Mazda Miata Eschews Cute for Upscale Styling

by Ann M. Job

Associated Press

Wednesday October 7, 2015

The two-seat Mazda MX-5 Miata isn't cute anymore. Instead, the best-selling roadster in the world is arriving in U.S. showrooms with a sleek, upscale look that many will compare to the BMW Z4.

There's a new engine, too, and lighter overall weight that makes the rear-drive 2016 Miata quicker and more fun to drive.

Already one of the most diminutive cars on the market, the Miata was clipped by 3.4 inches for an overall length of just 12.8 feet. But the interior is better arranged, giving the interior a roomier feel.

Best of all, the 2016 Miata gets better gas mileage than its predecessor: The top federal government rating for a manual-transmission Miata is 27 mpg in city driving and 36 mpg on the highway with manual transmission, up 25 percent from last year's 22/28 mpg.

With the improvements come with an increase in the starting retail price - by some $1,000. The base, 2016 MX-5 Miata with six-speed manual transmission starts at $25,735, including destination charge. The lowest manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters for manual shifting without a clutch pedal is $27,515.

The Miata is known for having superb manual shifting, and the 2016 doesn't disappoint. About the only time the shifter became tedious during the test drive was in stop-and-go traffic on the highway that went on for more than an hour.

All Miatas come with a 2-liter, naturally aspirated, four-cylinder engine that develops 155 horsepower, down from the 167 horsepower in last year's engine. But the lighter weight of the new car - just 2,332 pounds with a manual transmission - and the new engine's higher torque of 148 foot-pounds at 4,800 rpm make this Miata quick.

The Miata, which sits very low to the ground, can be frustrating amid today's taller, larger vehicles. Sandwiched between a semi and a pickup truck with an SUV ahead, the test Miata felt like it was in a box canyon. Truly, the car is in its element on unclogged roads, where the Miata's nicely centered weight, its pavement-hugging nature and quick response to steering inputs make it feel like a go-kart.

The Miata's roof remains fabric and manually operated, though it is light enough to unlatch and push back while sitting in traffic. It rests in a carved-out space behind the seats, so it doesn't interfere with the 4.59-cubic-foot trunk. This is important because storage space inside is limited - even purses can wind up in the trunk if there are two passengers inside.

Cloth seats in the test Miata Club model were shaped to cradle passengers but not enough that larger people would feel uncomfortable. Plus, the seats recline more than before.

When slid all the way back, the seats provide 43.1 inches of legroom. Headroom under the roof, however, remains a bit pinched at 37.4 inches - less than the back seat of many sedans.

The Miata is a busy ride, with the low-slung ride taking on every road bump. Plus, road and engine noises and sounds from nearby vehicles are readily heard, even with the roof on.

The tester averaged 29 mpg in spirited driving on highways and city streets, which was close to the federal government's average of 30 mpg. Premium gasoline is recommended but not required.

For the price and the fun-to-drive factor, the Miata remains a bargain. BMW's 2016 Z4 roadster starts at more than $50,000, and the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider starts at more than $64,000; both come with turbocharged four cylinders.

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