The Mazda MX-5, or in the U.S., simply the Miata, comes attached with a pedigree stretching almost three decades since the first model captured worldwide attention in 1989. Small, lightweight with robust mechanicals and a fun spirit, the MX-5 captured more than a million new owners throughout the years, earning it the reputation of being the best-selling twin –seat convertible roadster in the world. A lot has transpired between then and now, which puts the current MX-5 in its fourth generation. However, in spite of global acceptance towards sizing up each iteration, Mazda chose to remain true to the original spirit of its predecessors by remaining largely the same size as the three generations before it. It also holds true to its original FR layout (front engined, rear-wheel driven design).
Aside from its dimensional affinities with its forebears, the new MX-5 (codenamed ND) is all new, inside and out. Mechanicals and chassis are all new, sporting the latest developments from Mazda’s SKYACTIV platform in keeping in line with the rest of the lineup. The latest SKYACTIV-G 2-liter inline DOHC engine is featured here, in a longitudinal position to drive the rear wheels. Said engine whips up 158hp @ 6,000rpm and 200Nm of torque at 4,000rpm to drive a lightweight 1.08 tons of vehicle mass, offering plenty of fun behind the wheel in spite of its sub-200hp powerplant. A 6-speed automatic SKYACTIV-DRIVE cog-shifter offers enough range to take advantage of the engine’s powerband without perceivable lag in between gears.
As a comparison, the outgoing model (NC) weighed some 100 kilos more and only had around 126hp on tap (1.8l MZR 14 engine). The new car naturally benefits from the latest SKYACTIV-BODY development, endowed with a rigid frame that is also lightweight and nimble, while the SKYACTIV-CHASSIS holds everything together in harmony, creating a sense of being one with the car the moment you’re behind the wheel. Mazda has always been at the forefront of chassis development and refinement, and the MX-5 is the latest testament to that engineering commitment. While most other mass market offerings focus on value for money and cost cutting, Mazda takes the other approach to deliver best in class refinement and quality. A double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension setup ensures a surefooted character in most driving conditions while a 50:50 front:rear balance (with driver) takes handling up a few notches.
Mazda MX-5: Looks all too familiar, but…
Outside, this latest ND model looks far removed from its predecessor (NC) but the overall shape remains largely unchanged. To the untrained eye, at a glance it would be hard to appreciate the changes done to the external design, but aficionados know better. Off the bat, the headlights have been dramatically transformed from the previously MGF roadster lookalike ellipses to mean looking, sharp cat eyes. Said headlights also feature DRLs, projector LEDs and Adaptive Front Lighting with high beam control. Round the back, LED tail lamps adorn the tailgate, designed to look like spider eyes staring back at you as you zoom-zoom ahead.
From the side, you would be hard pressed to tell the difference between the ND and NC; they look almost like two peas in the proverbial pod. The tell-tale giveaways are the front and rear light rakes which are markedly different, but that’s about it.
Mazda MX-5: Whole New World Within
In keeping with the times, the new Mazda MX-5 Miata adopts the latest cabin DNA like the rest of its siblings which isn’t really a complete departure from its older brother. As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Owing to limited real estate, the dash, although seemingly different feels familiar to the touch, i.e., everything is where they used to be, and should be. There are no awkward controls placed in weird places like an afterthought. Ergonomically, everything is within easy reach, especially useful when you’re supposed to be concentrating on the road and nowhere else.
Having said that, the new car is missing one central air vent, so you will need to negotiate with your passenger as to who gets the central vent for there is but one only. I would’ve preferred the vent to be located at the passenger side instead of freezing my fingers on my side, but it’s no deal breaker. The handbrake is now at the driver’s side, whereas it was placed at the passenger side on the 3rd gen.
MZD Connect, Mazda’s all in one 7-inch screen takes pride of place at the center of the dash, just like all new Mazdas, so there’s really not much to write home about over here. Audio, hands-free telephony and vehicle settings are integrated into the console, operated via a center-column mounted knob and button combo. The audio system is loud and commanding, with crisp highs and deep lows, which is quite necessary if you were driving around with the top down. The soft top is very easy to operate, and you can raise or lower the top with one hand while driving, though it isn’t officially recommended.
The seats are leather clad, and so is the multi-function steering wheel, while red stitching is featured throughout the cabin for a sporty feel. In spite of its humble interior dimensions, the cabin isn’t as tight as I thought it would be, which earned the car crucial brownie points in my book. I think a 6-footer will be able to fit just nice in the driver’s seat without feeling claustrophobic, which goes to show how you can design an ultra compact roadster yet make it fit tall people in a pinch.
Seeing th e World Through Different Eyes
Enclosed within rather tight confines and sitting down low does things to you as a driver. Instead of feeling cramped and claustrophobic as most would have you believe, the contrary is what happened to me. Out in the big big world in my small small car, I instantly felt like I was released from the yoke that confined me to prescribed traffic conventions. That, coupled to a responsive engine with a high compression ratio makes you want to gun it at every opportunity.
Adjusting the seating position to my fancy didn’t take long, and after that I really believe what Mazda’s engineers wanted to convey through their SKYACTIV-CHASSIS, which is to connect you with the road. Steering response was decisive but not too heavy; the chassis was tight too. Stabbing the pedal to the metal always brought out a grin, and I just simply couldn’t believe that there were only 158 ponies pulling this sweet Roadster.
It isn’t hard to bring the car to the wrong side of 200km/h, thanks to that lovely 2.0-liter powerhouse. I’d like to believe that its response will be much further improved if it had come with a tank of RON 100 Euro 4M fuel instead of regular RON 95 Euro 2M. It revs with ease every time, with no perceivable flat spots as is common with cars that have variable valve technology. The engine note is acceptably loud and raucous, which gels well for a roadster; I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Shod with lightweight 17” alloys and 215/45 R17 Bridgestones, this baby takes to the tarmac like a duck to water. FR cars are not for the faint-hearted though, with their tendency to oversteer when cornered hard, but the 50:50 weight distribution worked wonders to keep the car in check most of the time. And when things get a little overboard, there’s that nifty traction control system to keep your insurance NCD intact. Handling being a key tenet of any Mazda, it just seemed like every superlative handling characteristic ever concocted by Mazda is present in the MX-5 Miata, much like a showcase for the huge talent pool in the company.
The Mazda MX-5 2016 is the kind of car you’d want to keep in your garage for those weekends when you’ve got nothing to do but just drive anywhere just so you can. It isn’t the kind of car you’d buy as your main mode of transportation for the soft top will most probably end up getting slashed by miscreants or jealous punks. It definitely isn’t all that, but what it is, it does so well. Weaving in and out of traffic in a pinch, out-cornering most cars on the road in a breeze, and letting your hair down as you bask in the glorious fresh morning air. If there’s any car that let’s you get away with the hum-drum of life without costing an arm and a leg, this should definitely be on your shopping list.
Text: Greg Yang