Freshly back from a track drive with the 2016 MX-5 Experience tour — and have some serious vehicular brilliance to report!
As you might know already, or simply expect, this latest MX-5 is an absolutely breathtaking evolution on the light/rear-drive roadster theme. Improving upon a genre the Miata defines conclusively? Not easy to do — especially with firm price and power caps limiting headline performance numbers.
Yet the latest engineering, style and handling excellence from Mazda has done wonders for the MX-5. After all, if Mazda can make the CX-5 into a lively steer, the SkyActiv mantra should really make some fireworks in the MX-5 — the firm’s signature sports flagship these days.
And boy did they deliver. Let’s break down this first drive brief into three sections:
Included below the HD track videos and 200 new photos? The two remaining 2015 dates for the MX-5 track drive experience — this weekend and next in Texas and Arizona.
Definitely worth your time to drive the new MX-5, either on track or even on the road. Where its smile-inducing drive manners bring trackday bliss onto normally-boring city streets.
The new MX-5 design was hard to swallow upon its release. The big smiley nose appeared to be back from the Mazda design archives, while the lighting and overall nose was hard to judge definitively. Yes, it looks all-new — but is it beautiful?
In person, the MX-5 for 2016 will drop your jaw. That newly-aggressive nose is absolutely gorgeous in the flesh. Dark-tinted lighting up top makes just shark-like black slits in the outermost edges of the hood. That hoodline is now much longer and lower-appearing thanks to a leading edge stretch into the bumper. The upper grille/intake element forms a sharp and premium leading edge of the nose — with intense results. Standard DRL LED accents live in the inner corners of the main bi-xenon projectors — but these are just a tiny slash of light. The real LED action lives down below in the top two Club and GT trimlines: dual slashes of white LEDs up the outer bumpers.
Chamfered edges of the lower bumper have a sunken look — like a brake cooling duct, perhaps — but actually house halogen foglamps on the base models. The upper trims have the ultra bright LEDs noted above — forming an interesting light signature on the roads. The lights widen the MX-5 look from the front dramatically, and we love how they are hidden when not viewed from the front via the crisp shrouds of body-colored bumper.
There is much of the elegance and elan of the latest BMW Z4 in the hood as it flows into the shoulderlines of the machine. A crisp upper fenderline lengthens and lowers the hood yet further, and confirms the cab-backward and rear-drive proportions of the MX-5 from all angles. The vertically-shifted windshield brings the A-pillars right to the edges of the steering wheel, it feels from inside, giving superb apex visibility and a chuckable mood from the cockpit.
Around the back and in the rear three-quarter angle, the MX-5 is a mixed bag. The rear fenders are perhaps the new MX-5’s weakest angle, both design-wise and for visual strength. A bit undernourished in their look, the rear fenders are subtle despite some interesting rising sill creasework.
But from the pure tail angle, the MX-5 is roaring back to its new-found butch sexiness.
The Jaguar-esque main round lamps for brake lights are tasteful and sporty, flanked by standard LED optics for the running lights in back. These form a slight glowing triangle outside the main stop lamps. The round brake lights, by the way, have a deep cylindrical shape that is 3D and very classy.
Down in the lower flanks, re-located backup lights mirror the nose slash graphics nicely. These white light pods melt down into the lowest and widest spot in the bodywork — lowering and widening the MX-5 visually.
Much of this design is truly functional. Track-attack MX-5 drivers are likely to make these bumper bodywork cuts functional: removing the lights and carving air intakes/outlets into the factory look.
A real 10/10 on the style charts, this new MX-5. The base models all look almost as great as the loaded Club and GT with the optional aero upgrades — gloss black splitter, sills, tail and trunk spoilers are awesome but not really needed, strictly speaking, for the MX-5’s curb appeal.
Six colors and standard metallic grey wheels are great from the base $23k pricing. But obviously do improve via the gunmetal big-rims option — as is the style improvement via the optional white and satin grey paint choices. Each of those runs about $500 extra.
Three drive stations were part of the MX-5 Experience track day: sprint/braking, slalom and then a two-lap track drive.
