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The Ultimate Car Review: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata on Everyman Driver

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata on Everyman Driver

After 26 years and more than 950,000 Mazda MX-5 Miatas sold globally, the 2016 MX-5 has circled back to what made the world fall in love with it in the first place. When the first-generation MX-5 Miata made its world debut at the 1989 Chicago Auto Show, it ushered in a new era of the roadster: fun and affordable, yet with the added benefit of Japanese reliability.

And, predictably, its popularity skyrocketed. MX-5s have become daily drivers, weekend toys and championship-winning race cars, alike.

Lightweight, nimble and fun to drive, the fourth-generation MX-5 draws inspiration from MX-5s that came before it, pairing the driver as one with the car – in Japanese, it’s loosely translated as “Jinba Ittai.” But it also carves a path that is thoroughly modern and uncharted for Mazda’s flagship roadster.

While the purity philosophy behind MX-5 has remained through the years, the 2016 MX-5 has had to adapt, gaining SKYACTIV Technology to make it faster and more efficient and KODO—Soul of Motion design for its striking looks. It is no wonder, then, that MX-5 continues to exist as a class of one, as competitors have come and gone through the years, and it sets the pace for the entire Mazda brand as spirited dynamics and innovation abound throughout the lineup. There has never been a more convincing lineup of cars and SUVs at Mazda than is available today, and every one of them displays a little piece of MX-5 in their value, dynamics and passion.

SKYACTIV Technology: When Less is More

SKYACTIV Technology is not just a catchphrase; it is a total-effort philosophy to reduce weight and improve efficiency. A byproduct of that is greater handling capabilities and chassis dynamics, providing the driver with a more connected, enjoyable experience.

All of Mazda’s sixth-generation vehicles have employed the “Gram Strategy,” which drives Mazda engineers to seek the tiniest improvements in every possible area of the car – a shave here, a redesign there, a complete rethink somewhere else. As part of that thought process, engineers implemented more high-tensile steel in the vehicle’s structure to improve safety, all while reducing weight. At 2,332 lbs. (2,381 lbs. with six-speed automatic transmission), the 2016 MX-5 is approximately 150 lbs. lighter than the third-generation MX-5, and only 182 lbs. heavier than the original 1990 model, which is incredible when you consider the technology and safety features of the new car versus the original.

But weight reduction is only half of the story. That, along with Mazda’s torque-rich SKYACTIV-G 2.0-liter engine and standard SKACTIV-MT six-speed manual transmission, allows MX-5 to achieve a staggering 25-percent greater fuel-efficiency than six-speed manual-equipped previous-generation models. Put it another way: At an EPA-estimated 27 mpg city, MX-5’s estimated city mpg is nearly the same as the previous generation’s highway figure. Six-speed automatic models are EPA-rated at 27 mpg city/36 mpg highway[1].

The SKYACTIV-G engine powering MX-5 produces 155 horsepower at 6,000 RPM and 148 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 RPM, and it sits lower and farther back in the engine bay for a lower center of gravity and quicker response.

An Open-Top Sports Car for All Drivers

MX-5 was designed around its driver, with a thought given to even the slightest details as part of Mazda’s human-centric driving position. Pedals have been optimized to fall in-line with the natural movement of the driver’s feet for greater comfort. The hood has been lowered, the windshield A-pillars pushed back and made more upright for greater visibility and the exterior paint color has been brought into the door panels – all to provide a greater sensation of the world outside of the car. Passengers have also been positioned inset to feel in-line with the center of the vehicle.

All of this has been done for Jinba Ittai, elevating the driving experience in connecting the driver with the vehicle. With driver-centric ergonomics and a redesigned cockpit layout, an even greater number of drivers will be able to experience MX-5.

KODO—Soul of Motion Design

Since the debut of the Mazda Shinari concept in 2010, Mazda has been developing its KODO—Soul of Motion design language, which is defined by a long hood, short overhangs, a cropped cabin pushed far back on the body and large wheels moved as far as feasible towards all four corners. The challenge to the design team with MX-5 was to translate the KODO theme to the car’s smaller scale, while keeping true to the car’s pure identity.

