Drive Review – 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata – by Ben Lewis

There are people out there not enamored by the all-new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

And you can include me. Well, sort of. Let me explain.

First of all, a disclosure. A well-worn 1990 Miata lives in the Ben Lewis garage. I’ve had it over 15 years. And yes, it’s red. So I’m a fan.

And when the Second Gen (NB to you and me) bowed in 1999, I liked it. But I was amazed that even though it only lost an inch of legroom, I didn’t fit comfortably. And really, I’m not that tall. I was personally happier when the 3rd gen 2006 (NC) model showed up. More interior room, noticeable power bump, and I really liked the styling – although some of the Miata club don’t seem to like it. And the later “smiley face” version did little to win over new friends.

The point is, the development of the MX-5 has seemed pretty organic, and at the same time admirable, as Mazda has kept the small, light, simple, ethos and avoided the middle-age bloat that has hit so many sports cars.

But I had issues with the new ND model. I get that Mazda had to break away, and make a vehicle that fell more in line with their current design language. Still, to my eye, it looked like it was trying to be something else… a shrunken Jag XK-F comes to mind. So while I was pretty sure that the new model would drive great (those engineers really do know their stuff) I was prepared to dislike it.

I lasted about a day. Then I fell in love with it.

But Mazda, you didn’t make it easy.

First of all, you hear about how roomy the interior is. Despite the exterior dimensions being close to the size of my 1990, it has more interior room than the previous NC. Music to my ears. There’s a piper to be paid for this, though. With all the modern safety equipment they have to shoehorn in, plus the info-tainment system control in the center console, ergonomics take a hit.

Glove box? Adios, amigo. There’s a large locking storage cubby mounted behind you. Cupholders? Well if you don’t have a passenger, you can attach one to the side of the passenger seat. But if you’re running two on board, the removable cupholders click in at the back of the center tunnel. Which 1. Gets in the way of shifting, 2. Makes you twist like a Yogi (the human pretzel, not the bear) and 3. Doesn’t really hold a cup all that well.

I will give a nod to the long seat travel that will let those over 6-feet tall finally enjoy the bliss of Miata without worrying about a bird strike in the forehead as you tower above the windshield. And while you lose a center console with any storage, you now have a modern touch-screen infotainment system, with Mazda’s easy to use control interface just aft of the shift lever. Nice.

Our tester was the luxury Grand Touring trim, which means we got cushy with leather-trimmed sport seats, Piano Black seatback bar trim, a 9-speaker Bose system with headrest speakers. (When you use the Bluetooth Hands free phone, it plays through the headrest, very cool!) It’s a quality piece.

Still, if the first time you get in the new Miata the top is up, it’s going to feel claustrophobic. There’s any easy cure for this. Reach up, pop the latch, and swing the top behind you until it click into place. This is actually even easier than the 1990, which was a revelation in soft top design when it came out.

For those needing or wanting a hard top, Mazda recently released the RF retractable hard top model, which is extremely handsome – OK, it looks like a baby Jag or Z4 M Coupe – and has more of a targa-top appearance since the C-pillars stay up in place, even with the top down.

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About The Author

Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round -- whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, or learning to surf.