Driven: 2016 Mazda MX-5. Smaller is better.

By Author: Harvey Briggs, Date: Jun 05, 2015
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Sometimes you can go forward by looking back.

I was lucky enough to be one of the first people in the country to spend time in this car and even luckier to do it an event that also included convertibles from Porsche, BMW, Mercedes, Rolls-Royce, Maserati and other top luxury cars. What I found is that what the MX-5 lacks in power, appointments and size, it makes up for in sheer driving pleasure.

This isn’t a fast car. It’s a quick car.

This isn’t a track car. It’s a nimble car.

This isn’t a complex car. It’s a simple car.

In a rare occurrence in the automotive world, Mazda actually made the 2016 MX-5 smaller and lighter than the previous model. They knew that the MX-5 had gotten too big, too heavy, and strayed from its original mission. This car not only recaptures the magic that caused the original Miata to create such a sensation back in the 1980s, it honors the legacy of the cars that inspired it.

Over the course of my automotive life, I’ve owned a Triumph TR6 and a Fiat 124 Spider, two iconic European roadsters. The 2016 MX-5 makes me feel exactly as I did back then when I folded down the top on those cars and fired up their engines. There’s a sense of freedom, simplicity and joy that permeates this car and makes unlike any other convertible on the market today.

While others have developed complicated electro-mechanical tops that open and close with the touch of a button, some taking 20 seconds or more, in the MX-5 the manual cloth top opens just a snap of the latch and a quick flip. It’s effortlessly out of the way in seconds, allowing you to enjoy why you bought the car in the first place: the sun, the wind and the smiles on the faces of you and your passenger.

Everything about this car is simple. The instrument panel is clean with large analog gauges. The climate control system is operated by three large dials on the center stack. The six-speed stick with its leather wrapped shift knob and ratcheting parking brake harken back to an earlier time.

In fact the only obvious nod to modern technology in this car is the 7-inch touchscreen that sits on the center of the dash. The Mazda Connect system features a wide range of apps, available satellite radio, bluetooth connectivity and voice command activation. It’s thoroughly modern and easy to use. I, however, kept the screen dark during my time behind the wheel so I could focus on the road, the car, and how it made me feel.

At a time when 300 horsepower seems to be commonplace, Mazda has chosen not to follow the crowds, but blaze their own trail. Driven by a 155 horsepower, 2.0 liter, direct-injected 4-cylinder engine with a 6,000 RPM redline, the MX-5 is quick off the line, going 0-60 in a very respectable 5.9 seconds. The 6-speed manual is a slick shifting unit, that moves from gear to gear with a satisfying snick. The throws are short and tight adding to the overall quality of the driving experience. The steering is on the heavy side, in keeping with the car’s sporty nature, and has a solid on-center feel. There’s just enough pressure to let you really feel the road. But, the electronic assist makes the MX-5 easy to maneuver at low speeds.

Inside, the fit and finish appear very good. The car I drove was a pre-production prototype, so still had a bit of handwork on it. The leather seats are comfortable and adjustable enough to allow just about anyone to find a proper driving position. I say just about anyone, because at 6’3” and a tick over 200 pounds, I’m about as big as you can get and still fit in this car. With the seat all the way back, I was able to recline it just enough to create the driving position I like. I had just enough leg room for a comfortable bend in my knees. But add an inch or two and I seriously doubt you’d be comfortable in this car.

Outside, East meets West giving the car a classic roadster feel while keeping it contemporary and fresh. One of the areas where this is most apparent is the front end. The large air intake is something you see on vintage Healys and MGs. But the small, tidy LED headlamps add a modern touch that keep the MX-5 from becoming yet another neo-retro cliché. The lines are fluid, but crisp, with a nice flare on the fenders tapering to a graceful finish at the rear.

The 2016 Mazda MX-5 isn’t a particularly luxurious, powerful, economical or comfortable car. What it is, however, is a perfect car. That is reason enough that it should occupy one of the garage bays of anyone who loves to drive.

You won’t be disappointed

2016 Mazda MX-5
2.0 L fuel injected 4-cylinder
155 Horsepower @ 6,000 RPM
148 lb.-ft @4,600 RPM
6-speed manual, standard
6-speed automatic with paddle shifters, optional
0-60: 5.9 Seconds
EPA Mileage 27/34 MT, 27/36 AT
Base Price: $24,915

www.mazdausa.com

While the manufacturer provided the vehicle for this story, the opinions and recommendations in this post are 100% ours.

A version of this review first appeared at Pursuitist.com

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Harvey Briggs

Harvey Briggs is the Founder, Editor, and Publisher of Rides & Drives. He has also written for Car and Driver, Winding Road, and the luxury lifestyle blog, Pursuitist.com. His passions run from fast cars, small planes, boats and motorcycles to music, travel, and sports. When he's not on the road testing the latest cars, he been known to turn up on stage playing rock and blues guitar at clubs around his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. Follow Harvey's adventures on Instagram and Twitter @harvey_drives and find him on Facebook. Though keeping up could be a problem. As Harvey says, "If I don't slow down, time can't catch me."

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