2016 Mazda Miata Review

If it had an accessible power point, it’d be the perfect car.

That’s my only beef. No place to plug in the radar detector. Which is as necessary in this car as a dozen juice box holders are in a minivan.

Well, no good — that is, accessible — place.

It took thumbing through the owner’s manual to find the damned thing — after a fruitless 20 minute snipe hunt trying to figure out where it might be on my own.

It’s not on the console. Not in the console. So where is it? From the owner’s manual:

“The accessory socket is located deep in the back of the footwell on the passenger side.”

It is located very deep in the back of the footwell on the passenger side. Such that it’s not physically possible to plug something in (or out) from the driver’s seat, even with the car stationary.

That — plus a pair of preposterous clip-on cupholders — is pretty much all there is not to like about the latest version of the perfect British roadster, which just happens to be built by the Japanese.

WHAT IT IS

The Miata is the only affordable rear-wheel-drive, two-seater convertible on the market.

It combines the elemental fun of a classic British sports car like an MG or Triumph without letting in the elements (rain) or leaving you in them (walking to the nearest gas station in a downpour) because the car stopped working.

Nothing else quite like it exists.

Nothing new, anyhow.

There’s the Subaru/Scion twins (BRZ and FR-S) but they are hardtops and two-plus-twos. There are Mustangs and Camaros, but they are much larger cars (and much more expensive cars, when ordered in convertible form). Same goes for the Nissan Z-car. There are also Porsche Boxsters and BMW Z4s and Corvettes… which are exotic and exotically priced.

It’s nice being the only game in town. Especially when you’re so damned good at it.

Base price for the Miata Sport with manual transmission (what else would you want in such a car?) is $24,915. If you must, an automatic is available for $1,480 on top of that.

There are also track day-minded Club and luxury-minded Gran Touring trims — the Club available with either the manual or (gawd) the automatic while the GT is automatic-only.

The priciest Miata is the Gran Touring, which stickers for $31,270.

WHAT’S NEW

The Miata gets a rarely done major makeover — the first one since 2006.

One doesn’t fix what’s not broken.

Not if one is smart.

The basic package — and concept — are the same but the new car is more aggressive-looking than any prior Miata.

Angry samurai-looking.

The wisdom of that may be debatable — but few will argue with the now-standard six-speed manual (formerly, most Miatas came with a five-speed; the six-speed was restricted to the higher-priced trims) or the much reduced (by about 200 pounds) curb weight or the first time-ever availability of a factory LCD touchscreen (which remains optional, for those who prefer to keep the experience as elemental — and affordable — as possible).

Gas mileage is significantly better now, too.

WHAT’S GOOD

Same old Miata from behind the wheel — only lighter and quicker.

Updated 2.0 engine is torquier than before.

The latest electronic stuff and “apps” … if you want them. But you don’t have to buy them.

A practical convertible sports car. It’s cheap, it doesn’t leak, doesn’t break down and its easy on gas.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Z4-ish styling update is possibly risky bidness.

Updated 2.0 engine is less free-revving than before.

Can’t find the power point — or get to it, once you do.

Hilarious clip-on cupholders.

UNDER THE HOOD

Some subtle but significant changes to the Miata’s driveline come online this year.

The 2.0 liter four appears the same but the powerband isn’t. Instead of 167 hp at 7,000 RPM (last year) the 2016 makes 155 hp this year… at 6,000 RPM. And the engine’s redline has been dialed back to about 6,600 RPM (on the tach at least) from 7,200 last year.

There’s also a bit more torque — 148 ft.-lbs. vs. 140 last year.

And it’s available at 4,600 RPM now vs. 5,000 RPM previously.

There is also less weight.

2,332 pounds now vs. 2,480 pounds last year.

Plus the newy standard six-speed manual.

The inarguable objective Good Points are that the ’16 is quicker — the zero to 60 run is down to just over six seconds vs. 6.7 previously — while fuel efficiency is up to 27 city, 34 highway with the manual (27/36 with the optional six-speed automatic) from 22 city, 28 highway last year.

Contrast those numbers with those of the next-closest-thing to the Miata, Subaru’s BRZ (and its Scion-skinned clone, the FR-S).

The Sciobaru — which is a coupe and so ought to be lighter than the convertible Miata — isn’t.

Curb weight — a middle period Elvis-esque 2,764 lbs.

That’s a leaden 436 pounds heavier than the convertible Mazda.

