2016 Mazda Miata – Less Cute, in a Good Way

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25 years ago Mazda decided to create their rendition of a classic sports car in the vein of the old MGs and Triumphs.  Plunk down a plucky little four cylinder up front that sends power to the rear wheels through a manual shift gearbox.  Japanese engineering and reliability blended with the original drop top fun of the early English cars, turned out to be the perfect recipe for the world’s best-selling sports car. So, how good is the car after a quarter century?

It’s fantastic. While most cars in the American market are gaining size and weight relative to their previous iterations, we’re looking at you GMC Canyon, the MX-5 actually got smaller. How does a small car get smaller? Well, it’s a half inch lower and the wheel base is about half an inch shorter. That’s right the 17 inch alloy BBS front wheels are actually a little bit closer to the rears.

The most notable difference with the new MX-5 is the face lift. The happy little headlights and the cutesy rounded off corners that defined previous generations are gone. In their stead reside aggressive, catlike headlights that have a malicious look to them. It’s almost like they’re gunning for all those bright eyed Miatas of old, with their Mickey-Mouse styling. The grill is set in a happy sneer and gives the front of the car a slightly demented aspect, in a good way. The fenders and quarter panels flare out over the wheels, and there are hard lines and creases where there once was a smooth, slightly bulgy body. The back of the car is a little less inspiring but it looks good.

Inside the amenities are sparse. So spare in fact, that in an effort to fill space on the window sticker, Mazda listed two passenger seating. Is this a selling point? The trunk space, while laughably small, is big enough for a couple arm loads of groceries. Luckily the space is not invaded by the manual convertible top. The top is a snap to put up and down. If you’re looking for a spare tire you won’t find one. In a move to save weight, and probably money too, Mazda equipped this car with a “good luck buddy” kit that includes an air pump and a bottle of goop. There are little signs of cost cutting sprinkled through the interior, the sun visors for example feel a little flimsy, but overall the leather accents and thoughtful arrangement come together to create a space that feels good to sit in. There’s not a lot of space but that’s to be expected from a car this size.

Our car featured the Bose nine speaker sound system controlled by an intuitive system of shortcut buttons and rotating joystick mounted on the console. The leather wrapped wheel has a tidy array of driver controls for the stereo, Bluetooth and cruise control, all of which fall naturally under the thumb. The tachometer is front and center so it’s easy to keep an eye on the revs. In typical Mazda fashion, the seven inch touch screen looks a bit like an add-on, but it really doesn’t distract drivers from what this car is really about. It’s about the drive.

Miata fan-boys need not worry. All the power, braking and wonderful cornering prowess is still present. It’s just wrapped up in a more serious looking body. Getting into a car this low is a practice in faith. You open the door, turn around, and trust fall into the driver’s seat. Once there, the prominent bolsters give you a gently reassuring hug from behind. Punch in the clutch, hit the starter button, and the 2.0 liter DOHC four cylinder heart beats to life with a low growl. The shifter is a little leather wrapped ball that fits nicely in the palm. It stirs the gears through a tight little pattern. There’s not much in the way of sound deadening in this car, so interstate speeds are noisy even with the top up. The car is light and nimble with just a bit of body roll around the corners. It seemingly whispers, “of course you can go faster around that curve.” It’s a car that inspires drivers to commit automotive mischief. Second gear scratches are second nature to this spritely little sports car. It’s in its element with the top down on a windy road around sundown.

Like the Miatas before it, this car is built for fun. Depending on your priorities this may not be the daily driver for you. If your intention is to carry more than one other person without making multiple trips, that sort of rules this one out. However, if you’re in the market for a hysterically fun commuter or weekend ride that will leave your face sore from smiling, look no further than the 2016 MX-5 Miata.

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