2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review - It's Fun, and Really Fuel Efficient

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
Fast Facts

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

2.0-liter DOHC SKYACTIV-G I4 (155 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 148 lbs-ft torque @ 4,650 rpm)
Six-speed manual transmission, rear-wheel drive
34 highway / 27 city / 30 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
34.1 (Observed, MPG)
Base Price (Sport/GX)
$25,750 (U.S.) / $33,795 (Canada)
As Tested (Club/GS)
$33,135 (U.S.) / $41,895 (Canada)
All prices include $835 destination fee (U.S.) or $1,895 destination fee and A/C tax (Canada). U.S. pricing not exact due to regional packaging.
2016 mazda mx 5 miata review it s fun and really fuel efficient

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There are vehicular bonuses, as well. The Jeep Wrangler succeeds at what it was built to do: to handle genuinely tough off-road situations. But it’s also a convertible.

Our long-term Honda Odyssey seats eight in surprising comfort, just as it ought to. But the Odyssey also handles really well.

After growing acquainted with all kinds of odd duckling electric cars, the Tesla Model S didn’t merely expand our expectations for electric range and performance, it looked really good while doing so.

After a blissful week of sunshine during which I drove 260 miles with a variety of passengers on mostly coastal routes, never attempting for a moment to do anything but drive the car harder than we would any other test car, it turns out our Mazda Canada-supplied 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata travelled 34 miles per gallon. Bonus.

You’re right, I wouldn’t have cared if the MX-5 drank like a sailor. Indeed, my expectations were few: I expected the fourth-generation ND Miata to ride and handle well, to miraculously produce good weather on the often foggy Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia, and to shift with proverbially surgical precision while transmitting information back to me, its driver, through multiple channels.

The 2016 MX-5 did all that; it showed me it was going to do all of that for the duration of its 260-mile stay before we’d even completed mile one together, reciting sweet jinba ittai poetry to one another like something out of a Japanese Louis L’Amour novel.

But with the throttle often pinned to the floor — as you do in roadsters with 155 horsepower — and often with an additional 230+ pounds of RCMP friend aboard, and with few ventures onto the highway, the 2016 MX-5’s onboard computer claimed 35.6 mpg at the end of the week. (It was our own pump-to-pump calculations that showed 34.1 mpg.) With a manual transmission, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is rated by the EPA at 27 mpg in the city, 34 on the highway. Premium fuel is recommended.

Does it matter? Is truly economical travel another means by which Mazda USA can market the Miata? Probably not. But I like icing on my cake.

The cake itself is nevertheless tremendously tasty. To say the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is intrinsically good would do a disservice to Mazda’s hard work. Simply constructing a tiny two-seat roadster does not automatically a great car make. Yet Mazda has been making the Miata such an exemplary example of the breed for so long that, with no surprises to be found, we can grow cold to praise of its attributes.

I was, therefore, not shocked in the least to discover one of history’s great manual gearboxes. Oh, looka here, there’s that familiar firm-but-sufficiently-compliant ride quality with enough body roll to communicate the gentle threat of approachable limits. As anticipated, the steering is alive, turn-in is immediate, brake feel (with Brembos in this car) is perfect.

None of this comes as a shock to anyone who’s ever driven any Miata. Nor will the fact that the driver’s connection to the Miata is more tangible through the seat of your pants than through the wheel, shifter, or brakes. Yes, the MX-5 is an interactive car in every facet, but because of the degree to which it communicates through your backside, the MX-5 would still be a highly interactive car even if it braked automatically, steered autonomously, and shifted gears on its own.

Better yet, the intensity of the relationship the Miata seeks to develop with its driver is evident at any speed. In an age when horsepower wars have skewed our understanding of performance, the 2016 MX-5 stands out as a performance car that’s highly enjoyable when you’re not exceeding the posted limit.

The fun starts when you squeeze one button and flip the roof back over your head with less effort than you used to put on a t-shirt. MX-5 fun is emphasized by your very first shift into second, the snarly little 2.0-liter four-cylinder that needs you to make sure it’s in the right gear at the right time lest power becomes unavailable, the absurdly quick steering that will swing you past the inside of a yield sign if you’re unaccustomed to prompt obedience. The MX-5’s fun rating is maxed out on a road where sweeping lefts are followed by hairpin rights; where you realize that the MX-5’s pedal placement is so perfect that this Mazda might just teach you how to heel-and-toe.

