There were times in my life when I could have comfortably lived with a two-passenger roadster, but during those times I only owned giant worn-out people-movers. My first car was a 1977 Volvo 240 station wagon that sat eight or nine passengers, depending on how many of my college buddies wanted to grab a roast-beef sandwich. The Volvo wagon featured 41 cubic feet of cargo space, which equated to a dorm room full of furniture (two duffle bags of clothes, a backpack loaded up with books and a couple guitars).
So here I am, now at 42 with a wife and two teenagers, trying to live life for a week behind the wheel of Mazda’s all-new 2016 Miata. Oh the irony.
The latest iteration of Mazda’s two-seat convertible took the automotive world by storm when it debuted in the fall of 2014. The new lines are more contemporary, even futuristic, but it also fondly recalls the timeless design that made the original so special.
The fourth-generation Miata not only looks great, it represents the best-performing model to date. Power is actually down from the last generation, but thanks to the roadster’s significant weight reduction and a little Mazda magic, the latest two-seater is quicker than ever. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder produces 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. When matched with the standard six-speed manual transmission, the engine is powerful enough to push the MX-5 from 0 to 60 mph in a tick less than 6 seconds. A six-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel mounted paddle shifters is available for those who would rather not row their own gears.
In truth, with the exception of the 0-to-60 mark, the Miata’s performance numbers don’t look all that impressive on paper. There are many entry-level compact grocery-getters with just as much power under the hood. Get behind the wheel, however, and you’ll be reminded that the Miata is definitely a sports car. Its performance experience centers on handling just as it did in 1990, when the-little-roadster-that-could arrived on the scene and made owners of high-horsepower cars like the Mustang and Camaro wonder how such a little car, apparently inspired by a roller skate, was keeping up with or occasionally passing them on track days.
The precise steering of the latest version of Mazda’s hot-selling two-seater is among the best for a vehicle under $40,000. Braking is equally impressive. Regardless of generation, the Miata is widely regarded as one of the best track cars for individuals with moderate to slim budgets. Small, affordable modifications can help dial in the Miata even better, although the latest and greatest MX-5 rolls out of the showroom put together quite well already.
Track prowess aside, what is it like to live with the new Miata for a week? The truth is, I’m finally at a place in my life that I could afford the MX-5’s $24,915 starting price. Even the leather-upholstered and safety-technology-filled Grand Touring model, which starts at $30,065, is still within arm’s reach, even if I have to convince my kids that ramen noodles are actually nutritious.
Miata as a Daily Driver
Sure the Miata is great around a race track, but what about a 30-minute commute to work? Turns out the same qualities that make Mazda’s little sports car a blast on the track allow it to shine in traffic. The suspension is firm, but not stiff. It is by no means a luxury sedan, but even long trips are comfortable. Passing is a breeze, thanks to the Miata’s easily accessible torque. While no car with a manual transmission is my first choice for stop-and-go driving, the Miata’s ergonomically placed clutch pedal (and its easy feel) take away a lot of the drama. Spending a few seconds dropping the car’s manually operated top on a slightly crisp morning while the sun is still rising makes bumper-to-bumper traffic feel almost fun. Almost.
Limited Cargo Space
No one is going to be using a Miata to move a couch. Well, not legally anyway. But the 2016 Miata’s 4.59 cubic feet of cargo space is more useful than one would think. The trunk’s design is quite deep, which allows conservatively packed overnight bags to be placed standing straight up. The trunk was big enough to swallow up my camera bag and still have plenty of room for my daughter’s backpack and a couple bags of groceries. But don’t be mistaken, the Miata’s trunk is small, even by roadster standards; the 2016 BMW Z4 offers up to almost 11 cubic feet, for instance.
Impressive Fuel Economy
If you live in a warm climate, the 2016 Mazda Miata MX-5 might be the ultimate gas-only economy car, at least in some ways. Models fitted with the optional automatic transmission earn an impressive 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway. Cars with the manual transmission achieve 27 mpg city and 34 mpg highway. Both versions are rated at 30 mpg combined by the EPA. Yes there are more miserly fuel-sippers on the market, but how many of them offer the fun and thrills of the Miata? Even a week’s worth of daily commuting to the office and running errands didn’t polish off the Miata’s 11.89-gallon fuel tank.
Obviously I wasn’t going to be able to provide a legitimate carpool service for my co-workers, but the fact that I drove into work every day by myself, accompanied only by a small laptop computer bag, reaffirms the Miata’s usefulness as a daily driver, at least for a driver and one passenger. I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think I even arrived at the office happier than usual after spending a half-hour behind the wheel.
I really want to say that the Miata is family friendly, but we both know that I would be lying; that’s just not the nature of Mazda’s roadster. Between the lack of a rear seat and the tiny trunk, it just doesn’t make sense to try to convince your loved ones that the Miata is going to cut it as a primary family car.
That doesn’t mean that the MX-5 needs to be considered an extravagant purchase. The relatively affordable price tag and the excellent fuel economy make the 2016 Mazda Miata a sensible choice as a second or third vehicle for a hard-working family. The fun-loving convertible also makes for a nice proposition for hard-working adults that may not have time to travel but still want to feel like they are “getting away,” even if it’s just a trip to the grocery store.
Which Miata Should I Buy?
I’ve been able to spend two weeks over the past year driving the all-new 2016 Miata. The first week I reviewed the top Grand Touring model and the second was behind the wheel of the midlevel Club trim. I appreciated the Grand Touring’s luxury amenities, including leather seats, navigation and automatic climate control, as well as the abundant active safety technology that included blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and lane departure warning. However, I found the simpler and less expensive Club model to meet all my weekend track star needs.
The Club’s 17-inch dark gunmetal alloy wheels, Bose audio system and black cloth seats with red stitching were more than enough. Considering that the Club model starts at $28,600 plus an $865 destination fee, you can’t help but see the value in this entertaining and iconic roadster.