When I had to buy a car after a long period of weekly vehicle reviews, the primary object of my desire and affection was a Y2K or later Mazda MX-5 Miata with a manual transmission. I never found one worth purchasing because they’d all been ridden hard and put away wet. So I bought a different car but continued to lust for an MX-5 Mazda.
For 2016, Mazda revamped its MX-5 platform and made it a “global” car, the same throughout this planet, whether prepared for duty on the road or prepared for the track. The change also brought about an affiliation between Mazda and Fiat, that has seen the MX-5 platform used as a donor chassis in a revival of Fiat’s 124 Spider.
As seems to be the custom, an original sure beats an imitator, especially regarding the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring, which visited this household in mid-September. It was destined to travel from our Long Beach headquarters to the Verizon IndyCar Series finale on the Sonoma Raceway road course in northern California. This car’s qualities presented a good reason to take back roads, to stay away from freeways and to relish the openness of the convertible.
As a redrawn car for 2016, Mazda’s MX-5 became sexier, more voluptuous than before, even as it lost weight – thanks to the ample use of aluminum throughout – and transformed into an even better road-going partner. It’s nearly three inches shorter than last year’s model, a smidge wider and a tiny bit shorter. Curb weight is down by almost 200 pounds to 2332 for this well-equipped model and the wheelbase is about an inch shorter.
Did Mazda give up anything with its smaller dimensions and weight-loss regimen? Absolutely not, because packaging of this car is so well thought-out. It’s simply a winner, from one end of its Soul Red body to the other. It’s actually closer in dimensions to the original 1990 car, which was intended to recreate, without the usual and customary puddle of oil beneath the chassis, Lotus’ beloved Elan convertible.
Let’s talk external beauty first: the new MX-5 Miata has come-hither Xenon headlights that look like mere slits, mounted on muscular fenders that allow drivers to anticipate the front end. The LED running lights are gorgeous as well. MX-5’s massive snout opening aids engine cooling and fender wells are perfectly proportioned to accept Bridgestone’s 205/45R 17-inch tires mounted on gorgeous eight-spoke alloy rims. The articulated rear end of this convertible doesn’t feel like an after-thought but integrates front to rear past the taut door openings.
Under the hood is Mazda’s great Skyactiv 4-cylinder direct-injection engine, culled from the Mazda3 and adjusted for this car. It puts out 155 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 148 lb-ft of torque at 4600; redline is a happy 6,800 rpm that allows the dual pipes to sing at will. A lovely six-speed manual transmission with excellent gearing allows the MX-5 to travel at obscene speeds without killing eardrums or making worrisome noises. At 80mph, the engine is turning a leisurely 3,100 rpm. It’s quick, it’s fast, it’s fun.
The 2016 Mazda MX-5’s suspension can be felt on this petite roadster but it’s not jarring – even over nastier roads, as double wishbones and multi-links are calibrated to behave kindly over the road. Excellent all-disc brakes stop the car perfectly with no fade at all and are always on point, while Mazda uses a precise electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering system with only 2.7 turns lock-to-lock and a 30-foot turning circle. Whee!!! Weight distribution on this rear-wheel-drive MX-5 is a nifty 53/47, making handling quite predictable and not too biased toward the front.
Even though the new, fourth generation MX-5 is smaller and lighter than its predecessor, Mazda hasn’t skimped at all in the black with red stitching cabin, which has sufficient space for two real-size people. There’s a couple of cubbies inside for storage and it’s a grand, business-like place in which to work pedals and steering wheel. It’s also got a height-adjustable cushion for the leather driver’s seat, three-way seat heaters and a steering wheel that controls audio, trip computer phone and cruise control.
When this trip began, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring had 6349 miles on it and when it was returned, it had fully 7376 miles, so we got to be good friends over this week. There’s so much that’s impressive about this Miata – so let’s start with the top that requires releasing the header and throwing the top back so that it locks in place on the rear deck. This takes about 10 seconds and the header is hard enough to serve as a tonneau, keeping the fabric under wraps. Putting the top back up might take an extra second or two.
The trunk on this car, while small at 4.59 cubic feet, was still able to swallow a 22-inch suitcase, an 18-inch fully packed backpack and a third bag loaded with a spare camera body, monopod and lens, together with all the essentials for a weekend of work. There was still more space, which was used for the return trip. I only removed the proximity key from my pocket to get to the trunk instead of opening the entire vehicle and using the interior remote that lies lower left of the dashboard.
The cabin has two removable cup holders that refused to hold water bottles in place during spirited driving; placing a bottle between seat and door works just fine. Mazda fits semi-full instrumentation, preferring to use a blue light for cold water temps instead of a gauge, although one is provided for oil temperatures. The stand-up 7-inch multimedia screen at dash central feels like an afterthought on other Mazda cars but fits this MX-5 perfectly. Its screen is crisp and clear and the MMI on the central tunnel allows the driver to keep sweaty paws off the screen.
The navigation system on this MX-5 Grand Touring is excellent with a good voice that is a bit louder than the SiriusXM satellite radio when needed. It never got me lost en route to my lodging or visiting friends in the area. It was easy to find back roads to take instead of freeways and routing was excellent. The nav does annotate speed limits – white when the driver is under the limit and a bold red (almost matches the exterior) when over. Um, over regularly. There are a variety of ways to change the look and usage of the navigation, all clear, concise and easy to work with.
At the base of this Mazda’s central stack lie two USB plugs and a single auxiliary; I never did search for or find a 12-volt as I never needed one. There is a tiny central storage, good for a phone’s cord but little more than that.
I used the window within the tach that gave current gear readings and suggestions to shift (for better fuel economy) with a grain of sale. Even though the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring fuel economy ratings are 27/34/30 from the well-sized 11.89-gallon tank, my mileage was well above that, ranging from 32-38mpg, using the recommendation of premium fuel.
This model has a list price, including two options of the Soul red paint and advanced keyless entry of $31,330 all told. There’s so much included in that price – like the navigation system and SiriusXM radio, leather interior, Bose audio with nine speakers (in such a tiny auditorium), rain-sensing wipers, one-touch power windows (down only), a truly excellent cruise control system that allows 1mph changes at a touch, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure and rear cross traffic alerts and many more.
Exploring the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring comes down to one element, after nearly 1,000 miles and an attempt to forget to return it to the provider’s barn: Driving Matters. That’s Mazda’s newest keystroke to explain why their cars are so delightfully satisfying.
By Anne Proffit