2016 Mazda Miata

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If it had an accessible power point, it’d be the perfect car.'16 Miata lead

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 got-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.'16 Miata 3way

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.'16 Miata interior 1

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. '16 Miata six speed

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'16 old vs. new

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 effing 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.'16 Miata engine 1

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.

'16 Miata cut away

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 ROADMiata road 1

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.'16 Miata automatic

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.'16 Miata road 3

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.'16 Miata sciobaru

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. '16 Miata road 2

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 shitty. 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'16 Miata curb 1

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.   '16 Miata before... and after

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.'16 Miata touchscreen

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.'16 Miata Club detail

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.'16 Miata rearview

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.'16 Miata 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.'16 Miata cupholder

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.

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39 COMMENTS

  1. Good read. Having owned an NA and my folks currently have an NB, the NC was underwhelming. The only bad thing about the new Miata is… to me is… You can get the same car in the Fiat 124, a bit more stylish, and with (for better or worse) the MultiAir which is easily and cheaply boosted for more performance. My first car was a Fiat so… I might be suffering from some nostalgic bias…

    Also… The power point thing made me chuckle. I remember when the Yugos first came here and the backup lights were like fog lights bolted to the bumper. They weren’t integrated with the tails or integrated into the rear of the car at all. It’s like they were loaded on the boat and somebody went… “OH! Crap! US market needs backup lights! Quick, somebody run to Pep Boys (or whatever the previous eastern bloc equivalent was) and grab the cheapest fog light kits you can get! Buy all they’ve got!”

  2. Low-level Mazda employee here, speaking only for myself and not for the company.

    Eric, the engine in the new Miata has changed from those used in previous models. That would explain the difference in specs and feel.

    The North American–spec 2016 MX-5 Miata engine is a variation of the Skyactiv-G 2.0 adapted for rear-drive. In other markets a Skyactiv 1.5 is standard and the 2.0 is optional, but we get only the 2.0 here. These engines are completely different from the MZR and BP/B6 series used in previous Miatas through 2015.

    Yup, Mazda is going all Skyactiv. Wait till the new CX-9 with a turbo Skyactiv 2.5 appears. But still no word on the diesel Skyactiv engine for this market. Thanks to VW, we might not see the Skyactiv-D at all here, but nothing has been said officially yet… Just don’t hold your breath…

  3. eric, BTW, my Amsoil I ordered from your link arrived today. Luckily, my neighbor noticed it was at my gate and brought it to me. I gave UPS my phone number and asked them to call the day before it was delivered. Of course that didn’t happen. I have no problems with FedEx but UPS is a lazy bunch that allows lots of freight to get damaged. UPS left a gift package on the top of my 4″ gate post in a huge basket full of expensive, perishable foods, expensive wines and delicacies. With the winds in this country it must have been the sheer weight that kept it from blowing off onto the ground those several days we were gone. They left 3 deliveries in the back of a pickup I didn’t often use in front of my house but not with the bed in view from my drive. I got up one morning to rain and snow and one hell of a north wind and boxes and packages all over. It was lubricants, truck parts and software and computer hardware all blown over a couple acres of soaked grass and ground. I was so happy I called them….every name in the book. Of course, you can’t really call the delivery center, They’re set up so if you really want to get their attention you need a lawyer.

  4. “More men will likely be attracted to the ’16 Miata’s macho’d up appearance.”

    Not sure about that. This new look will not appeal to many of the “men” who have made up the Miata’s core following.

    But it definitely will be more popular among heterosexual men. 🙂

    ps. New vehicles are often hiding the power points in remote locations. And Valentine 1 doesn’t offer a power cord longer than 8′. They need to get on this.

  5. Nice looking car compared to everything else out there for the most part. Is there a law that mandates those weird headlight shapes? After about the dozenth car brand I saw years ago with those style of headlights I’d had way more than enough. Reckon anyone has ever heard of not “running with the herd”. I guess not. Slab sided fenders that Audi started so long ago dominated cars till I was ready to puke. Finally, we’re sorta away from that crap so then they come up with those squinty weird front headlight, parking light, DRL and rectal exam light combo although I can’t tell one from the other except the running/parking light with it’s color.

    Then there’s the happy catfish front grill, could have come from a Camry or lots of other cars with the obligatory strangely edged air intake for the front brakes I suppose.

