Copywriter, technical writer, translator (FR>EN, ES>EN, IT>EN), journalist

Mazda's latest pinup – the 2016 MX-5

More than 950,000 units sold over 26 years. A slew of awards that stretches 11 pages in a press kit. In automotive circles, these are the numbers of a proven winner with staying power.

You’ll find this car stampeding at autocross competitions, cruising winding country roads and parked at workplaces the world over. And, this fall, I spent a week with the latest version of this modern icon, the 2016 Mazda MX-5.

2016_Mazda_MX-5

First impressions

The MX-5 has always been a looker. (The Soul Red Mica body colour doesn’t hurt.) This car got me looking up yesteryear’s barchettas, images of which graced my locker in high school. The MX-5 has me convinced this body style will never go out of style.

By the way, it’s pronounced “bar KET ah” if you please. Remind me to correct Geddy Lee the next time he sings “a brilliant red barchetta from a better vanished time…”

OK, enough with the tangent – back to the poetry of the MX-5’s body. Mazda has updated it with its Kodo Soul of Motion design language. This is the car Mazda’s designers must have wanted to remake most of all. The body flares a little around the wheels, tapering in front and back. Narrow headlights elicit a nasty attitude waiting to be unleashed.

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

The short back deck perfectly complements the long hood. Looking forward through the windshield, the curves that flare up over the wheels create a shallow, wide valley down the centre of the hood.

Interior

Can tall people drive this car? Short answer: yes, and praise Mazda!!

Over a decade ago at an auto show of the Canadian international variety, I sat in the then-current Mazda Miata. Getting my 6’5″ frame into the drivers seat was an act of contortion. With one knee wedged between the steering wheel and the shifter, I closed the door carefully lest I jam my other knee between said door and the steering wheel. I figured I must be giving onlookers a fun story to recount.

Getting out of that version of the car took a while. For a few moments I thought it might involve a giant can opener, shoehorn or the Jaws of Life. Even so, I badly wanted to take that car on a twisty road with the top down.

Fast forward to 2015: I fit comfortably in this MX-5, even with the top up. Sure, there’s a half-inch bump in the soft top thanks to my head. That’s a minor quibble once you start driving the car.

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

Besides, I didn’t leave the top up for long. I moved a switch, tugged a lever and pushed the black soft folding top with glass rear window back into its compartment. I did all this using one arm. Do this a few times and it becomes a 3-second operation – the roof is that well designed. Putting the roof back up was just as easy.

When you release a latch, either the one to put the top down or the one to pull it up, the windows lower a few inches. Oddly, securing the top or locking the car did not raise the windows all the way up. I had to press the Engine Start/Stop button twice in order to put the windows up, then press the button once more to shut the car’s systems down again. I couldn’t find anything in the manual about how to make this automatic, but with only a week to enjoy the car, I wasn’t spending that much time leafing through the manual.

Black leather greeted me on quite a few surfaces. Red stitching accented that leather.

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

The car’s red metal body continued into the car along the top of the doors.

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

This is a compact car, so there are a few compromises in the cabin. No glovebox in front of the passenger seat meant that I had to fish the MX-5’s manual out of a box that sits between the two seats at chest level.

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

Equally inconvenient, removeable cupholders can sit at the driver’s elbow, since there isn’t any room closer to the shifter for them. (One cupholder can move to an anchor to the left of the passenger’s left knee.)

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

Who needs cupholders? They’re better stuffed in the trunk, out of the way. And once you’re moving, you won’t think much about storage space.

Cargo room

The trunk, at 130 litres in volume, isn’t overly small, though the MX-5’s trunk lid must be among the smallest and lightest of any vehicle on the market. The trunk ought to fit at least a couple of carry-on bags, and it performed well on my grocery trips. It simply balked at the bulk of my hockey bag.

2016_Mazda_MX-5_hockey_bag_test_part1

No, I’m not a goaltender. Apologies to Mazda and aficionados for this image.

Result: the bag ended up being my first “passenger.”