Designers focused on the following:

Beautiful proportions to make occupants look good
A deeper expression of the KODO design theme that conveys agility
Body surfaces that richly express the Japanese sense of contrast between stillness and motion
An interior design that breaks down the boundaries between the inside and outside of the car
A snug-feeling cockpit with symmetry and a singular axis that fosters concentration on driving
Designers worked painstakingly to create a shape that was reminiscent of previous MX-5s, but to move forward with a lower, sleeker profile as well that makes MX-5 look as though it is gripping the road. Helping to tell that story is a newly introduced Ceramic Metallic paint, a multi-dimensional paint color that highlights MX-5’s purposeful details.

Key aspects designers strived to achieve for MX-5 ensured:

The MX-5 is equally beautiful whether the top is up or down
The interior maximizes the pleasure of open-top driving
The soft top is easy to operate while seated
Wind control makes driving with the top down a pleasure
Designers worked with engineers to ensure that a “wind-in-the-hair” feeling remained
Headrest speakers further enhance top-down driving enjoyment
Keeping the front of the car low was a challenge, given regional bumper-height regulations in different global markets, so the use of LED headlights on all models became a requirement because of the smaller space they require to produce a given amount of light. As on previous models, the face of the MX-5 Miata defines the playfulness of the car. The headlights, which have LED low and high beams with a bulb turn signal, run cooler than the HID xenon headlights they replace and are 4.1-percent brighter. The headlight units are also 40mm shallower, 20mm shorter in vertical height, have a 40-percent thickness in the outer lens and are approximately 15-percent lighter weight than the headlights they replace.

The results: A clean shape with taut lines that conveys a sense of leanness, stability and beautiful surfaces.

Worth the Weight

As has been the case with all of Mazda’s vehicles since the advent of SKYACTIV Technology, the MX-5’s weight has been reduced from its predecessor to improve efficiency, performance, handling, agility and steering precision. Taking more than 150 lbs. out of what was already one of the lightest vehicles for sale in North America was no easy task, so engineers had to think about each component of the MX-5 to achieve their objectives while maintaining a 50:50 weight distribution.

The air conditioner is approximately 20 percent lighter than the unit in the previous generation. The soft top – lauded since the launch of the first MX-5 Miata in 1990 as the singularly best-designed manually operated soft-top – is 65 grams lighter than before through the introduction of aluminum top-bows and supports, and is even easier to operate, yet it is insulated to provide a quieter interior. In making the vehicle lighter, the trunk was reshaped to have a wider opening and a deeper recess to allow for two weekend travel bags, which was not possible in previous models.

With the 2016 MX-5, the amount of high-tensile steel (780 MPa or higher) used throughout the structure of the MX-5 has increased from 58 percent of the car to 71 percent. All exterior panels but the windshield frame and doors are made of aluminum, reducing the weight of the body-in-white by approximately 45 lbs. Seats are more than 35-percent thinner than the outgoing model’s, owing to a net and urethane seat material replacing traditional springs. This, in turn, allowed engineers to remove approximately 17 lbs. from each seat and position them lower in the MX-5 for an improved center of gravity, visibility and functionality within the interior for taller drivers. It’s all about the details.

Other examples of weight reduction include:

Front brake rotor -14 lbs.
Suspension -26 lbs.
Transmission -16 lbs.
Driveshaft -3 lbs.
Instruments and air conditioning -8 lbs.
Driving Dynamics, Safety and the balance of Jinba Ittai

In creating the fourth-generation MX-5, Mazda simplified every single part of the car, all to create a car with the poise and stability expected of an MX-5. Mazda’s new sports car features its only application of SKYACTIV-CHASSIS and SKYACTIV-BODY for a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive vehicle.

Like previous MX-5 models, the fourth-generation roadster uses a double-wishbone front suspension and rear multilink setup that is lightweight and highly rigid, while never losing sight of the need to deliver a smooth and civilized street ride.

Coupled with the high use of high-tensile steel in the body, frame and underbody crossmembers, is a new double-pinion electronic power assist steering (DP-EPAS) rack with a smaller steering gear ratio designed to instill a sense road feel while reducing steering “kickback.” In discussing the level of detail designed into the new MX-5, even the friction in the steering shaft was reduced by minimizing the angle of the universal-joints in the shaft, because engineers identified a miniscule “catch”-feel through the steering wheel as the joint rotates.

