2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Exterior Red
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata (Mazda North American Operations)

The new 2016 Mazda Miata hit dealerships in August. This fourth-generation model, according to MX-5 Vehicle Line Manager Rod McLaughlin, represents an effort to “get back to the Miata’s roots” – the first generation model that was shown in 1989 at the Chicago Auto Show. That car was a no-frills, modestly priced two-door roadster modeled after classic British roadsters like the MG. It was light-weight and designed to maximize the driving experience.

To go back to the future, Mazda first put the Miata on a weight-loss program. The car had become “bloated,” according to McLaughlin, so Mazda shaved about 150 pounds off the fourth-generation model. The 2016 Miata is also about an inch shorter from bumper to bumper, and a tad bit wider than the 2015 model.

The roadster has gone through other changes, as well, each aimed at improving the enjoyment the driver gets behind the wheel. One major complaint with the 2015 Miata was the seating, which critics found inflexible. To address this, McLaughlin says that the seats in the 2015 Miata, which used springs, have been replaced in the 2016 model with seats made from a net-like material. They “hug the driver” around curves and sharp corners, McLaughlin notes, improving both comfort and the overall driving experience.

Some test drivers also found the cabin in the 2015 model confining, and Mazda says several changes in the 2016 Miata correct that issue. The changes include replacing the 2015’s folding top with one that doesn’t have a supporting bar directly above the driver’s head, which increases head room when the top is up. Also, the new seats are 35 percent thinner and the car is a little more than a half-inch wider. Reviewers say these small changes make a big difference in how hospitable the Miata’s cabin is. Other improvements include a new manually-operated soft top that has been redesigned to make raising and lowering it easier. With most buyers being between the ages of 45 and 65, according to McLaughlin, this is a big improvement. The top can be opened and closed without turning around, and it doesn’t require a great range of shoulder motion to accomplish. To drop the top, the driver simply slides a tab above the rearview mirror to free the latch. The roof then easily folds back and latches behind the seat. The whole process takes just two to three seconds.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Exterior Side Red
2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata (Mazda North American Operations)

The engine also is new. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. That’s less horsepower than in the third generation, but slightly more torque. The new engine also gets much better fuel economy. The 2016 MX-5 with the standard six-speed manual transmission gets 27/34 mpg city/highway, with the 2015 model earning 21/28. McLaughlin notes that the engine’s power numbers alone won’t impress anyone, but paired with the reduced weight, improved seating and other changes – like placing the pedals more in line with the driver’s legs than in the previous generation, a complaint about the third generation model – he says that the driver’s senseof power is improved, as is the overall handling.

With all the changes Mazda has made, early reviews of the 2016 Miata are very positive. In separate interviews with U.S. News Best Cars, Joe Wiesenfelder, executive editor at Cars.com, says that the Miata is “peerless.” And Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst at AutoTrader, calls it a “lot of grins for a little money.”

In the 25-plus-year run that the Miata has enjoyed, a number of sports cars have come and gone. Krebs finds a pragmatic reason for its staying power: “Bang for the buck.” That, and the fact that the “Miata is a car that you can live with on a daily basis.” In other words, other cars may have bigger engines or quicker 0-60 times, but they aren’t necessarily cars that most people will feel as comfortable in running around town or speeding down the interstate. It’s the “everyman, or everywoman, sports car,” she says.

Wiesenfelder says that before stepping into the new Miata, he was concerned that “perhaps the car has become too good.” But time behind the wheel convinced him otherwise. “It’s still a Miata,” he says. “The car feels like an extension of the driver, which has become tragically rare these days."

He notes that it’s not simply that the Miata is fun to drive, but that Mazda isn’t obsessed with “outdoing some other vehicle.” In short, he says, Mazda keeps refining the car with an eye on improving the “visceral aspect of driving.”

Jamie Page Deaton, managing editor of the U.S. News Best Car Rankings says, “Even before the redesign, the Miata was a perennial favorite among car reviewers.” That shows in the Miata’s performance in U.S. News' rankings. “Since we launched our affordable sports car rankings, the Miata has ranked at or near the top of the class,” reports Page Deaton. “Automotive journalists consistently call it one of the most fun-to-drive cars on the market, but its low price and good fuel economy also make it attainable for many buyers.”

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