To Thy Own Self Be True: Mazda Miata

By Frank A. Aukofer, May 21st, 2016

strong>"This above all: to thine own self be true." Polonius, a character in Shakespeare's "Hamlet," uttered this enduring phrase to his son.

Manufacturer photo: Lightweight, nimble and fun to drive, the fourth-generation 2016 Mazda MX-5 draws inspiration from MX-5s that came before it, pairing the driver as one with the car
Manufacturer photo: Lightweight, nimble and fun to drive, the fourth-generation 2016 Mazda MX-5 draws inspiration from MX-5s that came before it, pairing the driver as one with the car

In the automotive world, this could be said of the Mazda MX-5 -- known among its fans as the Miata. After more than 25 years in the U.S. marketplace, the Miata remains true to its origins: the pinnacle of the affordable sports car. The 2016 MX-5 is the fourth generation of the now venerable Miata, which has totted up 950,000 sales worldwide.

In all that time, Mazda resisted changing the basic character of the roadster. It did not get bigger, with a more powerful engine, or way more expensive. It did, of course, become increasingly sophisticated. Other similar cars came and went, notably the Saturn Sky, Pontiac Solstice, and Toyota MR2 Spider.

Now enthusiasts celebrate an all-new MX-5. Though a few purists may be put off by the muscular styling, most aficionados will applaud this purpose-built sports car with the modern amenities motorists have come to covet.

It has not grown larger, but is in fact a bit shorter and lighter in weight than its predecessor, close to the 1990 original Miata. Power -- at 155 horsepower and 148 lb.-ft. of torque -- looks modest on paper. But it weighs only a few hundred pounds more than a ton, plus a driver.

Manufacturer photo: Lightweight, nimble and fun to drive, the fourth-generation 2016 Mazda MX-5 draws inspiration from MX-5s that came before it, pairing the driver as one with the car

Besides, the Miata never was about drag racing to 60 mph, though Car and Driver Magazine managed a 5.9-second run. Its forte is handling and the tactile and emotional sensations of motoring in a topless roadster on a temperate day around the curves of a mountain road. With the driver, its 53/47 percent front/rear weight balance becomes nearly 50/50 for precise cornering.

Settling into the Miata's cozy interior, the seat envelops the driver. Its new seatback, not much thicker than that of a canvas lawn chair, surrounds and conforms to the torso and provides comfortable lateral support as you carve the curves.

Caress the steering wheel and feel the response as the body predictably rolls diagonally ever so slightly to ease the Miata around a tight corner. Feedback from the electric power steering communicates traction messages to the fingertips. Most of all, enjoy the satisfying six-speed manual shift linkage and a clutch pedal so facile that it's almost invisible. Short of a performance motorcycle or a way more expensive exotic sports car, there's hardly a more satisfying driving experience.

All of this comes in a roadster that, even in its most expensive iteration, sells for less than the average price of a new car in today's market. Adjusted for inflation, the price is close to that of the original.

strong>Three versions are available: Sport, the entry-level car with all the basic goodness, starts at $25,735. At the top of the line is the comfort-oriented Grand Touring at $30,885. A six-speed automatic transmission option ($1,075) is available.

Manufacturer photo: Lightweight, nimble and fun to drive, the fourth-generation 2016 Mazda MX-5 draws inspiration from MX-5s that came before it, pairing the driver as one with the car

In between is the Club model, the subject here, which is aimed at enthusiasts and weekend racers. It comes with the six-speed manual gearbox and, if a buyer so chooses, a $3,400 package that includes track-ready Brembo performance brakes and 17-inch alloy wheels.

strong>Criticisms border on nit-picking: The steering wheel tilts but does not telescope. The tiny sun visors are flimsy plastic and do not adjust to the side.

Everything about the Miata reverts back to its SkyActiv design philosophy, which scrutinizes each part in the car to eliminate every ounce of weight possible. This is how the MX-5 stays true to its heritage. Shakespeare would love it.

Specifications

Base price $29,420 (as tested: $32,820)
Curb weight 2,332 lbs.
Displacement 2.0-liter
Engine type 16-valve SkyActiv 4-cyl. w/DI
Epa mileage rating 27 mpg city, 34 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 11.9 gal.
Horsepower (net) 155 at 6000 rpm
Overall length 154.1 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 148 at 4600 rpm
Transmission 6-speed manual
Vehicle type 2-passenger RWD roadster
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