Which explains why the BRZ isn’t quicker, despite having much more power (200 hp from its 2.0 liter boxer four).

Or, easier on gas.

Which it’s not.

The BRZ rates a mediocre 22 city, 30 highway with the manual transmission. Note that the Sciobaru’s city number is 5 MPG less than the new Miata’s.

ON THE ROAD

To continue the compare/contrast with the BRZ… and last year’s Miata:

The new one is even better in stop-and-go traffic (and much better than the BRZ) because of the less peaky powerband and more accessible torque, especially.

The contrast with the BRZ is particularly striking. That car — which only has 151 ft.-lbs. of torque to work with (and which isn’t made until 6,400 RPM) has nearly 440 more pounds to deal with — feels torpid unless you power-launch the thing, bringing the tach up to 4,000-plus, then feathering the clutch as you firewall the accelerator. This is fun on the track but gets old on the street, especially in the bump and grind of traffic.

The Miata’s longtime merit is that it’s great on the track… and on the street. It’s a commuter car that can be a weekend SCCA club race car, too.

The powerband changes Mazda’s made — along with the weight reduction — have made the new Miata feel stronger, sooner.

It pulls harder in the mid-range, especially.

And works better than the old one with the optional automatic.

The BRZ, on the other hand, is a disaster with its automatic. The poor car’s zero to 60 time increases by almost two seconds — to right there with a Toyota Corolla.

If there’s a downside, it’s that the new Miata’s updated 2.0 engine is a bit less revvy than it was before. I found it will still spin past the 6,600 RPM red zone marked out on the tachometer before the electronic rev limiter cuts in — but it’s cammed such that doing so accomplishes not much. To my ear, the ’16 version of the 2.0 engine also doesn’t sound as happy at high RPM as last year’s.

More bass, less treble.

But there’s no arguing it’s better driving car overall. More tractable, smoother.

Club models with the manual transmission get a “sound enhancer,” fyi — which is basically a revised air box designed to make deeper intake sucking sounds when you get on it. Be advised, though, that you lose that enhancement if you choose the optional automatic. But both manual and automatic versions of the Club get a standard limit slip rear axle, Bilstein shocks (and a strut tower brace) plus 17-inch wheels with “summer” sport tires.

Speaking of the manual transmission: The Miata is one of the few modern sports cars (the BRZ’s another) that still lets you have one. Note in particular that high-end (and high-cost) sports cars like the Porsche 911 now come only with automated manuals. Reason? A slight (fractions of a second, literally) advantage in all-out racing. Where a fraction of a second’s difference matters.

On the street?

Fun matters more.

And the Miata is — by acclamation — one of the most fun to drive cars ever built. That it is also a perfect commuter car (the BRZ — and 911 — not so much) and costs very little and requires very little in the way of maintenance or hand-holding… well, that’s why this little car is so many people’s favorite car.

It’s the Beetle (old version) of sports cars. It makes you smile — and it doesn’t empty your pockets.

Which will really make you smile.

The clutch is not grabby — there’s play enough in the take-up that it’s effortless to drive smoothly — and the action of the six-speed’s short-throw shifter is mechanical marvelousness. The only missing thing is some sweet gear whine (you know, like an old Super T-10). The tightly sealed (and leak-free) cabin mutes all that.

It’s not a bullet.

A four cylinder Mustang or Camaro will walk away from the Miata in drag race. But in the corners, the maestro raises his wand — and now the real performance begins. Bruce Lee vs. Lou Ferrigno. You can hardly even see the punches.

Rearward visibility is a little tight. Small back glass, low roofline. But what was it Enzo Ferrari once said? If it’s behind me, it doesn’t matter.

Unless you’re backing up. But there’s technology now. Let’s get to that.

AT THE CURB

Well, first the new look.

I think it’s BMW Z4-ish. It’ definitely less traditionally Miata-ish. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen. More men will likely be attracted to the ’16 Miata’s macho’d up appearance. But there is a risk that Mazda’s over-butched the thing, as VW arguably did when it redesigned the Beetle (new model) a couple of years ago.

The analog here is the Subaru BRZ, which is a very Dude car. Which is fine, except when the dude in question is trying to not annoy his wife or girlfriend. Some women like aggressive-looking sports cars. Others — and they are not few in number — think of them as male enhancements on wheels, for guys with issues down there (or some other place) and that’s as much a turn off for them as the car is a turn-on for the dude.