The 2016 MX-5’s body is designed with a continuous frame from the front bumper through the rear bulkhead that suppresses deformation and diffuses impact forces in the event of an accident, not unlike other Mazda vehicles. Additional reinforcements specially designed for an open-top vehicle were added behind the seats. With the enhancements, Mazda’s engineers expect MX-5 to meet or exceed all international NCAP safety standards.

The structure also is designed to maximize surefootedness in all driving conditions. Coupled with all SKYACTIV Technologies, the 2016 MX-5 is designed to drive and handle in the fashion that has drawn rave reviews the world over through three previous generations, only better.

Sport, Club and Grand Touring: Choose Your Direction

MSRP[2] for 2016 MX-5 is as follows:

Sport: $24,915
Smart keyless entry (standard with automatic transmission): $130
Automatic transmission: $1,075
Club: $28,600
Brembo/BBS package: $3,400
Smart keyless entry (standard with automatic transmission): $130
Automatic transmission: $1,075
Grand Touring: $30,065
Smart keyless entry (standard with automatic transmission): $130
Automatic transmission: $1,075
Standard on all MX-5 models are air conditioning, push-button starter, a manual cloth convertible top, power door locks, USB input, Bluetooth® wireless phone pairing and audio streaming, leather shift knob and CD player. Entry MX-5 Sport and upper trims MX-5 Club and MX-5 Grand Touring all come with the option of a SKYACTIV-MT six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission.

MX-5 Sport models come equipped with 16-inch wheels wrapped in 195/50R16 tires, cloth seats, a six-speaker audio system with an auxiliary jack and cruise control and keyless entry as standard when optioned with the automatic transmission.

Moving from the entry MX-5 Sport yields two unique trim levels: the performance-focused MX-5 Club and luxurious MX-5 Grand Touring.

Club models come with 17-inch wheels with 205/45R17 tires, a limited-slip differential on SKYACTIV-MT models, Bilstein shocks, front air dam and rear lip spoiler, a shock tower brace on SKYACTIV-MT models, piano black side mirror covers and seat back bars, MAZDA CONNECTTM infotainment system with seven-inch color touchscreen display and voice commands, multi-function commander control, HD radio, two USB inputs, smart keyless entry, a BOSE® nine-speaker audio system with headrest-mounted speakers and SiriusXM® satellite radio.

Optionally available, the Brembo/BBS package adds lightweight, forged 17-inch BBS wheels, Brembo front brakes with red-painted calipers at all four wheels, a rear bumper skirt and side sill extensions.

MX-5 Grand Touring comes with bright 17-inch wheels shod with 205/45R17 tires, leather-trimmed seats, automatic climate control, a nine-speaker BOSE® audio system with headrest-mounted speakers, Homelink garage door opener, HD radio and SiriusXM® satellite radio. It also comes with Mazda’s i-ACTIVSENSE suite of safety technologies, including blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive front lighting, lane departure warning, high beam control and rain-sensing wipers.

Long Live the Roadster: 26 Years and Beyond

The roadster is a simple concept: A pure, lightweight convertible sports car that brings joy on even the shortest jaunts down the road. The roadster is a car that makes driving an occasion – from a moment of serenity alongside the ocean to just a grocery run – rather than just a chore. It is 2,332 lbs. of bliss constructed from steel, aluminum, plastic, leather and rubber. And, in driving MX-5 through winding roads, with the wind rushing by as you shift at redline, you could swear that those materials, when combined into making MX-5 Miata, have a soul.

The sense of romance embodied in the MX-5 is exactly why it continues to be the world’s best-selling roadster. Its agility and poise are why more than 5,000 MX-5s are currently raced throughout the world – more than any other car.

MX-5 has thrived through more than 26 years, adapting as society has changed, yet never betraying its roots. Keeping true to those roots – innovating in order to preserve – is why it will continue holding its place as a one of the world’s most beloved sports cars, a torchbearer for the Mazda brand and a benchmark for the rest of the automotive industry. Long live the roadster.
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