First Drive: 2016 Miata

It’s lightweight, simple and versatile.

For the last 25 years, the Mazda Miata has been praised by critics for its superior drivability, well-balanced chassis and low cost of ownership. With 2016 being the debut model year for the fourth generation, enthusiasts waited with baited breath for journalists to get their hands on the first available NDs.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to toss one of Mazda’s press-dedicated test mules around a track like more heavily credentialed journalists, but I did manage to get my hands on one this week at a local Mazda dealer. To make things even better, I was paired with a pretty damned knowledgeable salesman that was completely content with the idea of me getting down to business in one of the dealership’s seven brand new arrivals.

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First Impressions

  • speed- the car is surprisingly quick in a straight line. With the sprint from 0 to 60 clocking in at under six seconds, the ND is the quickest Miata thus far. Although the absence of the once rumored factory turbocharged option will surely be loathed by some, I genuinely don’t believe that the car needs any sort of forced induction to be enjoyable. The throttle response is solid, the motor feels stout and the chassis’ lightness completes the package. Considering the fact that Mazda denounces the possibility of a turbocharged variant in the future, those looking for a little extra fun from forced induction will likely have to turn to aftermarket alternatives.
  • agility- as expected, the car was a dream through corners thanks to its perfect 50-50 weight distribution. One critique though — if you’re like me and looking at the possibility of track time, the car could certainly use a solid set of sway bars, if not a full set of coilovers. I’m sure it’s just the autocrosser in me coming out, but in a more competitive setting, body roll isn’t my cup of tea. In a less serious atmosphere, however, the suspension is great. The car possesses this wonderful ability to flow through the turns, with almost gyroscopic movement, giving you a serious flashback to the NA Miata of the ’90s. Simply put, the car is balanced perfectly and hasn’t lost the charisma it has always been known for. If anything, it has been perfected.
  • appearance- I’m speaking only for myself here, but the ND is by far the most attractive Miata to date. It’s sharp contours, modern headlights and well-sized wheels (offered in either 16″ or 17″) really work together to give you a sense of wholeness. Whenever I look at it, I just see a miniature F Type.
  • fit and finish- I have always loved Mazda’s ability to retain the level of simplicity the Miata is known for, even in the face of such tech-savvy (dare I say tech-reliant?) competitors. The interior isn’t filled with buttons and switches galore — it’s all about the driving experience and the designers understood that, as they have from day one. If you’re willing to shell out the extra cash for the Club Sport, you’ll get a nice set of 17″ BBS and some Brembos to make up for that extra clearance, as well as an LSD (the lower models come equipped with the loathsome open differential). To be honest, I’d rather save nearly $8,000 and purchase the base model, upgrading it as deemed necessary.
The ND interior is neat and simple, showing that not much has changed in the past 25 years.

The ND interior is neat and simple, showing that not much has changed in the past 25 years.

The ND Miata is an enthusiast’s dream. It’s light, balanced, quick and affordable. It is everything the Miata should be, and nothing more. It is a bare-bones enthusiast car, still available with three pedals, a stout engine and a design rooted in functionality and minimalism. If you’re looking for an abundance of cup holders, a back seat or a roaring V8, this won’t be the car for you. But if you’re looking for a car that can show you the very essence of automotive purity — and remind you what it is to be an enthusiast — then look no further.

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