Christopher Little

Colder Weather: 2016 Mazda MX-5

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Such it was with our plan for the new Mazda MX-5 Miata. It was mid-March when the MX-5 arrived clad in Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires. Everything was in place: lightweight roadster, winter tires, an open schedule. All we needed was for the weather to cooperate. We wanted a veritable winter wonderland of snow-covered roads. Unfortunately, the forecast in Upstate New York is harder to predict than next week’s lottery numbers. In place of an alpine adventure, we had one of the warmest March weekends on record. So much for planning. But when the weather is unseasonably warm, what better way to celebrate than with a convertible!

2016 Mazda MX5 1

The new MX-5 is much smaller-looking than its predecessor. It’s lost a lot of visual weight, despite measuring within inches of the previous car. Mazda engineer’s have backed-up the new appearance with lightweight design. Over 150 lbs have been shed compared to the previous generation thanks to careful design and innovative materials. The aluminum body panels netted 45 lbs on their own! Mazda’s KOTO design language makes the most out of the minimal surface area while retaining the classic Miata profile. Our tester’s rather uninteresting Blue Reflex paint didn’t help impart any attitude into the tiny roadster. It looks much sharper in Soul Red or Crystal White.

2016 Mazda MX5 3

Inside, the exterior color carries over onto the door trim. It’s a nice touch that compliments the open-top experience. The interior of the new MX-5 benefits from Mazda’s top-notch interior design of late. What used to be hard plastics are now soft touch or leather-covered panels. The red stitched leather adds to the upscale and sporty design. The layout is minimalist and upholds the Miata’s true focus: driving. We’ve gotten over the look and placement of the infotainment screen, but we don’t understand why it has both an iDrive-like control panel and touch screen capability. The later is one of the worst we’ve experienced to date. But the Miata’s biggest limitation is its size. My over-six-foot frame is simply too big for the MX-5’s interior. With the seat back rubbing against the roll-bar, my knees were practically on the dashboard. Even with the low seating position, I felt like I sat on the car rather than in it. And the poor cup holder design often resulted in me elbowing the movable bracket. These aren’t problems we have with similarly-sized vehicles, like the Subaru BRZ.

Mazda’s SYKACTIV engine produces 155 horsepower and 148 lb-ft torque. While an automatic is available, the 6-speed manual is definitely the way to go. It’s a great gearbox, offering short and stout gear changes with the help of an intuitive clutch. Not only is it easy to drive, it’s easy to drive quickly. The Miata continues to provide superb road feel and driver feedback. The suspension setup helps soak up the harshness of the winter roads without compromising control. While the layout remains basically the same, the components have been redesigned to be lighter and make better use of the stiffer chassis. The switch to electrically-assisted power steering also hasn’t hurt the MX-5’s driver involvement. This is a car that keeps the driver involved in the best way possible.

2016 Mazda MX5 2

Our tester, the Grand Touring model, offers many amenities the roadster driver might appreciate. Leather-trimmed heated seats, automatic climate control, and adaptive headlights are all nice features to have. But there’s several features that seem counter-intuitive to the Miata’s ethos. Why does a small, open-top roadster need blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and lane departure warning? Do you think the sound engineers paid any mind to the team responsible for saving 17 lbs from each seat as they fitted each headrest with speakers? The MX-5 Club is the model to have. Opting for the Club nets you sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks, a limited-slip differential, a shock tower brace, and some additional aero upgrades. There are even optional lightweight BBS wheels to make up for those headrest speakers.

2016 Mazda MX5 8

With the top down and the windows up on a 40 degree day, there’s sufficient heat from the vents and seats to keep you warm. Mazda made it a point to retain the “wind in your hair” feel with the new Miata. If you stand taller than six feet, you also get the wind on your forehead. On cold days, you’ll definitely need a hat. You can comfortably cruse up to 55 mph without too much trouble. At highway speed and above you’ll probably want to close the manual roof, which can be done without leaving the driver’s seat. The winter tires meant cold-weather traction wasn’t an issue, but performance was most likely compromised on the unseasonably warm 55 degree afternoon. Despite the unexpected combination, the Miata remains a driver’s car. It’s at home on the road as a willing cruising companion or a back-road speedster. It’s also remarkably efficient, netting us 31.4mpg over 460 miles of spirited driving.

2016 Mazda MX5 9

We didn’t have the perfect Miata experience, but we planned it that way. We’d rather have blasted through snow-covered roads and extolled the virtues of 50:50 weight distribution, rear wheel drive, and a proper set of winter tires. The MX-5 brought all of those to the table, but mother nature didn’t play ball. Would we have had a better experience in the Mazda’s natural climate – a summer day? We plan on finding out. Even in less-than-ideal conditions, however, the 2016 MX-5 proves that you can combine the classic British roadster feel with state-of-the-art Japanese engineering to make once of the best driving experiences on the market. And during a week that stayed mostly above freezing, we logged over 90% of the miles as Mazda intended…with the top down.

-Christopher Little

2016 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring
Destination Charges $820
As Tested MSRP $30,885

Cruiser: 2015 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Ace of Spades: 2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata Club
3 Turned Up to 11: 2013 Mazdaspeed 3

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