By on February 2, 2015

To say that the global preview for the new MX-5 was “exclusive” would be like calling the Moon “rarely visited”. Only eight North American journalists had the chance to drive one of just four available cars over the course of two days. The good news is that we each got nearly two hours in the “ND”, all on mostly empty roads and without a drive partner.

The better news is that I got an additional two hours to interview key management and engineering personnel from Mazda after my drive. I didn’t get all the answers I wanted, but I got a few that you won’t get anywhere else — at least not yet.

You can see my review of the MX-5 in right-hand-drive, 1.5-liter, JDM (yo) form here. Due to space limitations, however, that article doesn’t include several interview tidbits and additional information. So, without further ado:

  • As part of the efforts to reduce weight and lower the polar moment of inertia, the roll hoops and their supporting structure are now made from aluminum. Since this makes welding a competition rollcage a tricky business, the MX-5s that are being used in the new Global MX-5 Cup will have a steel structure in place of the aluminum one — but what does this mean for future generations of Spec Miata and other road-car-into-race-car series?
  • Part of the new MX-5’s responsiveness comes from a lighter flywheel. This is an old trick to increase the perceived power of a car, but it always comes at the cost of low-speed driveability and NVH. To cut down on the resulting vibration, there are fifty-gram damping weights mounted on the differential. How light is the flywheel? Mazda wouldn’t say. They did show an engineering diagram that appears to suggest that the weight savings comes from machining the outer rim with oval depressions. The flywheel in the NC was 16.2 pounds; street/race flywheels from the aftermarket can be as low as half that. My guess: fourteen pounds.
  • However, Mazda did disclose that the flywheel is single-mass instead of dual-mass/rubber-damped.
  • In conversations with the drivetrain engineer, he specifically declined to state that the much lighter, aluminum case rear differential has the same power handling capacity as the old one. He was only willing to state that it was the same for both engines and that it had been engineered to handle the two-liter, which has slightly more torque (148 lb-ft vs. 141 lb-ft) than before.
  • The suspension is single-rate sprung and very soft, which I think is a good thing. This car rides pretty well for the size and weight.
  • There’s more legroom in this Miata than there was in its predecessor, and I never felt cramped during my two-hour drive. With that said, I have short legs for my height, and usually wear a thirty-two or thirty-three inch inseam. What about headroom? Although the driver sits twenty millimeters lower, the windshield’s lower as well. I had no trouble sitting in such a fashion as to align my eyes with the sunshades. Tall drivers beware. This might be particularly true with the top up; it’s lower profile than it was in the NC.

While the Internet is already foaming at the mouth about the 155-horsepower rating for the SKYACTIV two-liter, I continue to believe this is the best Miata in history and very much worth the money, assuming it costs at least one penny less than a Boxster 2.7. Not that the Boxster is as fun to drive, sad to say. Regardless of the power, if you want to be one of the early adopters, my recommendation would be to get in line now.

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57 Comments on “Behind The Scenes At The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Long Lead Preview...”


  • avatar
    mitchw

    An editor at MotorTrend wrote vaguely that there’s something odd going on with the way the car handles how a driver comes off the brake pedal. Any idea, Jack?

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    The biggest news about this car does seem to be Mazda’s dedication at keeping the mass down, but I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by seeing the cheaper of the two econobox fours as the only engine. The 2.0 isn’t very inspiring in the heavier 3, so it will be interesting to see how it does in this roadster. For now it seems that, like the FR-S/BR-Z, this is an affordable, tossable, handling-biased car in search of an engine that isn’t best described as mediocre.

    What do current or past TTAC Miata owners think about the engine choice?

    • 0 avatar
      WheelMcCoy

      My 2010 Mazda3 has a curb weight of 2865 pounds and it is mated to a 5 speed manual. It works very well. I’m even down a couple HP and torque because the engine is P-ZEV.

      The earlier Miatas had so-so mpg for such a small car but I understand convertibles have lousy aerodynamics. A skyactiv 2.0L should fix that. And on a 2200 pound car with stick, it should plenty of fun in the curves (as JB showed).

      • 0 avatar
        I_Like_Pie

        The earlier miatas has such lousy MPG because they were spinning at like 4000 rpm at 70 mpg in 5th + a pretty aggressive throttle mapping.

        I swear that I got better mpg around town than I did in the drive from Chattanooga to Nashville.

