The new Miata’s tires fling pebbles into my windshield. My car’s 1.6-liter engine, which has turned more than 131,000 miles, revs past 6,000 rpm, momentarily drowning out the note of the new Miata’s 2.0-liter as I bound over a crest and cut a corner like Alex Zanardi in effort to keep pace. Glancing for a split second at my rearview mirror, I see more old-school Miatas in hot pursuit.
These are our cars, in both a spiritual sense—the MX-5 embodies AUTOMOBILE’s “No Boring Cars” slogan—and a literal one—several staff members own Miatas. And so, when a U.S.-spec 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring arrives in Michigan on a Monday morning, it meets Detroit bureau chief Todd Lassa in his 2008 Miata, daily news editor Jake Holmes in his ’97, and me in my ’93. Daily news editor Eric Weiner does not own a Miata—he’s like that fifth dentist who does not recommend your toothpaste—but volunteers to pilot the new car when we rotate out of it and hop back into our own Mazdas. “Great, that means I’ll have to spend most of the time in your little shit boxes,” he realizes. We all want to determine whether this MX-5, only the fourth new one in 25 years, is still our Miata.
It looks the part, without really trying to. This car shrugs off most of the classic cues—no squarish taillamps, few chrome touches, and certainly no flip-up headlamps. Whereas the old Miatas seem to glance over their shoulders at vintage European roadsters, this one, with its anime face and origami surfacing, looks modern and proudly Japanese. And yet, there’s no mistaking a car this size for anything but a Miata. It’s smaller than Lassa’s 2008 and falls within an inch or so of the original in every dimension save width, where it has gained almost 2.5 inches. Some will be sorry to hear it’s still cute. Our photographer can’t suppress a laugh when I sound the horn, a falsetto “Meep! Meep!”
The first revelation that comes from sitting in a new Miata is how non-revelatory it feels. Certainly, Mazda materials and switchgear have come up in the world, and none of our old Miatas has a touchscreen or click-wheel controller. But my right foot instantly recognizes the spacing between the firm brake pedal and throttle, and my left elbow props comfortably on the doorsill. Lassa, whose third-gen hardtop is the most grown-up of Miatas, complains that there is not as much storage space in the cockpit. “Disappointed by the lack of a good old-fashioned glove box,” he says, noting how the compensatory cubby between the seats is awkward to access. Still it seems a small price to pay for such a delightfully intimate cabin. A Porsche Boxster feels like a truck in comparison.
It’s late afternoon by the time we hit the best stretch, a winding 13-mile loop around Glen Lake. Most modern sports cars would trample this road with their fat tires and powerful engines. The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata converses with it. The electrically assisted steering loads up naturally, much like the hydraulically assisted steering in the older cars. (Mazda says it experimented with manual racks but found them unworkably heavy.) Steep hills require one or two downshifts. “A lot of fun because the shifter and clutch are so good,” says Holmes. The suspension compresses just enough when turning into a corner for you to feel the forces at work. We chase each other through the trees, the old cars scrambling madly in the new car’s wake like a pack of wound-up puppies. For all the effort involved, the Miatas probably look pretty slow. They are slow. A Miata driven well, however, reveals the joy that comes from really driving.
Of course, if consumer demand were the primary driver behind the new Miata’s development, it probably wouldn’t exist. The same number of years now separate us from the first Miata as separated the first Miata from the Lotus Elan, and a lot has changed in that time. Nowadays, most people with $30,000 to spend want something with a raised suspension, and they’re probably too preoccupied with their phones to enjoy the wind in their hair. “We may never see another new Miata,” Holmes remarks.
For now, though, it’s a new day. We lower our tops again as the sun rises and wrap around the last few curves in our Miatas, more than satisfied with our club’s newest member.
2016 Mazda MX-5 Grand Touring Specifications
|Price:||$30,885/$31,015 (base/as tested)|
|Engine:||2.0L DOHC 16-valve I-4/155 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 148 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm|
|Layout:||2-door, 2-passenger, front-engine, RWD convertible|
|EPA Mileage:||27/34 mpg (city/hwy)|
|Suspension F/R:||Control arms, coil springs/multilink, coil springs|
|Brakes F/R:||Vented discs/solid discs|
|L x W x H:||154.1 x 68.3 x 48.8 in|
|Headroom F/R:||37.4 in|
|Legroom F/R:||43.1 in|
|Shoulder Room F/R:||52.2 in|
|Cargo Room:||4.59 cu ft|
|Weight Dist. F/R:||53/47%|
|0-60 MPH:||5.8 sec (est)|
|1/4-Mile:||14.5 sec @ 94.2 mph (est)|
|Top Speed:||125 mph (est)|