The Mazda MX-5 (a.k.a. the Miata) is a little Japanese roadster made for little Japanese people. That’s the harsh reality I faced as I positioned my 6'5" frame into a suitable position to get behind the wheel of a first generation (NA) Miata, like I was a piece in a particularly tricky game of Tetris. To give you a better illustration, picture a redheaded Jeremy Clarkson behind the wheel of the 1989 roadster, except a lot younger and better looking.
My knees bonded with the steering wheel, as I looked out over the top of the windshield instead of through it. I felt, and probably looked, like a clown. After a few blocks of “driving,” I accepted painful defeat and returned the dinky car to the lot, head hung in shame at the thought that I would never be able to properly experience what most deem to be one of the ultimate driver’s cars of all time – that is until quite recently.
“It’ll be a great experience for you,” said my Managing Editor as he assigned me to go drive the newest MX-5, before adding with a laugh, “That, and I just want to see if you’ll fit!” I laughed as well, but inside I winced as I replayed the mental footage of my first experience with the Miata. What if I didn’t? Immediately Carrie’s mother’s voice chimed up, “They’re all going to laugh at you!”
Standing outside the luxurious W Hollywood hotel in L.A., I finally faced down my destiny – the 2016 Mazda MX-5 (ND). And I must say; it’s very good looking. Gone is the playful, open-mouthed smile of past generations, replaced with a more coaxing grin that almost says, “Come on, I dare you.” A little more aggressive, a little more dynamic – I’m becoming more and more a fan of Mazda’s Kodo design philosophy, as the wider body and arched front fenders that flow oh so nicely into the bulged hood are more than welcome changes to the little roadster.
And when I say little, it’s the truth. The overhangs on the ND are 45 mm shorter in the front and rear over the NC, respectively. The engine is moved back 22 mm and the car itself is 10 mm lower, as well as 5 mm wider. This thing is seriously compact, which didn’t help my fitting fears.
Scoping out the inside didn’t help much either. Don’t get me wrong; it’s gorgeous in there. There’s nothing plasticky, as much of the interior is soft touch black that’s been stitched together with red, delivering a premium feel and a sense of craftsmanship. It does, however, look puny in there. This is because the interior got the same compact treatment the exterior did – moving the driver 15 mm inboard, towards the middle of the car. It was explained to me that this was to make the driver feel “one” with the car. I was thinking that it would make my knees feel one with my chin.
Moment of truth. I opened the door, swung one foot in and then followed up with the rest of me. What happened next shocked and thrilled me. I sunk to the bottom of the seat, which automatically bolstered itself to my contours, and I fit! With the seat all the way back and at a slight incline, I was at an ideal driving position and had access to all three pedals, as well as legroom. I first passed it off as some sort of witchcraft, but soon learned the seat is 20 mm lower than the past iteration and the footwell offers 12 mm more legroom. The windshield has been widened 4.7 mm horizontally and 5.5 mm vertically, which meant that I was looking through the glass instead of over it.
Somehow I managed to finagle one of the MX-5 GTs with most of the option boxes ticked. Rolling smooth on some 17-inch BBS wheels (any bigger would have looked goofy) with red Brembo calipers poking through up front, while being supported by some upgraded Bilstein dampers had me feeling like I could take over the world – or at least the canyons we were headed to.
Driving on the highway was a delight. “But 155 horsepower isn’t a lot, blah, blah.” Honestly, I wouldn’t change a thing about this car. Throttle response is immediate thanks to its solid aluminum backbone, and the gearing just makes you want to rip up from first to sixth as fast as you can. The sport-tuned exhaust system even has a little grunt when you step on it, which sounds hilarious coming from the MX-5, but it just adds to the little guy’s charm.
Up on the tight canyon roads of Angeles National Forest though is where the MX-5 really shows that it’s aggressive looks and sounds aren’t just for show. This car is a touge work cruise missile. Just slap it into a low gear and point it where you want to go. There is amazing amounts of body roll, but it’s the best kind; activating more grip and making the driving experience feel even more like the bonding of man and machine. The one thing I had to get used to, however, was the edge of control. You can really whip this thing and not have to worry about any sort of tire squeal or fishtailing – it’s fantastic! The one time I really did get some protest from the rubber was when I actually put some effort into doing so.
And I think that’s what makes the MX-5 so special. It makes driving effortless, natural and, most importantly, fun – just like the earlier iterations. Don’t worry, everyone – just because it looks a little meaner (or goofier, depending on your perspective), it doesn’t mean that Mazda has ruined it. Far from it. The 2016 MX-5 is back to its roots and better than ever, with the added benefit of being able to fit mutants like me.
BY THE NUMBERS
$205.81/ HP (CALCULATED W/ BASE MSRP)
7.8 L/100 KM (AUTO – COMBINED)
2016 Mazda MX-5 GT
BASE PRICE: $31,900
ENGINE: SKYACTIV 2.0L DOHC 16-valve inline-4
HORSEPOWER: 155 hp @ 6,000 rpm
TORQUE: 148 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm
CONFIGURATION: Front engine / Rear-wheel-drive
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual DRY WEIGHT: 1,058 kg
FUEL ECONOMY (city / hwy.): 8.7 / 6.9 L/100 km
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 36/unlimited
ALTERNATIVES: BMW Z4, Ford Mustang EcoBoost, Nissan 370Z, Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ, VW Eos