There aren’t many cars that launch to universal acclaim, but with the 2016 MX-5 Miata, Mazda may have done just that. No matter which publication you read, initial reviews are overwhelmingly positive, and it appears that everyone who’s driven it loves the new Miata.
When reviews of a car are so positive, it’s wise to be skeptical of how objective the writers are being. They couldn’t have arrived to the exact same conclusion all on their own, could they? Is the new Miata really as good as the rest of the media is making it out to be?
In short, yes.
I only got a little over an hour behind the wheel of a pre-production Miata, but it’s not a car that takes time to get adjusted to. You buckle yourself into the driver’s seat, turn it on, and go have fun. In a way, it’s a lot like the Fiat 500 Abarth in how easy it is to enjoy, but that’s where the similarities end.
The Fiat is cartoonish with controls placed in odd locations, an absurd exhaust note, and the sense that its designers were in on the joke. The Fiat 500 is an inexpensive city car, after all, not a purpose-built sports car. The Miata, on the other hand, is 100% a purpose-built sports car. Instead of describing it with words like “wild” and “hilarious” to describe the Miata, you use words like “effortless,” “natural,” and “precise.”
The convertible top, for example, is incredibly simple to operate. I don’t think anyone is going to need to read the instruction manual to figure it out because all you do is reach behind your head, pull it forward, and fasten it closed. It feels natural.
The same goes for shifting gears. Unlike a lot of cars with manual transmissions, figuring out where the clutch engages and how to shift smoothly doesn’t take any time at all. The clutch and the shifter work together the way you expect them to, making it easy to drive the new Miata smoothly within the first minute or two even if you haven’t driven a manual in months.
Inside, the interior offers a surprising number of creature comforts, but it’s still an exercise in minimalism. It doesn’t feel like corners were cut so much as it feels like lightness was prioritized over unnecessary luxury. Mazda wanted to save weight, after all, and considering that it’s less than 100 pounds heavier than the original Miata, the weight-saving efforts have paid off.
That weight savings means that even though you only have 155 horsepower to work with, it feels like more. Mazda isn’t quoting specific acceleration figures, and even though I’ve heard rumors that it can hit 60 miles per hour in under six seconds, who cares?
If you love the idea of getting into a shouting contest with other people over who has the car with the best statistics, go buy a muscle car. They’re great for that sort of thing. I mean, the Challenger Hellcat has 707 horsepower. When you drive that car, you’re almost guaranteed to have the most horsepower.
It’s only in rare situations that you can fully enjoy all of the Hellcat’s 707 horsepower. In the Miata, you can fully enjoy all 155 horsepower whenever you want. The only thing that will dampen the fun is traffic, which will slow you down and make you wish you’d gotten up early enough to have the road to yourself.
The new Miata is also surprisingly good on the highway. At somewhere around 65 miles per hour, I was able to still have a conversation with my passenger without shouting. If you’re going to spend several hours on the highway, you’ll probably find that it’s more enjoyable to put the top up, but on relatively short high speed drives, you will be perfectly happy with the top down.
Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, came as I was driving through some little town on the coast. There was an Alfa Romeo 4C Spider in front of me with its raucous exhaust making an unnecessary but wonderful commotion in this quiet tourist town. I was perfectly happy to sit there and soak in its beauty, but as a group of guys walked past the two of us, they all openly gawked at the 4C and then proceeded to start talking about the Miata.
Some people have taken issue with the new Miata’s looks, but while I won’t go so far as to declare it more attractive than the Alfa Romeo, it says a lot that Mazda’s new roadster drew the attention of a group of college guys. Considering that you can also get a base Miata for around $25,000, you can buy two and a half Miatas for the price of one 4C Spider.
Sadly, my time in the Miata ended almost as soon as it began. It left me wanting more, though, and believe me when I tell you that it isn’t over-hyped. If you don’t want a two-seat roadster, or if you’re looking for raw, unbridled power, the Miata obviously isn’t for you, but it’s the kind of car that will make you a better driver, and it’s the kind of car you immediately fall in love with.
If you’re in the market for something fun, you owe it to yourself to consider the new Miata.