Vellum Venom: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata (ND)

Sajeev Mehta
by Sajeev Mehta
vellum venom 2016 mazda mx 5 miata nd

I had the distinct non-privilege of sampling an ND Miata at a Mazda event for the general public, which was also covered by one of TTAC’s sister publications. A gaze at the hood bulges at (slow) auto journo track speeds netted a surprise: there was an urgency to get this cab-backward profile on the Vellum.

It’s no different than being a design student; visions quickly sketched on vellum (lower case) were crucial. Today’s urgency isn’t for my GPA, but for Vellum Venom’s readers (all 51 of you) and for my soul. It’s been too long.

The proliferation of animated big-mouth facias, a design necessity as heinous (yet eye-catching) as 5-mph bumpers in the late ’70s, actually works here. The fenders have purposeful haunches, the squinty headlights are mad aggressive. Is this a modern take on the Austin Healey Bugeye Sprite?

The biggest buzzkill is the counterintuitive bumper-to-hood cutline, followed by the mandatory inclusion of a bucktooth front license plate in The Lone Star State.

It’s all good, aside from the oversized emblem (because MARKETING NEEDS UR ATTENTION) and that pulled back, balding forehead-esque hood cutline.

That damn hood/bumper: every other line conveys a sense of speed with vanishing points ahead of the vehicle. This cutline (i.e. the two lines starting at the headlights) sucks back to a vanishing point in the middle of the hood, visually slowing down the fascia’s center, hence the bald forehead reference.

But I do not spew hate upon the designers. I reckon the bald head is the byproduct of pedestrian crash regulations or insurance repair concerns.

Note the strong forward push of the headlights, going to a very happy vanishing point. Note how the hood/bumper cutline, like a dog locking all four legs in protest, fights the speedy momentum to a bad, bad vanishing point.

The trim panel covering the tow hook is part of the Miata’s smiling charm: a typical square plug slows things down even further with that awful hood cutline. Then again, a square one gives the Miata a Cindy Crawford-esque mole above the lip. Hmm!

The fog light’s recess accentuates the bumper’s lower taper and blade corners. The flattened plane encompassing the grille gives the look of taught, elegant lips around that smile.

The requisite Lamborghini blade-tipped lower splitter (hopefully) adds downforce, but it’s an exploited bit of angular froufrou, a design cliché.

I didn’t sneak in a shot of a BMW E90. I promise.

But the reflective details surrounding the headlight’s chrome canister are more first-person shooter video game than Germanic understatement. The old school, exposed, amber bulb kills the high-tech vibe.

The eyebrow extension from the headlight arc down to the bumper’s midsection is fantastic, except when it reminds us where the hood should exist in a world without design constraints.

This sheetmetal transition is the origin of the ND’s strong haunches. Like a C3 Corvette, this is why you see the fender tops from behind the wheel. And it’s awesome.

Converting a 3D shape to a 2D photo is tough, but the fender haunch is real!

Note how fender buldge sucks inward as it reaches the door. Just absolutely luscious!

Oh, that dash-to-axle ratio. Still, the voluptuous fender deserves to shed the harsh plateau at the closest point to the wheel. Perhaps this transition is an aero-enhancement?

That lengthy dash to axle ratio is marred by the unnecessarily triangular signal (marker?) light and its forward-thrusting negative area. At least it’s not a plasti-chrome fender vent.

Black and charcoal wheels have a purpose on a sports car, but the static nature of spoke-y wheels following the boxy lines of a four-lug hub look too static in relation to those fenders. Classic wheel elements are needed: a flatter hub with shorter spokes emanating from said hub to compensate — and don’t let the lug nuts dictate the shape of those four split-spokes.

Or it’s no biggie considering classic four-spoke MG wheels. Whatever.

The rocker extensions fit the bill and their black paint visually thins the mid-section. My thumb shows the amount of depth added here.

Note the multiple planes/folds: they remain low, ensuring adequate surface tension without detracting from the Miata’s otherwise clean sheetmetal appearance (*cough*new Lexus RX350*cough*).

There must be engineering need for the cowl’s lumps and bumps: ironically, the hood hinge’s trapezoid shape apes the front bumper/hood’s hideous cutline.

The center section is thankfully and classically subtle.

Remember all those hard edges at the bottom? Hard to find now!