It’s a tricky thing to design a sports car such that it is appealing without being polarizing. The previous Miata (all the way back to 1989) did that better than just a about any car except the original Beetle — and without doubt better than any other sports car.

We’ll see how this new one does.

One thing it definitely does well is on the inside — where it’s still elemental (necessary controls only, simply laid out) but can be outfitted with more… if you want it. And don’t mind paying extra for it.

Mazda — bless ’em — has not made an LCD touchscreen standard. But it is available. Those who just want to focus on driving can still do that. While those who want more non-driving activities inside the car can have that, too.

The available seven-inch LCD monitor is identical to the one you’d find in the other Mazda models, like the 3 and 6. It’s touch-activated, with a secondary mouse/click/scroll controller on the center console.

Or, not.

Base Sport trims come without the LCD, but with AC (which, arguably, one could do without given the convertible top and given not-fixed wing vent windows, if they’d bring those back) as well as cruise control and power windows (the motors are now so light there’s no weight penalty over manual windows) and a perfectly serviceable six-speaker stereo with Bluetooth for your iPod/Smartphone and even a CD slot (plus twin USB ports).

Clubs get the previously mentioned functional enhancements (Bilstein shocks, strut tower brace, limit slip diff and a more aggressive wheel/tire package, plus a body kit and the “sound enhancer” air intake) and the LCD flatscreen with an upgraded nine-speaker Bose stereo. The app suite includes Pandora, Stitcher and Aha.

You can add a high-capacity Brembo brake and BBS alloy wheel package — but only with the manual transmission.

GT models get a blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert and lane departure warning — which will make the safety Nazis smile, but which are arguably not needed things in a car that you basically wear.

It’s only 154.1 inches long, bumper to bumper. A Mini hatchback (short of a SmartCar, the smallest new car you can buy) is only 151.1 inches long.

Inside, it’s cozy — but not cramped.

Except for the trunk — which is now even smaller than it used to be. Just 4.6 cubes — vs. 5.3 previously.

Pack light.

Keep in mind, this is a two-seater. The BRZ (and 911) have back seats. They are not really for people, but they do provide a place to throw an overnight bag and can actually be used for people-carrying in a desperate pinch.

Forget that in a Miata.

You are buying a motorcycle for two, basically.

THE REST

Someone forgot about the power point.

The lack must have been noticed after the car was on the line, already in production. Too late for a major redesign. What to do?

Where to put the thing?

Hey, we could rig one up in the passenger side footwell. Run a wire from the ignition lead or some such to a place near the firewall or driveshaft tunnel.

Which is just what Mazda apparently did. You will find the power point — if you can find it — buried deep on the lefthand side of the passenger footwell, totally out of reach of the driver unless he gets out, opens the passenger door, gets on his hands and knees and roots around for it.

Seriously. I am not exaggerating.

There is plenty of room for a 12V outlet on the center console — or how about in the storage cubby between the driver and passenger seatbacks?

Nope.

It’s the craziest thing I’ve seen in a while. It’s like they’re embarrassed about the power point, as if it were a Funny Uncle or some such thing.

Also, the cupholders are … amusing. They are clip-ons. One up front (it mounts on the passenger’s side of the center console) and another toward the rear of the center console for the driver, just out of his reach. The driver’s one works ok when you’re not driving and so does the putative passenger one… provided you don’t have one. If you do, the hot coffee cup is directly in the line of fire of his or her left leg and unless they sidle both legs off to the right, a spill is likely.

Beyond that, it’s nearly the perfect sports car.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The Miata’s like the ideal wife. Good-looking, low-maintenance, lots of fun, holds up as the years go by … and doesn’t cost a fortune to take home, either.

Comments?

www.ericpetersautos.com

*** Photo courtesy of Caricos

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One Response to “2016 Mazda Miata Review”

  1. Eapen D. says:

    Thank you for the video review! But I would have loved to see the little beast bark to life and dart off with a growl! It’s shocking that Mazda could goof up so badly with the power point! The Miata MX-5 is absolutely the most affordable, sporty, and cute little roadster in town right now! It’s got almost everything that a sportscar freak would ever look for! But my beef with certain roadsters is that it is too bad at tackling the wind noise, especially on high-speed cruises. When I couldn’t stand the annoying gust any longer on my Ford drop-top, I chose to mount an additional wind deflector (which, in my case is a BackBlade wind blocker) to get rid of it. Phew, now I’m happy as clam!