2016_Mazda_MX-5_hockey_bag_test_part2

How to get a hockey bag and sticks into a 2016 Mazda MX-5

  1. Open the roof.
  2. Open the passenger-side door.
  3. Put the bag on the passenger seat.
  4. Ignore resulting feelings of unease.
  5. Put the sticks butt-end first into the footwell.
  6. Wrap stick blades and the lower part of the shafts using rags to ensure you don’t scratch anything, like the “roll bars” behind the headrests.
  7. Place the stick blades over the passenger seat beside the headrest.
  8. Send a card of apology to Mazda and MX-5 fan clubs.
  9. To bring the top up: Bring it up slowly, moving the fabric over the sticks to ensure the sticks don’t catch on the fabric. (Note: I lengthen my sticks. Normal-length sticks shouldn’t cause this issue.)

In-car technology

A seven-inch colour touchscreen sits upright on top of the dash.

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

photo courtesy Mazda Canada

This is the right place for such screens. The driver’s eyes need not travel as far from the road ahead to see this screen as they would if it were lower in the car. I found that I could keep both the road and the screen in view. The road, at the worst, stayed in my peripheral vision when I glanced at the screen.

The Bose system pumped music through nine speakers, several of which reside in the headrests. Drivers control it, and other aspects of the in-car electronics, using the Human-Machine Interface (HMI) and Mazda Connect.

The HMI Commander is a large knob that also serves as a joystick and button. Sitting near the shifter, it’s flanked by several buttons that lead to commonly used screens, as well as the radio on/off/volume knob. It was all I needed to use the Mazda’s systems. I rarely touched the screen as a result.

One complaint: I sit so low that in reaching for the shifter, I frequently tapped the HMI Commander with my forearm. The worst consequence was unexpected changes on the screen. Leaving cupholders anchored by the seatbacks also reduces the amount of room you have to use the HMI commander and volume knob. Drivers with (ahem) long arms might inadvertently (and gently) elbow their passengers in the ribs. Fortunately, passengers tend to be forgiving. It must be the car. Still, I wonder whether Mazda might move this controller closer to the screen.

The controller and touchscreen offer access to an extensive suite of in-car telematics and entertainment. As with just about every other manufacturer’s systems, Mazda’s does not allow access to multiple smartphone audio apps. The adoption of systems like Google’s Android Auto and Apple’s Carplay may overcome this shortcoming.

Driving

A SKYACTIV-G 2.0L inline 4-cylinder engine drives the rear wheels. Peak horsepower of 155 happens at 6,000 RPM, and peak torque of 148 at 4,600 RPM. This might not be the most powerful engine available, but there’s more to the MX-5 driving experience than pure horsepower.

The engine’s longitudinal orientation and position closer to the middle of the car contributes to the MX-5’s handling.

image courtesy Mazda Canada

image courtesy Mazda Canada

Mazda’s SkyActiv technology and “gram strategy” contribute both improved handling and significantly reduced weight over the third-generation model.

Mazda looked at many areas to reduce the car’s weight, by the gram or by the pound. The air conditioner is about 20 per cent lighter than the unit in the previous generation. The fabric top lost a few grams to the MX-5’s diet too. As a result, this MX-5 shed approximately 68 kilograms (150 lbs) from its predecessor.

The 6-speed shifter moves quickly to the gear you want. A  display in the instrument cluster shows both the current gear and, when the car thinks you should shift, an “arrow” icon pointing to the number you ought to shift to. Disregard these suggestions if you want to approach Mazda’s published peak horsepower and torque numbers. These suggestions don’t make for performance driving or the types of sounds you want to hear from the MX-5 when you drive through an underpass.

Mazda offers a six-speed automatic and, for the top two trim levels, throws in paddle shifters. The latter ought to be a hit with the autocross crowd.

The whole package – engine, layout, weight loss and so forth – helps take the MX-5 through corners, twists and turns with all sorts of confidence.

Stopping power comes from disc brakes on all four wheels. Standard traction control and dynamic stability control will keep drivers from getting into too much trouble.

