2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata 2.0L First Drive [w/video]
Championing The Roadster Revolution
Power155 HP / 148 LB-FT
0-60 Time6.0 Seconds (est)
Curb Weight2,332 LBS
MPG27 City / 34 HWY
As Tested Price$30,885
Best Deal Price$23,828
That's a fact I've known for a while. I drove the Japanese-spec ND Miata in Spain earlier this year, with the 130-horsepower, 1.5-liter engine that we aren't getting in the United States. The new Miata is a modern day reincarnation of the original NA that stole our hearts in 1989. It's smaller and lighter than the outgoing NC, yet boasts more interior room. It's comfortable. It looks great. And it drives like a Miata should. In other words, it's perfect.
So what about this US-spec car, then? It's got more power – 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque from Mazda's 2.0-liter Skyactiv four-cylinder engine. But it's also heavier. Our car weighs 2,332 pounds, compared to the roughly 2,200 pounds of the 1.5-liter car.
Yes, the ND Miata loses 12 hp compared to the outgoing NC, but it's up 8 lb-ft of torque. Plus, according to Mazda, because of the improved powerband, anytime you're under 5,700 rpm the new Skyactiv engine is stronger than the old MZR mill. It's more efficient, too. With the manual transmission, the Miata is estimated to achieve 27 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg highway. That a jump of six mpg in both categories compared to the old six-speed.
Consider this: The Japanese-spec car uses a 130-hp engine, which I found to be perfectly adequate. The increase in power for the US-spec car mostly just balances out the extra weight, but it also improves performance on the highway. Hit the throttle in sixth gear with the 1.5 and nothing happens. Do the same with the 2.0, and there's movement. Low-end power is far more important in the US than it is in other markets, and that's why our car has the larger engine. "North America is why the two-liter car exists," engineer Dave Coleman told me. Plus, 155 hp power means you eke out the Miata's dynamics at legal speeds. 45 miles per hour in an MX-5 is a far more exhilarating experience than that same speed in any supercar. So yeah, it's not powerful. But to paraphrase Jay-Z, the MX-5 is a super car, not a supercar.
Having driven both versions of the Miata, I can say that the added weight makes little to no difference in overall performance. The final curb weight number isn't the main focal point. Instead, concentrate on how the MX-5 throws its weight around. It's perfectly balanced – 50/50, front to rear. Moreover, the car was designed around the driver. No, really. That's not just marketing speak. Engineers started with the driving position and located the other components accordingly. The weight and balance translates to excellent involvement from behind the wheel. Compared to the outgoing NC Miata, the driver sits 20 millimeters lower to the ground, and 15 millimeters closer to the center of the car. The Miata's center of pitch is more rearward, in line with the driver's head. When the car squats under hard braking, your eye point remains stable. And the brakes don't bite hard during initial application.
The driver-centric logic applies to every facet of the Miata's operation. When the car exhibits some of its classic roll in turns, your body stays put. You never have to wonder how much weight is being transferred to any corner, because you feel it. Truthfully, you get feedback more through the suspension than the steering. Distinct road feel isn't as present through the wheel of the ND Miata, neither is on-center weight. But this was done deliberately. With the previous Miata, stronger buildup around center meant less feel at higher Gs. Instead, the electric power-assisted setup is more progressive in how it builds weight. Steering response is less like you're simply controlling the movements of the front wheels, rather, the entire car rotates around you.
That connection extends to the six-speed manual transmission. Yes, an automatic is available, but that's not what you want. A stick-shift heightens the engagement of the Miata experience, and Mazda's do-it-yourself tranny is great. Clutch action is light and linear. Throttle response is as well, so you're never giving it too much juice off the line in first gear, though it's easy to blip and rev match for downshifts. The shifter itself is small, and is placed close to the driver. Changing gears is a quick action, with appropriately short throws between each cog.
In the Miata I feel incredibly confident behind the wheel. I know exactly how the roadster will respond to every command, and I use that to my advantage. I provoke the rear end to step out around a slow corner, the car snaps back in line with the same rate of my corrective inputs. My eyes look ahead into a corner, my arms move the wheel accordingly, the car responds with quick, yet predictable turn-in and roll. I cannot stress it enough: The relationship between car and driver is stronger in the ND Miata than perhaps any vehicle I've tested in recent years.
I'm not just talking about the driving experience, either. The same goes for specific elements of the Miata's cabin. For example, the pedal box is deep enough that even taller drivers will have no problem fitting inside. The seats are comfortable and supportive, but aren't so strongly bolstered that the driver will struggle to turn around while operating the folding top. Mazda measures effort on that sort of thing – seriously. And before you ask, no, the company hasn't said anything about the availability of a power hardtop in the future.
All of the radio, HVAC, and infotainment controls are logically organized and easily accessible from the driver's seat. The small touchscreen interface for the Mazda Connect system is nicely designed and easy to navigate, and the redundant buttons and main control knob on the center console feel premium and operate logically.
Three trim levels are available: Sport, Club, and Grand Touring – the latter of which is seen here. Sport models in the US come standard with 16-inch alloy wheels, while Club and GT trims upgrade those to 17-inch alloys on 205/45R17 tires. True enthusiasts will want to opt for the Club – it comes with upgraded Bilstein shocks and BBS wheels, as well as unique exterior styling elements. (We're told the Bilstein/BBS package is also good for about 10 pounds of weight savings.) In lieu of that stuff, Grand Touring cars come with improved safety tech, including lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, rain sensing wipers, smart keyless entry, and more. All cars get LED headlamps, which fit nicely into the slim housings that help make this car look so damn sharp.
I won't dissect the styling piece by piece, but the more time I spend with the new Miata, the more I like it. The fact that it doesn't look like an evolution of the NC really drives home the point that Mazda hit the reset button with the new Miata, going back to basics. It's about revolution, not evolution.
And a revolution it is. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I'll say that the ND Miata is one of the best enthusiast cars I've ever driven. It keeps the great Miata traditions alive in a more modern package. It looks great, is comfortable inside, rides well in everday driving, and absolutely charms when driven hard. It is the epitome of what a small, lightweight roadster should be. And with the 2.0-liter engine, it's well tuned for America while still keeping all of the 1.5-liter car's verve. It's everything a new Miata should be. And it's fantastic.
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