    • 0 avatar
      Tinn-Can

      The AC ace was a fine car and Shelby obviously missed the point and just couldn’t enjoy driving a slow car fast… Said no… one… ever…

      • 0 avatar
        juicy sushi

        No, but the Sunbeam Alpine was a nice roadster. The Tiger is awesome too, but the original had its own virtues. For those who demand the Cobra-style experience, there are Corvettes and F-Types.

        The Miata was never designed by Mazda to be that, and that’s completely ok. Not every car must conform to one definition of “fun.” If you want more power, other companies are quite happy to help.

        It’s pretty pathetic that every Miata/Toyobaru article must follow this same trend of people who don’t like this idea of fun vocally broadcasting their thoughts to everyone else.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Over at the Miata forums, owners have collectively lost their minds over the horsepower figure. Opinions are mostly divided into two camps: those who believe that Miatas are supposed to be underpowered and that 200hp would ruin the car, and those who can’t fathom the concept of considering a Miata with a lower horsepower figure than the outgoing model.

      Personally, I have a ’99 model, which is about 100 lbs heavier and 15 hp weaker than this new car. I expected, and would’ve preferred, more power than what’s been quoted for the new car, but have no doubts that it’ll be a blast to drive. As is, I still think that my current car is great fun, and it doesn’t have the benefit of 16 years of chassis engineering that the ND does. For reference, my avatar is a 1,000cc Suzuki I used to daily, so my satisfaction with the driving experience isn’t because I’m ignorant to the joys of acceleration.

      If Jack is this enthusiastic over the 1.5L, 130 hp version he drove, the 155 hp version should be good fun in the real world and on curvy tracks, while getting passed on straightaways by nearly everything, just as it has for the past 25 years.

  • avatar
    Fred

    Has there been much flack about the single cup holder? If so then we can ignore the 4 bolt wheel and lower hp comments.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Would a Hellcat Hemi fit in there?

  • avatar
    WheelMcCoy

    Thanks for the preview. At the end of the video, as you closed in on a car I presume was driving the speed limit, I got a better sense and greater appreciation of your speed. Looking forward for more details.

  • avatar
    redav

    I have no complaints about the 155 hp 2.0L, but I’m surprised they didn’t match the prior engine’s output.

    Also a random thought for all the Miata-modders out there: The high compression ratio SkyActiv engine may not permit installing a turbo (easily). There will continue to be plenty of LS swaps, but we may see very different behavior of less mods.

    • 0 avatar
      MBella

      Everybody is listing the 155HP output, but has this been confirmed by Mazda? 155HP is the output in the FWD cars, and Mazda usually boosts the output a bit for the Miata.

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        The outgoing 2.0L produced between 130-145HP in the everday Mazdas and Fords, and produced 170HP in the Miata. The Miata should have more aggressive cams and be tuned for premium fuel only, just like the last one.

  • avatar
    Secret Hi5

    Mazda – Make the 1.5L available in the USA.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    I’m excited for the Fiat version. Will it be even better than the Mazda? Time will tell.

  • avatar

    I’ll look forward to reading the R&T version when I get the next issue. But I will say I got more from the main photo in R&T (I clicked on the link) than from the video, although I was intrigued by the size of the steering wheel. Meanwhile, what are NC and JDM?

    • 0 avatar
      Redshift

      NC is the chassis code of the 3rd generation MX5. The 1st Gen was the NA, second Gen was the NB.

      JDM = Japanese Domestic Market. (ie. Trendy because of the connotation of being exclusive to Japan unobtainium that only true connoisseurs can appreciate.)

  • avatar
    319583076

    Stock Miatas have never been about more power. Since they are so popular and use corporate engines, the aftermarket offers a continuum of power adding modifications starting with intake and exhaust, moving through turbo and superchargers, through V8 swaps with upper limits of power constrained only by your bank account.

    Whether you want to add 10 hp or 300 hp, those solutions exist today.

    Within 6 months of ND availability, we’ll know if an LS engine fits and within 12 months, the kits will be available.

    The way most people drive, 155 hp is plenty for this car.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      There aren’t any solutions yet available for the ND, since they’re not using the old motor. I don’t think there are many parts yet available for Skyactiv motors. Although a UK tuner is already planning a package:

      http://www.pistonheads.com/news/ph-japanesecars/bbr-upgrades-for-new-mx-5/31464

      • 0 avatar
        319583076

        *sighs*

        You know as well as I do that there are people working on power modifications to the ND right now. I tried to make that point in my post.

