or head room (except for the previously mentioned aluminum plate), and I’m 6’1” tall.
Occupant space is plentiful, but if you’re looking to store gear, you best pack wisely. The 4.6 cubic feet (130 liters) is down from the 5.3 cubic feet (150 liters) found on the NC, and it doesn’t get much better from there. To increase passenger space, there is no more instrument panel glove box, but there is still the cubby hole between the seats.
Aside from the overall design, the best change Mazda made was the removal of all cup holders. With interior space limited, the previous cup holder area was turned into a small storage area, and if you really need a place to hold cups, there are three locations for removable holders.
The car’s aesthetics even carry over into the engine compartment.
Mazda’s 2.0-liter Skyactiv inline-four has become a go-to engine in the Mazda lineup, but for Miata duty, this engine gets a unique aluminum valve cover. Mazda says this valve cover actually adds weight and cost and was done for pure aesthetics rather than the plastic trim that many modern engine compartments – including that of the NC – are getting. This simple touch makes the ND’s engine bay look more like the original Miata, and I heartily commend Mazda for taking such a step.
As for the engine itself, the advanced Skyactiv-G 2.0L used in the U.S.-spec ND has the same displacement as the outgoing Miata, but the new engine is rated at 155 hp and 148 lb-ft (200 Nm). Horsepower
is down (from 167 hp when equipped with the manual) and torque is up (from 140 lb-ft/190 Nm), but Mazda points out that at engine speeds under 5,700 rpm, the ND actually produces more power and torque.
Peak horsepower for the NC Miata came in extremely late at a screaming 7,000 rpm, while the ND’s power band maxes out a more manageable 6,000 rpm. Hands down, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is the most fun you can have with less than 200 horsepower… on four wheels.
Getting – and keeping – the engine in its peak power band is both fun and easy thanks to the amazingly awesome six-speed manual transmission. Ditching the previous gen's five-speed manual, this six-speed gearbox helps give the ND its direct feeling.
The new Miata also offers an available automatic transmission, but if you’re looking to get the most out of this car, there’s no better way than the close-ratio manual.