The overall carnival atmosphere among car-nuts was palpable at Atlanta Motorsports Park outside of Atlanta. We arrived at 9:05AM just after start time, and were already beaten to the stations by 50 or so loyalists. Lots of tuned machines in the lot, by the way, and TONS of Mazdas. Tons more Miatas and MX-5s — among current machines and previous vehicles of the attendees. People were visibly excited about the new model.
The crowd looked like smarties: engineers and scientists in pairs of dudes were more frequent sites than couples or party people. Just a smart if slightly unwashed crowd, overall. But with big socioeconomic spreads. One new friend we made in line had owned several MX-5s — but now drove the Cadillac ELR PHEV. And defended it to the death, by the way.
We brake-torque-launched the automatic MX-5s in the two handling briefs — eliciting a crowd-pleasing level of tire squeal and zingy tailpipe harmonics.
Where slalom courses are usually a nightmare when spaced this close together, the MX-5 scythed through the cones almost as if weightless. Seriously simple stuff, we kept the throttle hard through the first two cones, started to go neutral drift near the third cones, and eased off throttle for the last two cones. Coming off the gas tucks the nose in and replants the tail right as it was flirting with a slide. Very pleasurable and easy.
The launch and braking was similarly easy — all the autocross MX-5s were automatics to keep things moving. Slightly, slighty underwhelming initial G-force in a full-throttle start gets more entertaining as the 2.0-liter four hits its 155HP torque peak up high in the tachometer.
A full panic stop left me pleased: the MX-5 is incredibly balanced even in that extreme handing test. Where most cars literally stand on their nose during a panic brake stop, the MX-5’s tail stayed commendably planted under hard brakes. Another benefit of master tuning for the handling, light-weighting via “gram” strategy taking weight from every piece of the car, and the 50/50 weight distribution front/rear and side/side.
Getting the MX-5 on track felt second-nature. We’ve only driven this track a few times before, and only in McLaren’s and Ferrari’s. So the MX-5 felt like a trustworthy pal versus mid-engine skittishness.
Corners on this elevation-intensive AMP track are often plunging down or surging uphill. But we felt instantly comfortable in the MX-5’s skin at full throttle.
Nailing corners is obviously critical in the MX-5 because there is not huge thrust to correct over-braking. So we overbraked at first, and slowly learned the best method is to dab the brake on approach, keep speed up and dive into corner apeax with both hands.
The MX-5 comes alive in dynamic moves like this. With 3/4 throttle and big lock on the steering, there is fabulous interplay among all four wheels. Working together, gripping and grinning — the MX-5 wants to go harder. It begged for even more aggressive turn-in, and less braking.
We kept the throttle nearly pegged down outside of paddle-shifting down the six-speed auto ahead of corners. Second and third gears were all we needed for the AMP track, making life easier.
Stickshift cars were available to drive on the track, but had a much longer wait time. So we tried out the auto first. The automatic cannot include a limited-slip differential in back — a spec that is reserved for the Club 6-speed manual.
We’re pleased to report that the LSD seems a bit less than essential. If you plan to bump up the MX-5 power outputs via the aftermarket, the Club and its stiffer springs and diff will be appreciated.
Otherwise, we actually loved the flowing and somewhat chill suspension settings. Traction out of corners was never an issue during our brief drive. Only neutral, heavenly oversteer on track — even in this non-purist automatic option. The MX-5 nose and tail in sync stuck with me versus the Scion FR-S or Subaru BR-Z — which are so drifty that the nose can feel outfoxed and a bit flummoxed as the tail goes wide.
After pointing the camera forward to view the track, we regretted not sharing some views looking back at the cockpit. Despite the full helmet making my face look like a chipmunk, the grinning and laughing on track in the MX-5 would’ve been fun to share.
Pulling up to the pits after the second lap, the smile was painted on my face.
A joyful car — the new MX-5 is beautiful, has immense chassis rigidity improvements, and handling so fun it will wipe the seriousness off any poker face. The thought of pushing the MX-5’s limits on track just makes its road thrills even more desirable.
Check out the two MX-5 experience dates at the bottom of this post — or simply head to your Mazda dealer.
Long live the Roadster!