        The point being, people that choose to drive a Miata but are unhappy with the power have many options to customize the car to their specification.

        The rest of the power complainers were never going to drive a Miata anyway.

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    I’d like to see a Spark EV power train in this.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    Personally, I find a 155hp four cylinder in ANY new car, possibly short of an A-segment $12k economy car, dismal and unacceptable. Let alone in a new sports car. It should have 180-200hp, easily.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      Yes, but what you think, and what Mazda think are entirely different. One is the opinion of a guy, on the internet, who wasn’t going to buy the car anyway. The other is the opinion of the company that is dropping several hundred million dollars on the thing.

      The car is what they intended it to be. If you didn’t like it in the first place, 155hp doesn’t change that now.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        “One is the opinion of a guy, on the internet, who wasn’t going to buy the car anyway. ”

        Says who? Look at my avatar, I have bought a roadster of sufficient power in the past. I was anticipating the ND, thinking it would be 180-200hp and 2200lbs, and that would be a similar power to weight ratio as my S2000 and therefore maybe an interesting replacement candidate. But it isn’t.

        • 0 avatar
          juicy sushi

          And it never was going to be. Mazda never gave anyone any indication it would be that. Some fanboys got into the hype game and may have fantasized about that, but nothing from the company gave any indication of that.

          It’s not like they have the money to build a new engine for the car, just to satisfy an extra 5% who demand more power.

          • 0 avatar
            319583076

            Don’t bother, juicy sushi. This point isn’t worth arguing, believe me.

            Chris bought the Honda because it’s superior to the Mazda and that is the end of the world from his perspective. His current list of hobbies include: feigning interest in the MX-5 to point out that his S2K is superior in all ways.

    • 0 avatar

      Having driven a 2200lb NA with 150 hp (aftermarket turbo, low-boost), that’s a perfectly fine power/weight ratio. A base NC weighs 2486 lbs and has 167 horsepower, which equates to an inferior power/weight ratio versus the ND.

      • 0 avatar
        Demetri

        The 2.0L model won’t be 2200 lbs. Nothing official, but a lot of people seem to think it will be closer to 2300. It’s not just the engine size increasing, the 2.0L model will also have bigger wheels and brakes and possibly other things. The NC2’s engine is also generally considered to be underrated at 167hp. They made some improvements to the MZR in the refresh, which show on the dyno, but they never came out with new HP ratings.

        We’ll see how it turns out, but I’m willing to bet the acceleration figures will be a wash.

    • 0 avatar
      mitchw

      The Miata will have 150ft lbs of torque in a 2200lb car, while the S2000 has ~160 in a 2800lb car. If my numbers aren’t wrong, it sounds like the ND will be a bit of fun, too.

  • avatar
    Demetri

    It’s actually pretty interesting. It seems the ND was never originally intended to pack the 2.0L engine, and in fact, will not be sold in that configuration at all in Japan. Mazda North America put a lot of pressure on them to offer a larger engine, because they felt it would be too difficult to sell a car with less power than the previous model (understandable). So, the engineers said “Fine, have your bigger engine”, but did absolutely nothing to get any more power out of it, and Mazda NA is going to have to sell a car with less power anyway. Kind of a subtle “eff you” for trying to sully the purity of their baby. Notice that the 1.5L is making 130hp, a nice boost over the 113 in the new Mazda2. The 2.0L actually has the lower torque rating comparable to the Skyactiv in the second gen Mazda3, which suggests they weren’t able to fit the full Skyactiv header. They didn’t even set it up to run on premium fuel like the Skyactiv 2.0L in Europe that makes ~165hp.

    The management/engineers at Mazda apparently have a very narrow view of what a Miata should be. It seems they think having a relatively weak engine is actually part of the car’s character, and the decrease in weight from using the 1.5L is more valuable than horsepower. One of the Mazda employees at the event actually said that more power would disrupt the “balance” of the car. I guess that means we should just forget about the possibility of a Mazdaspeed Miata.

    • 0 avatar
      juicy sushi

      It IS their baby, and is what they intend it to be. Why is this a surprise to anyone?

    • 0 avatar
      319583076

      The head engineer for the 86 said the same thing – more power would unbalance the chassis.

      The issue no one seems to discuss is: when the Germans build bahn-burners and ring-destroyers, Americans drool and lust; when the Japanese build lightweight, balanced drivers, Americans complain about inadequate power.