    I’m sure it’s a fun car but probably less fun because of less rev happy and while that’s good in a staid way, it doesn’t have much sports car appeal, the very thing I thought a Miata was supposed to be. A plain old stick shift makes you feel a bit better though.

    I would be pissed though if I bought one and had to get somebody at the dealership to show me they considered my mandatory 12 V socket for a radar detector wasn’t right there in front of me. That means the readout on the plug isn’t an option so I’m limited to keeping those lights that cops like to look for up high with the detector. What nimnulls. It tells you a lot about designers(dipstick nerds).

    Some day, somewhere, in a far off galaxy, there will be a new sports car that won’t have an automatic so friends like a woman my age who had to have a MB sport model cause she thought she looked good in it…..and doesn’t, looks like she stole her daughters ride, will be able to drive it. That’s just depressing. The auto models should have a moniker front and rear that says “No balls, it’s a fake”. Or maybe it should say “Poseur”. Like my cousin with his new automatic 300 HP 350 ’68 ‘Vette. Seriously? Did your balls fall off before you went into the dealership…..or did you just leave them at home with your mother for safekeeping? So, all you really wanted was to have your Cartman style head sticking above the seat and make believe it’s a sports car? Try not to think about your dad’s Rocket 88 outrunning your new sports car. I get depressed every time I see a “performance car” with an auto. The typical owner: ” Why do you keep going on about “heel and toe””? “Yes, I have a heel, two of them, and a toe, ten of them, so what’s your problem?” Oh nothing, never mind, just forget I mentioned it.

    • ” I get depressed every time I see a “performance car” with an auto.”

      I’ll second that for sure.

      Really makes me worry that manuals are going to vanish completely as a buyer option.

      And to think when I first learned to drive manual transmissions were referred to as “standard transmissions”, as they ought to be.

      Anyone else remember that?

      • Bevin,

        And to think when I first learned to drive manual transmissions were referred to as “standard transmissions”, as they ought to be.

        Anyone else remember that?

        I remember. Standard still is more common in Europe. Hopefully that will not change.

        Even if an auto can get 2-3 mpg better mileage than the manual, I will prefer the manual.

        There are two areas that I would find an auto preferable to a manual:
        If I had an arthritic left leg.
        I was constantly driving in stop/go traffic.

        The only one that I foresee as possible would be the first case. If I am fortunate that will be many years in the future (if at all).

        • Dear Mith,

          ” Standard still is more common in Europe. Hopefully that will not change.”

          Good to hear.

          Eric has noted how automatics are now “standard transmissions” on many cars that are ostensibly “sports cars”. Ferraris for example.

          That’s pretty sad.

      • “manual transmissions were referred to as “standard transmissions”
        Hey Bevin, the 67 Biscayne I drove in Drivers Ed had a 3 on the tree.

      • Hi Bevin,

        Manuals are going away – to a great extent because (bet you see it coming) Uncle. See today’s rant. The pressure to meet CAFE – ever rising – is enormous and a given car with a given engine is usually a bit more fuel efficient (as per government tests) with an automatic than with a manual. So the manuals are being systematically retired.

        Also a factor – the mania to tout the absolute quickest 0-60 and road course times. Blame the Germans for this. BMW and Porsche especially. A BMW exec recently admitted openly that they are trying to do away with manuals because the cars perform better on the track with the latest generation automated manuals. Which is true… but if you’re not racing for money and we’re talking fractions of a second differences… who cares?

        I, personally, care more about fun.

        And a car with a manual is almost always more fun to drive than the same car with an automatic.

        • Dear Eric,

          Yup. The role of Big Brother in this has not escaped my notice.

          Hardly a surprise. It’s usually a safe bet to blame the government for anything that goes wrong these days. After all, they are everywhere and have their hands in everything.

        • “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.”

          Given the British roadster heritage, another parallel is apropos I think.

          The sheet metal of the earlier Miata was more like that of the MGB.

          The current Miata, with its more pronounced fender flares, is more like that of the better looking MGA, or the BMW Z Series, which were only made possible because Mazda revived the market for classic two seater roadsters.

          I recognize that the gorgeous Lotus Elan was probably the chief inspiration for the early Miata, but for whatever reason the NA turned out slightly less attractive than the Elan.

      • Hi Bevin,

        Couple of factors driving the change in headlight design.

