“You win for bringing the most inappropriate vehicle,” said Drew as I was coming into our rental house for the Detroit Auto Show.
I couldn’t say he was wrong. The vehicle in question, a 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring, isn’t what I would call the perfect vehicle for winter or be in traveling to an auto show. But here I was with a Miata parked on the street. I should explain how I ended up with a Miata over the winter. It goes a few months back to a conversation thread I was somehow looking at. In that thread, a Mazda PR person mentioned that they put winter tires on their vehicles for the season. Seeing this, the gears starting working in my head and I wondered if the MX-5 Miata would have that as well. Before too long, I had put in a request for a Miata and I got it scheduled. It was only when I was looking at the schedule did I realize it would coincide with the Detroit Auto Show. Oops.
There is some method to this madness. Sometimes to fully test a vehicle, you need to put it in a situation where it isn’t entirely comfortable. So in the case of the Miata, what better time to test it than in the middle of winter and with an auto show to boot?
Mazda has done a knockout job with designing the fourth-generation MX-5 Miata. The front is very low with a massive grille to provide air for the engine and narrow headlights. The hood features some slight sculpting to help the front fenders stand out. Along the side, you can see a resemblance to previous Miatas, especially when you drop the top. A set of seventeen-inch alloy wheels come standard on the top Grand Touring trim. Around back is a uniquely shaped rear end.
At the moment, the Miata comes only with a manual soft top. Those wanting a hardtop will need to wait for the Miata RF (Retractable Fastback) due sometime this year. Putting the top down is very easy. Just pull a latch and push the top down until you hear a click. Putting the top back is slightly difficult due to where the latch is - behind the folded top and under the trunk lid. Getting your hand back here is tough due to a small and narrow gap. But once you find it and release the top, it is just as fast to put it back up.
Getting in and out of the MX-5 Miata can be best described as a comedy of errors. You have to contort yourself in a way to get the top half of your body into the car, followed by the legs. It is easier to get in when the top is down. Once inside, you’ll be impressed with how much work Mazda has put in. The interior design follows what you will see in other Mazda products with a modern and minimalistic look. Interior materials have seen a noticeable improvement with more soft-touch plastics and new trim pieces. Controls are within easy reach for both driver and passenger.
The seats are comfortable for short trips, but I found myself wishing for a bit more seat padding and thigh support on longer trips. Driving from my house to Detroit and vice versa, my back started aching part way through the drive. Also, anyone over six-feet will have some difficulty finding a comfortable position due to how snug the cabin is. The trunk is small even for a roadster; only 4.6 cubic feet is on offer. I was able to get my suitcase into the trunk and that’s it. The backpack with my laptop, camera, other items needed for show coverage rode in the passenger seat.
The Grand Touring trim comes with the Mazda Connect infotainment system that comes with a seven-inch touchscreen and control knob on the center console. Trying to use the touchscreen is frustrating since it is explained what is enabled for touch control. For example, I can hit play and skip a track when I’m playing my iPod. But if I want to scroll through the artists on my iPod, I cannot do that. You’re better off using the control knob, although it can get in the way when you are shifting gears.
One area Mazda deserves some big credit is the Miata’s HVAC system. With the top up, the HVAC quickly warmed up the MX-5 in temperatures ranging from 20° to -4° Fahrenheit. Even with the top down, the HVAC system was able to keep me nice and toasty.
Powering the MX-5 Miata is a 2.0L Skyactiv-G four-cylinder with 155 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual comes standard (which is what our tester came with) and a six-speed automatic with steering wheel paddles is optional. Compared to the last Miata we drove (a 2014 Grand Touring PHRT), the 2016 model feels slightly faster. A lot of this comes down to the overall weight of two vehicles - 2,619 for the 2014 PHRT vs. 2,332 for the 2016 Miata. Around town, the Miata just zips up to speed at a very surprising rate. The six-speed manual is a delight to work. With a short throw and a subtle ‘click’ into gear, you find going through the gears a fun experience. I found myself letting the engine climb up to 5,000 rpm before shifting to the next gear just to hear the roar of the engine and give the illusion that I was driving fast, even though I was only going 30 to 45 MPH. It is that little thing that makes driving an MX-5 Miata special.
When it comes to fuel economy, the EPA rates the 2016 MX-5 Miata at 27 City/34 Highway/30 Combined. These numbers are easily achievable, even if you drive like a maniac. For the week, I was able to achieve 30.6 MPG.
Mazda hasn’t messed with the MX-5 Miata’s handling characteristics. You’ll notice the Miata lean in corners, but this is something that has been in all Miatas. It also helps keep you engaged with driving and not thinking about anything else. If this bugs you, Mazda offers the Club that features a sport suspension with Bilstein shocks. Personally, I found the suspension fitted to the Grand Touring to be just right in the corners. The steering has seen a big change with Mazda swapping the hydraulic system for an electric power steering system. Before anyone starts panicking, this system has to be one of the best I have driven. You do lose some feel, but it builds up weight as you turn. Steering also feels direct.
As for the daily drive, the MX-5 Miata’s suspension is a bit too stiff. Bumps and other imperfections on the road are transmitted to the interior. I found myself wishing that Mazda offered the softer suspension setting used on the 1.5L four-cylinder Miata sold elsewhere in the world. If you plan on taking the Miata on a long highway trip, you might want to bring some ear plugs. Road and wind noise are here in droves and it will get very annoying. One item I wished the MX-5 Miata had was a backup camera. Due to how low you’re sitting in the vehicle, you don’t have a good view of the back. There were times I opened the door when I was backing up just to make sure I wasn’t going to crash into anything.
One question you probably want to me to answer is, how is the Miata on winter tires? Pretty good. Driving through some snowy roads, the Miata seemed to go through it without the stability or traction control intervening. At a stop, the Miata would spin its rear wheels for a moment. Then the tires would find some grip and get the vehicle moving. Winter tires don't guarantee that you will not slide around, but at least the Miata is one of the vehicles you can easily get back in line if you start skidding.
It might not have been one of my brightest ideas to ask for a Miata in the middle of winter and getting it during the week of the Detroit auto show. But the Miata proved its worth in an uncomfortable situation. I wouldn’t want to take the MX-5 Miata on a long trip due to the rough ride and abundance of noises. Even then, I somehow ended up with a smile on my face. Maybe it's due to the Miata still being one of the vehicles that make you feels that you part of the vehicle, controlling the various aspects of it.
Despite the snow and the Detroit Auto Show, the Miata proved its worth. Not many convertibles or any other vehicle can claim that.
Cheers: Grin-inducing handling around corners, top is easy to put down, handsome exterior and interior
Jeers: Suspension will jostle you around on rough roads, wind and road noise in stereo sound, needs backup camera
Disclaimer: Mazda Provided the Miata MX-5, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Model: MX-5 Miata
Trim: Grand Touring
Engine: 2.0L Skyactiv-G DOHC Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Rear-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 155 @ 6,000
Torque @ RPM: 148 @ 4,600
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 27/34/30
Curb Weight: 2,332 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Hiroshima, Japan
Base Price: $30,065
As Tested Price: $31,015 (Includes $820.00 Destination Charge)
Advanced Keyless Entry System - $130.00