Fuel economy

Mazda claims a 25 per cent increase in fuel economy over the 2015 model. It published city numbers of 8.8 L/100km. Those go down to 6.9 on the highway. The 6-speed automatic’s numbers are 8.9 and 6.5, respectively.

The MX-5 takes premium unleaded fuel in its 45-litre tank.

Safety features

The MX-5 ships with all the common passive and active safety features. Spring for the GT model and you’ll get i-ACTIVSENSE safety features including the Blind Spot Monitoring System (BSM), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS) and High Beam Control (HBC).

Pricing

MSRP on the GT trim level I drove starts at $39,200. Adding options, freight and PDE brought the price to $41,295. The base GX model starts at $31,900, while the mid-level GS starts at $35,300.

Conclusion

Classic, enduring car designs can be a matter of luck as well as skill. Mazda clearly recognizes the luck it’s had over a quarter-century delivering MX-5s and it’s skillfully keeping the fan based engaged and enthusiastic. The results are obvious in the 2016 MX-5. This looker may grace the high school lockers of generations to come.

4 Comments
  1. HAHAHAHA I LOVE your hockey bag segment! Do you do that for all your reviews?! I have to come back if you do! Man, that’s AWESOME! :> HAHA I’m looking now for a used car, and part of my criteria is “does it swallow my hockey bag?” I looked at one car that made me consider getting a new small bag. BUT I still use that criteria, for some reason sales people don’t question me when I say “nope, can’t take the bag.” HAHA

    Thanks Luigi, informative and humorous! Awesome! And great car too!

    • Thanks Peter.

      I do the hockey bag test with every car I drive. It’s a great way for Canadians (Or at least Canadian who play hockey) to understand the cargo capacity of a vehicle. It’s better than quoting the manufacturer’s numbers in cubic litres.

  2. Awesome looking car. I was lucky enough to drive one of the earliest models and loved it! The one thing I dislike about the current model is the screen for the navdisplay unit. Seems very much like and after thought to me. That’s more a dislike for Mazda’s design language though cause most of the current crop of Mazdas have this, I still hate it. How do you like the round shift knob? I prefered the original.
    https://static.cargurus.com/images/site/2013/04/03/14/54/1990_mazda_mx-5_miata_2_dr_std_convertible-pic-3531492568947514731-640×480.jpeg

    How do you like the position of the emergency brake? For something I need in an emergency, I don’t understand why manufacturers put it on the other side, further away from the driver. Again, I prefer the original.

    Weird about the cup holders! Just not right IMHO. hhmmm If I’m on the twisties, I don’t want a coffee, sure, ok, I get that. But if I’m going on the 401, I want my double-double with me!

    re hockey bag test
    HAHA! I LOVE YOUR TEST! I always find myself anxious to read THAT part of the review! Please never lose that segment! Just too bad about this car. (When I bought my current car, I actually quoted your articles and said I need to do the hockey bag test, the mini failed, the Veloster failed, for my current car, I said….hhmmmmm I’ll buy a smaller bag! LOL) Interesting how you can add to this segment about the sticks! I have to put my sticks in the passenger seat, without a hatch anymore, they won’t fit in the trunk. :<

    re sounds through an underpass
    I LOVE that part! Thank you.

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Pete.

      This car frankly isn’t meant for much more than fun. It looks great, drives great and will not be the car you take to CostCo for… well, for anything larger than a gift certificate, really.

      The screen is where it should be – up high, not far from a driver’s view of the road. BMW does this too, and frankly it’s the right safety decision, even if it doesn’t look as polished as the implementation by other manufacturers. As for the shift knob, I found it fine, especially since I got along well with the tranny it controls.

      I had no difficulty with the emergency brake. I don’t bring coffee into cars, so the cupholders were little more than curiosities to me.

      This is NOT a vehicle for your family. This is a vehicle for top-down, twisty-road fun, plus some “look at me!” cruising. And that’s just fine.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.