The rest of the side matches the fender’s curvaceousness with a blend of soft and hard edges. Remove the hard bits and you get the “soft” look of older Miatas. Add more hardness and you get something C7 Corvette-like. This is truly the best porridge out of the three.

Goldilocks approves of the quarter panel’s blend of hard and soft sheetmetal textures. This is a subtle bend adding toned muscle where most vehicles look flabby.

A better angle of that toned muscle.

Too bad about the cheap end caps on the belt line’s trim.

Same problem on the door’s leading edge. I hope saving those nickels was worth it.

Maybe, yes! I mean, no DLO FAIL! And no plastic triangle between the door and the A-pillar! The fixed glass window is a welcome bit of Aston Martin when a cheap C6 Vette A-pillar would have been acceptable.

There’s a somewhat pointy leading edge to the side mirrors which, like the rest of the body, provides pleasant surface tension.

Cant say the same for the bubbly glass outline with the chubby door cutline. Much too and too much “round.”

Could the glass ape the fabric top’s angular stitch line and still roll down into the body at the flick of a switch?

The A-pillar has a subtle flat spot, presumably for wind-noise cancellation?

Too bad about the multiple panels making the windshield hoop.

Ditto the panels above the folding top.

All the quibbles disappear into a stunning cab-backward roadster with trim overhangs and a cohesive front-to-back, wave-like flow.

The varying grades of shadowing (mild near the door handles, darker as you reach the rockers) means the Miata is anything but a bland slab of sheetmetal.

Violently thrusting quarter panel to bumper cutlines are frustratingly par for the course today. Integrating the taillight’s genesis didn’t help much.

The harshness mellows from a lower perspective, but the flat wheel well edges don’t help on this axle either.

The brake light’s corresponding negative area deserves to be this machine’s design hallmark. The bumper sports a hard crease high up, becoming evident from a full rear shot.

A very pleasant recess within the signal lights gives the ND’s posterior even more depth.

Non-Miata racers, get ready for that negative area to piss you off on a track day. Does the trunk’s painted bumper panel gaps makes theirs a pyrrhic victory?

The “lights must impersonate rockets or guns” shtick is wearing thin, son.

Like buying a computer with “helpful” free software, the satellite radio dorsal fin is a horrid addition. No designer works appease Sirius/XM radio.

Too bad this CHMSL isn’t an LED strip on the trunk face. Pleasant hat-tip to the NA Miata, wasted.

Ditch the gigantic brand badge (MARKETING NEEDS UR ATTENTION!) that rubs close to the cutline and spoiler and put the CHMSL there.

The contrasting spoiler looks like a tacked-on afterthought, and my goodness that’s a big ol’ bumper!

The backup lights ape the front fog lights, adding continuity.

Far too many cars overpromise with ridiculous exhaust tips. The ND Miata has bare (but stainless steel?) pipes. Save weight everywhere you can, man.

Even with all the tacky add-ons, the dichotomy between the short, upright trunk and the big, curvy bumper is appealing.

Don’t get me wrong, that motor’s naturally aspirated mid-range torque deserves recognition, but the Miata’s butt is dying for more clean space.

This round tow hook plug is in stark contrast to the front’s rhombus thingie.

Oh look, another antenna! This one is better, right down to its functional spiral twist.

The flares add muscle to this stereotypical “chick” car. Even the taillights accentuate the look: no more tumblehome to the roof is needed to look strong and sporty, especially considering the tight interior dimensions.

If not for the extraneous crap on its posterior (and that hood cutline), this could be one of the most beautiful, functional, purposeful sports cars of its generation. Where else can you get a brilliantly proportioned roadster complete with fenders visible from behind the wheel?

Oh, and it’s damn fine on a road course, too.

Thank you for reading, I hope you have a wonderful week.

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2 of 70 comments
  • Bloodnok Bloodnok on Feb 22, 2017

    getting my roadster serviced, i had time to wander the dealership and took a close look at the mx-5-rf. it looks a lot better than in the photos but it also had some really disappointing details. sajeev, you need to do a further vellum venom on this particular variant of the car.

  • ThosEM ThosEM on Jun 26, 2021

    I wish you’d commented on the high rear bumper with the license plate moved down below it, a departure from earlier MX-5s and most other cars. Could that have been a utilitarian move to match bumper height with other cars that aren’t so low to the ground?

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