Mazda MX-5 Miata Review: Grand Touring Roadster Revival

wheel-to-wheel new car reviews

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata GT | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata GT | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

If the Mazda Miata were a Star Wars space fighter, it would be the Rebel A-Wing of the open road. Small, stealthy, and surprisingly swift for its size, the Miata has long been a crowd favorite due to its affordability, open top driving, and some of the finest handling in the world. But what started off as lightweight and lithe, eventually turned portly and long in the tooth, an issue that the Japanese automaker nipped in the bud with a complete overhaul for 2016.

Despite sporting all the standard safety equipment, amenities, and connected technology that one would expect in a modern automobile, the fourth-generation roadster weighs just a hair more than the 1989 original. It also comes powered by the latest naturally aspirated SkyActiv motor, starts at just under $25,000, and thanks to Mazda’s sensual Kodo design language, is pleasing to look at too.

Convertible car | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata GT | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

This is a rear-wheel drive mood changer, and a damn quick one at that. Although it may be a bit small for many Americans, and leaves a few design cues that might leave some buyers wanting more, we found it difficult to find any major flaws with this little convertible. The few misgivings that we had will be addressed by the forthcoming hardtop RF model, which leads us to believe that this is truly one of the most enjoyable new cars on the road today.

Mazda Miata GT | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

2016 Mazda Miata GT | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior

The same Kodo design language that informed the lustworthy Mazda CX-9 gives the MX-5 all the attitude one would expect from a purebred roadster sports car that rolls on 17-inch alloy wheels. Sharply angled, pinched, and LED-accented, this little two-seater looks outstanding, regardless of whether the top is up or down.

LED lights | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Miata’s LED taillights | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Exterior pros and cons

+ Instantly recognizable, the Kodo lines are sporty and well balanced, as are those 17-inch alloy wheels and combination rear LED lights. 

+ Both hood and trunk are made from lightweight aluminum, LED headlamps are automatic, wipers are rain sensing, and side mirrors are heated.

+ The convertible top doesn’t look bad up, comes with defogging rear glass, and is easy to open and latch closed. 

– The antenna is oversized and unsightly on such a little car. 

– Even in a mild Ceramic color, the Miata screams for attention, so don’t expect to be flying below the radar.

– Dual polished exhaust tips are nice, but would look better center-mounted. For buyers wanting to spruce up their Miata, the Club version’s optional lower aero kit (part of the BBS and Brembo package) adds some subtle visual flare.

SkyActiv 2.0-liter engine | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

SkyActiv 2.0-liter engine | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain

When you have something so small and nimble, you really don’t need tons of power to get going, and like the tightly re-calibrated Toyota 86, the new Miata’s focus is more on handling than brute strength. Although 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque don’t sound like much, the way the Miata engages you is nothing less than pure driving joy. The manual gearbox and clutch are both razor sharp, yet surprisingly supple, revving it to redline while rocketing onto the interstate feels mandatory, and downshifting into a corner reminds you why driving stick still matters.

Manual shift knob | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Miata’s manual shift knob | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Powertrain pros and cons

+ All 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque can be tapped into with a moment’s notice, delivering a powerband that’s more than adequate for something so lightweight. 

+ A 34 mile per gallon highway EPA average and 27 city efficiency ratings mean MPGs mean you don’t have to make sacrifices to have fun.

+ Opting for the less expensive manual transmission won’t just save you $1,205, but it will also give you one of the tightest gearboxes for the money on the market today.

– Performance fans complain that there’s no turbo option, but they can always scoop up a new Fiat 124 instead if it’s that important to them.

Leather interior | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

2016 Mazda Miata interior | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior

It may look pint-sized from the outside, but if you’re anywhere below six-foot-two, chances are you’ll find the Miata to be surprisingly accommodating. Getting in and out is a low-slung affair, but once you get used to it and snap the über-easy cloth top back, Mazda’s proven take on interior styling will win you over. With its stitched leather touches, sturdy plastics, round vent pods, body color door sills, and well designed instrumentation for both night and day driving, there’s plenty to pine over here.

