2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata first drive review Page 2

Best handling Miata ever

Mazda offers the Miata in three models with two suspension setups. The Sport and GT models are softer, while the Club model’s Bilstein shocks and front shock tower brace make it firmer and more rigid. The Club also gets a limited-slip differential, a front air dam, and a rear lip spoiler.

All models carry over the front wishbone suspension and multi-link rear suspension from the outgoing Miata. However, Mazda has tweaked the suspension tuning to give the car slightly different handling characteristics. The main change comes at the rear, where Mazda adjusted the suspension to toe-in upon encountering both vertical forces, like bumps, and lateral forces, like cornering. The last version toed out as a reaction to vertical forces.

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Opinions vary among our staff about the effect of the rear suspension changes, but I feel it creates razor sharp turn-in response and makes the car rotate more willingly than ever. These traits are most noticeable on the Club model; its stiffer suspension allows less squat at the rear, making the rear tires follow the car’s intended path quicker. The softer tuning of the Sport and Grand Touring models allows that squat, and may therefore be more familiar to previous Miata owners.

With either suspension, the Miata offers a compliant ride that drivers could easily live with on an everyday basis. Sport and GT models are softer, but they still handle quite well. Conversely, the Club reacts quicker to steering inputs, but still rides smoothly. Both versions allow some body lean that provides feedback as the car reaches the limits of grip. Choosing one suspension setup does not mean foregoing the strengths of the other.

Mazda has also switched from hydraulic to electric-assist power steering. Thankfully, Mazda engineers have managed to retain road feel while making the steering quick and direct.

The brakes are actually slightly smaller than the outgoing model, but with less car to carry around, they provide confident stopping power and a natural pedal feel.

If I have a complaint about the new Miata’s handling, it would be that it’s too grown up. Historically, it was easy to slide the rear end of the Miata, even at low speeds. It now sticks too well to do that easily. You can still have plenty of fun behind the wheel. It’s just not as easy to be a hooligan.

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

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Modest but fun power

The Miata’s 2.0-liter engine isn’t a world-beater in the other Mazdas it powers, but it is fun in the Miata. While it doesn’t produce as much horsepower as the outgoing engine, it has a stronger torque curve and it revs just as freely. The 155 horses handle the light weight of the Miata quite well, pushing this spritely roadster from 0 to 60 mph in about six seconds, which is a second quicker than the last year's more powerful engine.

Buyers have a choice of a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic. The manual offers smooth, tidy throws and a natural clutch feel. It’s wonderful, but it isn’t quite the snick-snick, short-throw gearbox of previous generations.

While I can’t understand choosing an automatic in the Miata, I have to reluctantly admit that it works pretty well. Automatic buyers get a Sport mode that holds gears longer. In Sport, the automatic taps into the engine’s power well, keeping enough torque on tap to power out of corners on canyon roads. With Sport mode switched off, power isn’t as readily available, but the engine is more relaxed for cruising.

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