Full Review: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata keeps the fun alive despite the changing times

1 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

2016 Mazda CX-3 full test drive and review.

Some might argue the car world is better than ever, and they’d have a point. Instead of disappointment, journalists who were turned loose in Mazda’s iconic sports car and pointed toward twisting mountain and coastal roads in Southern California were left wowed.

And with the latest iteration of the MX-5 Miata, Mazda aims to replicate its winning formula with what has become the best-selling roadster of all time. Compromises when buying a new vehicle are few and far between, and the gaps between competing models get smaller and smaller as automakers reach for the stars with each new model. Contenders like the Honda HR-V, Nissan Juke, Jeep Renegade, Fiat 500X, Chevy Trax, Buick Encore, Mini Cooper Countryman, and even luxury options like the Audi Q3 and Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class round out the field, and it’s become harder than ever to set oneself apart. The first-gen MX-5 was undeniably cute, but it became the butt of many jokes with many calling it a ‘hairdressers car’ and it was rejected by many as a consequence.

Not shy of hyperbole, Lieberman doesn’t hesitate in delivering copious amount of praise on the car he reminds us Motor Trend had a large hand in creating. Mazda have been placing the MX-5 engine further back in the car with each generation, and now most of it is mounted behind the front axles, which centralizes mass, and creates that perfect 50/50 weight distribution. Two seats, rear-wheel-drive, 50/50 weight distribution; these are the Miata’s bread and butter, and I’m happy to report that the all-new 2016 version is no different.

Powered by a 155-horsepower, 148 lb.-ft. version of the same 2.0-liter SKYACTIV 4-cylinder in the CX-3, the MX-5 isn’t about to set your hair on fire with pure acceleration. 60-mph arrives in the 6-7 second range, and the top speed is somewhere less than 150-mph. Our first tester in the hills of Southern California was a brilliant, blue CX-3 Grand Touring, equipped with front-wheel-drive and all the goodies you could ask for.

The CX-3’s design blends elements of the larger CX-5 and Mazda3 hatchback fluidly, maintaining the image of a low-slung hatchback while still providing that all-important ride height and headroom that crossover buyers love. Mazda’s designers did an admirable job incorporating surfaces, proportion and details –like body-colored upper portion of the inside door panels – to reflect the design language of Mazda’s other vehicles. A curb weight of just 2,332 pounds puts it within spitting distance of the original’s poundage, and makes for one of the lightest new cars money can buy.

The chrome outline of the grille’s devilish smile blends perfectly into the headlights and is accentuated by a distinct LED signature, continuing the design line and circling around the HID projector lamp. Mazda went from the standard hydraulic rack and pinion steering system to an electronic setup and it seems to work, the steering is precise and sharp and you can hit the apexes with ease. This featherweight stance, coupled with a 6-speed manual that sends power to the correct set of wheels means that the Miata can truly claim to be the most nimble car in the world. The athletic line that extends from the headlights to the rear door keeps the cabin rearward while giving this cute-‘ute a forward-leaning stance, almost like it’s ready to pounce.

We’re even fans of the gratuitous use of plastic trim on the fenders and skirts, an indication that this chic crossover isn’t afraid to get a bit dirty. Aluminum panels, more high-strength steel and lightening of components ranging from suspension, front brake rotor, driveshaft, transmission, air conditioning system and seats helped the car come in about 150 pounds lighter than its predecessor.

Finished in “parchment” leatherette with black imitation suede inserts, the CX-3’s cabin is airy and light, and attention to detail is paid where it matters most. Similar to the one found in many new luxury cars, all functions are controlled through an easily-accessible dial surrounded by only the essential few buttons for music, navigation, and Bluetooth control. Getting in and out is pretty easy and comfortable once you are ensconced in the excellent chairs, supported by a mesh-suspension design instead of traditional seat springs in order to save weight. Shifts aren’t as quick as a dual-clutch transmission, but power delivery is smooth and the slushbox is geared well to suit the engine’s rev-happy nature.

If you find yourself in the wrong gear for an uphill climb, it’s not hard to wish for a bit more power or a turbocharger to make up for the lack of grunt in the low-to-mid rev range, but a quick downshift and a push up to 6,500-RPM solves that problem quickly. The CX-3 also comes with a staggering amount of standard goodies, including a split-folding rear seat, push-button start, tilt and telescoping steering wheels, rear-view camera, and the Bluetooth-enabled Mazda Connect infotainment system.

In its August issue, Car and Driver reports 5.9-second zero-to-60 mph times and quarter-mile runs of 14.6-seconds at 95 mph The 2016 MX-5 Sport has a starting MSRP of $24,915. It’s been said before, but driving a Miata within legal speed limits is a wholly more exhilarating experience than driving a supercar at the same speed.

There are even available safety features like blind spot monitoring, collision warning, rear crossing traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning through Mazda’s i-ACTIVSENSE suite of tech. The Sport includes 16-inch alloy wheels and summer performance tires, cruise control, LED headlights and tail lights, Bluetooth phone pairing and audio streaming, USB port, leather-wrapped knob for the Miata’s signature short-throw shifter and power door locks. This is no surprise, as the CX-3 measures just short of the length of Mazda’s smallest 4-door offering, while providing more headroom and interior space. There’s a Brembo/BBS package that features forged, lightweight BBS 17-inch wheels, Brembo front brake rotors and calipers with painted front and rear calipers, functional aerodynamic side sill extensions and rear bumper skirt.

The Grand Touring ($30,065) adds or replaces the Sport’s content with 17-inch bright alloy wheels, leather-trimmed and heated seats, automatic climate control, Bose nine-speaker audio system with headrest speakers, AM/FM/HD/SiriusXM radio, Mazda Connect with seven-inch touchscreen monitor, commander control knob, Homelink garage door opener, rain-sensing wipers and adaptive headlights. Your writer has enjoyed and/or owned MX-5s since 1989 and the latest edition is an addicting mix of old and new. “I can’t think of another model from any automaker that’s so improved and yet so true to its original concept,” said colleague Ken Gross, a veteran scribe, auto historian and guest curator.

We drove the Club and Grand Touring models back to back, and if you can do without some safety tech, leather seats and other electronic features, the Club is the one to have. Bear in mind that our experience was mostly spirited driving along the Mulholland Highway, and you’re likely to see north of 30-mpg in everyday driving. With no other competitors currently on the market other than the coupe-only Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ, the Miata remains an automotive anomaly, but one that we’re blessed to have in the new car market.

The base, front-wheel-drive Sport model will set you back $19,960 before destination costs, while an all-wheel-drive, top-tier Grand Touring goes for $28,160. The CX-3 doesn’t have quite the rough-and-tumble looks of the Renegade, the European chicness of the 500X, or the utilitarian value of the HR-V, but it does deliver style, features, efficiency, and driving fun leagues better than its rivals.

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