That the fourth-generation MX-5 misses absolute perfection is not — contrary to the religion of a handful of Alfa Romeo enthusiasts and old dudes in their tenth year of an MG Midget restoration — “precisely what makes it charming.” Rather, the 2016 MX-5’s faults are neither numerous or serious.

Controls for the infotainment unit, lacking space further forward, are positioned too far toward the back of the centre console. Moreover, the Mazda infotainment unit, while straightforward, isn’t quick off the draw. Interior storage is at a premium, and cupholders are awkwardly placed and not all that useful. Roof-up driving, the little of which we engaged in, induces claustrophobia and transforms visibility from peerless to dreadful. Passenger space is encroached upon by a bulging centre tunnel. Ingress for both occupants is made challenging by the windshield header.

Our test car was also a pricey little number, too. You can’t spec a Miata like this in the United States, as a mid-grade GS example with a $4,400 sport package that includes Recaro seats. Priced at CAD $41,895 with fees, it’s not unlike Mazda USA’s MX-5 Club with the $3,400 Brembo/BBS package at $33,135, including $300 red paint. But we’d prefer 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata at its U.S. base price of $25,750, where the Miata is everything a Miata needs to be.

Regardless of its price point, the Miata makes the Subaru WRX seem frivolously powerful, the Ford Mustang parked alongside look like a pickup truck, and the Buick Cascada feel as disconnected as your iPhone in Death Valley.

It also makes the previous Miata, officially a 24-mpg car that travelled only 21 mpg in our care, seem terribly thirsty.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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2 of 61 comments
  • Jim Fekete Jim Fekete on Jul 21, 2016

    Love them but too small for my 6'8" long torso frame. I ended up slacking my roadster thirst with a 2009 MB SLK55 AMG. Tall guys, the that is your roadster!

  • Stevelovescars Stevelovescars on Jul 27, 2016

    Excellent write-up. I have a 1990 Miata and I get about 30 mpg on a good day, I usually average around 28 mpg with regular unleaded. That this new car is so much faster (not to mention safer, and loaded with a lot more comfort features) is a good example of the progress made over the past 25 years. Regarding the power, I have had a lot of cars, from a 911, a Corvette, a Z28, BMWs, 300ZX, and others. I like powerful cars and I like the noises they make, but at the end of the day I keep finding myself coming back to lighter and less powerful cars. I had a similar learning curve with motorcycles. I started small, worked my way "up" to Harleys and 1200cc BMWs and then ended up with one bike in my garage, a 500cc Honda single (GB500). When I look in my garage and have a trip to take that may involve some engaging roads, I always grab the Miata keys. I LIKE that I can rev the piss out of it in 3 or 4 gears without risking jail time. When I had my Corvette (a 1994 LT1-6sp with 300hp) I just felt bored on the street because I honestly couldn't ever use a fraction of what the car could deliver. I can't even imagine what the new C7 would be like cruising around at legal speeds. I have yet to drive an ND but hope to some day soon. In the meantime, Miata fun can be had for very little money from any of the generations. The magic of this car is that it was designed so "right" from the beginning. They have always been affordable, fun, amazingly reliable, and inexpensive to own. That no one (except perhaps the Honda S2000) was able to even come close to this in the meantime is incredible.

  • MaintenanceCosts Imagine that... the OEM that doesn't make absurd false claims about "Full Self-Driving" and that doesn't release beta software onto public streets gets better treatment from the regulator.
  • MaintenanceCosts Yes, yes, balance, quick turn-in, working the gears, blah, blah.I'm sorry, none of it is convincing. A 3-series needs two more cylinders than this so that it doesn't sound like a Jetta on $199/month special.
  • MaintenanceCosts Is Stellantis capable of making a product for the American market without embarrassing levels of over-the-top fake machismo?
  • Philip This raises two questions for me:[list=1][*]What happens to all of the chargepoint that we have installed at our homes? Do those all have to be replaced?[/*][*]What happens to all of the billions of dollars from the federal government being spent on non-tesla ports at wal-marts and pilot service centers? [/*][/list=1]
  • FreedMike I didn't know the 318 was made in anything but that ugly hatchback style.