        First, plastic/composite allows the designers to create all kinds of unusual shapes and headlight design has become one of the few remaining ways for car companies to stylistically define a given model.

        The other factor is incremental efficiency gains (CAFE, again) achieved by using systems that use less energy.

        The upside is that modern car lighting systems are truly exceptional. Even if you’re half-blind, you can see where you’re going at night.

        The big downside is these headlight “assemblies” (and components) are often very expensive. Sometimes, several hundred dollars each (vs. maybe $25 for a sealed beam halogen light). It’s one reason why minor fender-benders end up costing so much – and why insurance costs continue to go up.

        Another downside is the plastic invariably yellows and looks shitty – often after as few as five or six years from new.

        • Dear Eric,

          Yeah. I pretty much knew the answer. I just didn’t like it.

          Personally I’ve never felt cars needed to be restyled every year. A model change every decade would be perfectly fine with me.

          The VW concept of never making any changes year to year unless it was functionally necessary made perfect sense to me.

          “Sometimes, several hundred dollars each (vs. maybe $25 for a sealed beam halogen light).”

          This bugs me the most. It’s like what you were saying about carburetors or traditional bumpers that were nothing more than a chromed piece of sheet steel.

          Now a fender bender winds up totaling an otherwise perfectly usable new vehicle.

          Ridiculous.

  6. I went up and climbed in the first one they had at the Mazda place.

    Fat guy me could get in just fine….pitiful getting out.

    I need to lose some LBS.

    Good news is I went on to score a SWEET BMW 128s Sport for about 5 grand less than the cheapest Miata.

    Love that BMW.

    Miata is going to be another ICON car. But a really small….Really small!!!

    • Hi Sic,

      I’m 6ft 3 (and about 215 right now; also need to lose some weight!)… I fit inside comfortably. Really like the car… but hate the effing power point!

      • “hate the effing power point!”
        Surely somebody (J C Whitney?) makes a 12v ‘extension cord’ that you could leave plugged in and accessible.

        • Sure – but you should not have to do that. I have never, in 20-plus years of reviewing new cars, come across something like this!

          • “Sure – but you should not have to do that.”
            Of course, I’m just saying if I was interested in the car, I would not let a relatively minor thing like that dissuade me.

            • Dear Eirc, Phil,

              Mazda engineers did it on purpose.

              They wanted to remind owners of the British roots of the Miata’s design.

              Nostalgia, ya know?

              Just be glad they didn’t include Lucas electrics.

              LOL!

              • Bevin,

                A “practically” inaccessible power point is not something I would have chosen to help remind the owner of its British roots. I would have chosen British Racing Green as a color option or putting the driving wheel on the right side.

                (Lucas electrics would have been a strong reminder that the dark side exists in the world. At least I have been told by those that know. 😉 )

                • Actually, come to think of it, the domestic Japanese versions are also right hand drive.

                  They and the Brits are among the few regions where people drive on the wrong side of the road.

                    • Yep!

                      I wonder if these holdouts will ever change their ways?

                      While looking for an answer, I stumbled across this highly informative article on the history of right vs. left hand side driving customs.

                      http://www.worldstandards.eu/cars/driving-on-the-left/

                      It includes a reason why cars are more often left hand drive instead of right.

                      In the late 1700s, however, teamsters in France and the United States began hauling farm products in big wagons pulled by several pairs of horses. These wagons had no driver’s seat; instead the driver sat on the left rear horse, so he could keep his right arm free to lash the team. Since he was sitting on the left, he naturally wanted everybody to pass on the left so he could look down and make sure he kept clear of the oncoming wagon’s wheels. Therefore he kept to the right side of the road.

                      Another article addresses the reasons for why the steering wheel is on the right or left side of the vehicle.

                      http://www.worldstandards.eu/cars/trivia-about-driving-left/

  7. The styling is improved over the NC, for sure, more “coke bottle” and less slab-sided. They also need to have a better choice of colors, to offer only one dullish red and a black/white variety with only black interior and black-ish wheels may appeal to some but, take a look at the Fiata with blue/tan/silver, there’s no comparison.

    It would be nice if you could get lsd on the base-est model as well but, that’s never really been an option. Suspension upgrades can be done on a Saturday afternoon.

    Overall it’s a great return to the original concept.

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