G. Chambers Williams

Fourth generation Mazda Miata lighter, nimbler, better looking

The all-new generation of the Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster comes with a 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. There is a choice of a six-speed manual or automatic transmission.
The all-new generation of the Mazda MX-5 Miata roadster comes with a 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. There is a choice of a six-speed manual or automatic transmission.

Mazda promised that the redesigned 2016 MX-5 Miata roadster would remain affordable, and the newest generation of the venerable two-seat roadster has arrived – with an affordable starting price just under $25,000.

But our tester for this report rang up a bit higher. It was the midlevel Club model, which carries a base price of $28,600 (plus $820 freight).

With freight and extras, our Miata ended up with a total sticker price of $32,820, which probably doesn’t qualify as “affordable” for most folks. That’s especially true when you consider that for most buyers, this would not be their primary vehicle – it’s really not a practical daily driver for the average person.

Still, there’s a lot of fun packed into this little ragtop, even though, just as in the past, there’s very little room in the cockpit for more than the driver and a single passenger. I once wrote that if two women are riding together in a Miata, one has two purses in her lap. That’s true with the newest model, as well, although there are a few small storage cubbies.

Prices of the fourth generation MX-5 begin at $24,915 for the entry-level Sport trim. The other two models are the Club and the top-of-the-line Grand Touring ($30,065). A six-speed manual gearbox is standard, but a six-speed automatic is offered for an additional $1,075 on all three trim levels.

About three inches shorter and150 pounds lighter than its predecessor, the newest MX-5 includes what Mazda calls its “SkyActiv” technology and Kodo “Soul of Motion” design theme.

The Japanese automaker says the new model “provides Mazda’s latest safety features and technologies, and maintains an inflation-adjusted price close to that of the original roadster.”

One of the most-loved cars of all time, the Miata carries on despite some earlier speculation that Mazda might discontinue it because of waning interest in small sports cars. Two recent direct competitors – the Saturn Sky and Pontiac Solstice – have already gone away, victims of the General Motors bankruptcy in 2009, during which both of those brands, not just the vehicles, were dropped.

The architecture of the new Miata is also shared with Fiat, which is using it in the new generation of the venerable Fiat 124 Spider roadster for 2017.

Powering the 2016 Miata is a new 2.0-liter four-cylinder direct-injection gasoline engine, with 155 horsepower and 148 foot-pounds of torque.

It has ventilated disc brakes in the front, and solid discs in the rear. The front has a double-wishbone suspension; the rear, a multi-link setup.

Mazda’s SkyActiv technology uses lightweight materials and other innovations to create vehicles that are extremely fuel efficient and solidly built.

The new model has a front-mid-ship engine/rear-wheel-drive configuration that achieves an ideal 50:50 front-rear weight distribution, the automaker says. The engine is located closer to the vehicle’s center.

The MX-5’s hood, trunk lid, front fenders and front and rear bumper reinforcements are made of aluminum, and the weight of the soft top has been reduced. These combined to give the car a lower center of gravity, a great help in tight turns on Hill Country back roads.

Even though the Miata has never been a speed demon, and still isn’t, there is plenty of power from this engine for the kind of driving I like to do with an open-top two-seater – cruising those back roads.

And this newest version continues and expands on the car’s great road-handling abilities. Mazda, which I’ve long considered to be the Volkswagen of Japan because of its emphasis on making its cars fun to drive, has carefully crafted the new MX-5 to satisfy people who love to drive.

Mazda says the car was designed to represent the company’s engineering philosophy that focuses on “the pursuit of driving pleasure.”

The Kodo design philosophy is defined by a long hood, short overhangs, a cabin pushed far back on the body, and large wheels moved as far as feasible towards all four corners, Mazda says.

Pedals and other controls were positioned to enable the driver to maintain a straight posture and drive comfortably. The hood is also lower than before, and with the new positioning of the windshield, there is better visibility to the front and sides.

I particularly enjoyed being able to lower or raise the convertible top while sitting in the driver’s seat. That came in handy when a rain shower surprised me while I was tooling around in the warm December weather.

The new MX-5 still looks great, with the top up or down, and even with the new Kodo styling, it’s instantly recognizable as a Miata. Wind-breaking technology kept wind to a minimum inside the cabin even with the top down at highway speeds, and it was especially calm on curvy country roads at less-than-freeway speeds.

The great Bose nine-speaker audio system also features headrest speakers so the audio system can be enjoyed even at highway speeds with the top down. It was part of the MazdaConnect infotainment system, which came with a seven-inch color touch-screen display with voice-command operation, satellite/HD radio, two USB inputs, and smart keyless entry with pushbutton start.

Among other standard features on my Club tester were full LED headlights/taillights/daytime running lights, Bluetooth audio streaming and phone connection, a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein shocks, a front air dam and rear lip spoiler (exclusive to the Club), a sport-tuned exhaust system, cruise control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, power windows with one-touch down, air conditioning, and cloth seats.

We also had power outside mirrors, a glass rear window with defogger, dual bright exhaust outlets, dual vanity mirrors, and carpeted floor mats.

The only option on my vehicle was the Brembo/BBS Package ($3,400), which brought lightweight, forged-aluminum 17-inch BBS wheels, Brembo front brakes with red-painted calipers at all four wheels, a rear bumper skirt and side sill extensions.

Standard safety features included four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist; electronic stability control with traction control; limited-slip differential; front side-impact air bags; and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com and on Twitter @gchambers3.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

The package: Subcompact, rear-drive, two-passenger, two-door, four-cylinder, soft-top convertible sports car.

Highlights: Redesigned for 2016, this is the fourth generation of Mazda’s little two-seat roadster, introduced in 1989 and previously redesigned in 1999 and 2007. It’s slightly smaller and less powerful than the previous model, and has no carryover parts.

Negatives: Limited trunk and interior space.

Engine: 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder.

Power/torque: 155 HP/148 foot-pounds.

Transmissions: Six-speed manual (standard); six-speed automatic (optional, $1,075).

Length: 154.1 inches.

Curb weight: 2,332 pounds (manual); 2,381 pounds (automatic).

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, power, antilock.

Trunk volume: 4.6 cubic feet.

Side air bags: Standard.

Electronic stability control: Standard.

Major competitors: Volkswagen Beetle convertible, BMW Z4.

EPA fuel economy: 27 mpg city/34 highway/30 combined (manual); 27/36/30 (automatic).

Fuel capacity/type: 11.9 gallons.

Base price range: $24,915-$27,460 plus $820 freight.

Price as tested: $32,820, including freight and options (Club model, manual).

On the Road rating: 8.7 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.