2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

2016 Mazda MX-5-thumb-530xauto-36373The 2016 MX-5 Miata has been completely reengineered and redesigned. But if Mazda has done it all right, it’s going to be a classic on arrival. For 25 years, the Miata has conjured up memories of what it used to be like to drive modest, genuine sports cars, all while converting a new crowd to the top-down joys of a simple, back-to-basics roadster.

And now, on a completely new platform, Mazda is attempting to do it again — to bring the Miata up to some modern safety, efficiency, and tech expectations, all while preserving that delicate sweet spot that makes it different than anything else on the market.

At about 154 inches, the new Miata is actually a bit shorter than the outgoing car; yet it becomes somewhat wider, at around 68 inches, and its wheelbase grows to 91.1 inches. The proportions aren’t that much different, but the more you take in the MX-5 Miata’s new design the more you notice the greater sensuality in the sheetmetal and details. It’s definitely a little less subtle than the current car — and perhaps a little more contemporary — something that most shoppers will probably like.

The MX-5 Miata borrows from Mazda’s latest ‘Kodo’ design philosophy, evolved from the Mazda 6, Mazda CX-5, and Mazda 3, and made a little more pert. Compared to its predecessor, the Miata has a more curvaceous beltline, as well as a hoodline that now bows dramatically downward at the front, resulting in a crisp, open front-end design that does without the black-plastic snout of those more family-oriented models. Sculpting in the hood streams sideways into the beltline, which wraps into a tail that’s a continuation of neat, conservative Miata tradition, only a little more aggressively sculpted down below. And new LED lamps bring a modern finish to it.

Inside, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata adopts a design that keeps its low seating, with a prominent center console separating the driver and passenger areas, as well as big, cockpit-style analog gauges and a horizontal, shelf-like instrument panel that helps keep the interior from feeling too confining. Air vents and climate controls keep with the classic round look, for the most part, while there’s a new infotainment system that, as in the Mazda 3 and in the refreshed 2016 Mazda 6, stands up above the low-set dash.

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What’s under the hood is some of the old and some of the new. Mazda’s 2.0-liter ‘SkyActiv’ direct-injection four-cylinder engine and a short-throw six-speed manual gearbox should provide the sort of high-rev zippiness — as well as surprisingly good fuel efficiency — that has made the Miata essentially a class of one over its quarter-century on the market. Mazda hasn’t yet announced the availability of an automatic transmission, and power figures aren’t yet out — although we expect the numbers to meet or more likely exceed the 2.0-liter engine’s 155-horsepower and 150 pound-foot ratings in Mazda’s other products.

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It will technically be mid-engined. First- and second-generation Miatas sat the engine squarely atop the front axle’s centerline. The third-generation model pushed the engine’s center of mass behind the axle for better balance. The Skyactiv Chassis shoves the entire mass of the engine even further back, completely behind the centerline of the front axle, completing the transition to a front, midships configuration. The potential advantages are even better vehicle balance, less tendency to understeer while cornering, and the visual improvement of a shorter front overhang.

With a completely new structure (to be shared with Alfa Romeo, and likely to underpin a new Alfa Spider), the Miata loses more than 200 pounds compared to the current/outgoing version, which should place its curb weight around 2,200 pounds. And that’ll make its power-to-weight ratio very good — likely around the six-second mark to 60 mph and maybe even a bit better. Less weight also means that Mazda doesn’t have to add more power to get the kind of performance gains that automakers like to claim at the launch of a new model. Across the industry, we’ve been seeing automakers launching new, lightweight models without the annual power gains that we’ve come to expect (or even with slight power reductions), all in the name of improving efficiency and driveability.

The center of gravity will be its lowest ever. Mazda tells us this, but doesn’t state exactly how much lower. I’d guess that tucking the engine’s heavy bits lower and further back in the bay contribute significantly to the center’s drop. I don’t think the Miata’s already low ride height will get too much lower, but I’m only guessing here.
It will use electric power steering (EPS). This is no real surprise as fuel-saving EPS is part of Mazda’ Skyactiv technology suite. Before you grab your torches and pitchforks, fellow Roadster purists, remember that the lightweight MX-5 is getting even lighter, so it won’t need much in the way of assistance at all, so steering feel may not necessarily suffer in the transition to electric boost. Mazda has also located the assist motors directly on the steering rack, which should help keep vagueness from entering the equation.

The MX-5 Miata has never been a car for straight-line performance, though. We’re expecting nothing but top-notch steering, nimble handling (go-kart-like isn’t just a cliche here), and the sense that the chassis could handle far more power than what the engine lays down. This model’s move to electric power steering makes enthusiasts a little concerned, and we hope Mazda gets it right. The Miata has always been a car that carries a lot of feedback through to the driver; you don’t have to break laws and speed limits to enjoy, and we don’t expect that to change.

Arrival of the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is slated for spring 2015—just in time to plan for a long summer of top-down driving. Check back here for more details as they’re announced, including full specifications, pricing, fuel economy ratings, and features.