      The obvious conclusion is that German and American tastes are more similar than Japanese and American tastes. A corollary seems to be that German and American roads and driving are more similar than Japanese and American roads and driving.

      The Miata is maybe more similar to the 911 in terms of legacy and evolutionary design than any other car. Each generation, the 911 gets bigger, heavier, more powerful, and offers more trim levels and options than previously. In contrast, after two generations of growth, the Miata has returned to its diminutive roots.

      It’s a remarkable accomplishment, and you have to admire the purity, tenacity, and termerity demonstrated by Mazda regardless of your opinion of the product. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that Mazda engineering is chasing market, in contrast to Porsche engineering…

      • 0 avatar
        JMII

        The head engineer for the 86 was wrong. Just about everyone who drives one wants more power. While I agree the Miata will be fixable with some mild mods all the talk around this “little” engine just proves they should have given it a touch more power and ended the argument before it even started. Nobody complains about too much power. I appreciate the focus and commitment to keep things as light as possible but would it have really ruined the whole project to give us some more ponies to play with?

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      They should let the customers decide.

      It’s not the 80s where a 9 second 0-60 time was fast. Give customers options. Otherwise there won’t BE an NE.

      • 0 avatar
        JuniperBug

        In 1989 it wasn’t, either, for what it’s worth (a base Golf ran similar numbers at the time), and 7.9 wasn’t fast in 1999, and 6.7 wasn’t in 2006, although the last wasn’t half-bad. And yet, here we are more than 25 years later, arguing about the latest one also not being fast.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I had a 1991 (NA) with the 1.6 L and about 118 hp. It wasn’t fast but I never wanted for more power. Then again, I subscribe to the “it’s more fun to drive a slow car quickly than a fast car slowly” school of thought. I sold my Corvette after a few months because I felt like I could never really enjoy it on the street, for example. I also thought my 1984 911 Carrera 3.2 (200 hp) was just about perfect. I have a couple of questions about this new model:

    How does the engine/exhaust sound? When designing the original, Mazda engineers reportedly spent a lot of time tuning the sound of the engine and I think they nailed it. This was a big part of the enjoyment of the car for me.

    How is noise and engine RPM on the freeway? Is 6th gear/final drive taller for lower revs, less noise, and better fuel economy? I enjoyed long trips on my car but a taller top gear would have been appreciated for those reasons. NB and NC cars with the six speed seemed to have a similarly short top gear with closer-spaced lower gears. That never made much sense to me.

  • avatar
    Theek

    I’ve got a question for Jack Baruth:

    How tall are you. I’m almost 6’2″ with a 31-32″ inseam and long trunk. If that’s you with the red flow we’re, um, similarly shaped. Hoping I can fit in this thing. Then again I used to drive a Honda CVCC.

  • avatar
    marmot

    That rattling! It sounds exactly like the rear window rattle in my ’99 Miata. The convertible top had to be replaced 3 times. There was no way to tighten the window or muffle the noise.

  • avatar
    eventualhorizon

    This is awesome. I haven’t really followed any of the pre-release buildup so I wasn’t expecting it to be so light. 2200 lbs is amazing for a car with the everyday driveability of an mx-5. For comparison my 72 240z with no safety features, ac or power anything is 2450 lbs.

    It is a shame that they didn’t get more power out of the 2.0 but that should be curable with aftermarket add ons. Perhaps they are leaving room for future model upgrades.

    edit:forgot to add… one thing that would be interesting on such a light car would be a manual steering option/epas delete.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    JB, I feel your pain about the MIata’s low ceiling. I might have found some excuse to buy one, if only I wasn’t stuck staring right at the sun visors. That seemed to defeat the purpose of an “open car.” I had no such problem back in the late Sixties, in my Fiat 1500 Cabriolet!

    But then I’m built like a fireplug, sometimes seeming taller sitting down. Short arms don’t favor the laid-back cruiser seat settings, so I sit upright, stuck under a low roof. In many cars, I feel like a nut in a cracker. Designers really don’t like to size cars for us, and it shows.

    Yesterday I sat in the new Golf, which has had its height lowered by an inch. All of it came out of the roof, I’d say. The front cabin felt much smaller than before. It made my Mk V feel like a Checker cab, but I like that feeling. Not only do I see to drive, I like to drive to see. After owning four GTIs, this is the first time when I’ve felt that the new model was off the table for me.

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