Deep trunk | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Deep trunk | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Interior pros and cons

+ Contrasting leather stitching, tastefully polished plastics, paint matched upper door inserts, round air vents, and a stylish console takes Kodo design inside. 

+ Cabin layout accommodates six-foot individuals, and the trunk is just as roomy, with a surprising amount of storage space.

+ Favorite small touches include the heated leather seats with Bose speakers in the headrests, rear storage cubby, large leather shift knob, balanced steering wheel, and well-placed contrasting materials and colors.

– Faux carbon touches in door inserts, some cheap looking plastics and buttons in the lower console, and the absence of sport pedals are already set for replacement. 

– The pocket next to both USB ports won’t accommodate certain phones. So storing a charging smartphone requires running a cable from beneath the center stack, around the shifter assembly and e-brake, and into the tiny center console storage.

Roadster interior | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

2016 Mazda Miata cockpit | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech and safety

Being built around performance doesn’t mean the Miata is trying to sacrifice any tech and safety features, and while it may not be a technological game changer, it does feature a few key highlights. Active sensory tech like blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alerts, stability and traction controls, lane departure warnings, and adaptive lighting all come standard on the GT, adding to its appeal. Mazda’s seven-inch touchscreen and command knob also make an appearance, along with 3D mapping, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless entry, a push-button start, SiriusXM radio, as well as an auto dimming rearview and driver’s side mirror.

Gauge cluster | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Gauge cluster | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Tech pros and cons

+ Helpful and clearly illuminated gauge cluster is part analog, part digital encyclopedia, with suggested shift points and safety warnings at the ready. 

+ GT models get a lot of Mazda’s latest active safety technologies, like lane departure and blind sport warnings, cross traffic alerts, and next-generation air bags. 

+ Touchscreen and command knob controlled seven-inch display is easy to use and still offers outstanding real time feedback without clipping.

– No backup camera, which may not seem necessary with the top down, but would be extremely helpful when it’s raining. 

– Touchscreen usage is limited in certain menus and does not support pinch-to-zoom, and there’s no standard heads-up display (HUD) on GT models.

Kodo design language | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata GT | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

The drive

It’s the driving itself that blends everything we’ve previously discussed into a battle cry for the return of the roadster. The power band on the Miata builds nicely, and if you hit a corner hard enough it will kick sideways, even with traction and stability control systems enabled. But if drifting into an apex doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, carving a fine line is also easily doable, and with a brake pedal that’s both tight and reassuring, the amount of control this machine gives you is pretty damn intoxicating.

With top down and all nine Bose speakers blaring, taking the long way home isn’t just tempting, it’s demanded. The tightly sprung suspension setup encourages you to push the little aluminum framed roadster to its limits, and it doesn’t seem to mind one bit. There’s a lot to love about the way the new Miata drives, and although it could use a little more top-end grunt, we feel that Mazda absolutely nailed it in the driver engagement field.

17-inch alloy wheels | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Miata’s 17-inch alloy wheels | Micah Wright/Autos Cheat Sheet

Wrap up and review

Loaded with many of Mazda’s newest and brightest design and engineering ideas, the GT version of the all-new MX-5 Miata sets the standard for road-ripping affordable fun. The Miata has so much going for it; from the quality of materials to the indescribable driving joy it offers, it’s difficult to think of a vehicle that’s more well-rounded in the segment today, including the Fiat 124 Spider.

The bottom line for the GT model we drove is a cool $31,000, and that’s with all of Mazda’s latest tech and safety goods, leather trimmed interior, and a three-year bumper-to-bumper warranty. While some may still gripe that the Miata needs to be even sportier, we suggest looking over the laundry list of Mazdaspeed performance parts one can buy before filing any official complaints. Offering everything from Koni racing struts and Eibach performance springs, to crate engines and free-flowing exhaust systems, there’s no stopping the mighty little Mazda Miata, and with the stylish RF heading our way, the best is only going to get better.

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