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    Review: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring

    • Who in their right mind would drive a convertible in the middle of winter?!

    “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?

     


    2016 Mazda MX 5 Miata Grand Touring 9


     

    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.

     


    2016 Mazda MX 5 Miata Grand Touring 11


     

    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.

     


    2016 Mazda MX 5 Miata Grand Touring 10


     

    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.

     


    2016 Mazda MX 5 Miata Grand Touring 5


     

    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

     

    Year: 2016
    Make: Mazda
    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)

     

    Options:
    Advanced Keyless Entry System - $130.00


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    Very cool review, learned lots, but the color leaves me blah on having any desire to buy it.

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    10k miles on mine as of today. Not a single regret. I have the Club, which comes with extra bracing, a LSD, and Bilstein shocks. Note: the springs are the same on every USDM Miata. The cloth seats are perfect to me, I never had an ache when I was driving around all day or went on road trips. Factory summer tires wear very rapidly, with the grip only being so-so. I put on a new muffler for a more balanced sound between the intake and exhaust, as well as tuned the engine for quite a bit more power. Next thing on the list are firmer sway bars. I liked the body sway when I bought it, as it was just one more way the car was telling me what it was doing, but it got old. On highway trips I average around 37 MPG while staying around 80 w/o cruise control. Everywhere else I get around 32 average. I only use 93 octane. Wind noise kind of sucks, but it's a soft top, so it's forgivable (I play my music on the loud side anyways). The touch screen is disabled any time the car is moving, but that is easily changed via a hacked USB stick (super easy to do, did it the first week I had it). I was actually impressed with the HVAC system, as previous Mazdas HVAC systems were notoriously lacking in cooling and fan output. The traction control gives you a very fair bit of play, letting you get the tail out a little and play a bit before softly intervening. Hard launches do require it to be turned off, though. 

     

    It's probably the closest car to automotive nirvana one can buy. It's absolutely the most fun car I've ever driven, bar none. And that's why I bought it. 

    Edited by Thed
    • Upvote 3

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      Those sitting in the front are treated to leather-covered seats that provide an excellent balance between support and coddle. Those sitting in the back seat might complain about the low position, but will like the ample amount of head and legroom.
      Stepping inside the Avalon Hybrid, Toyota has given it a major makeover. Gone is the flowing and rounded center stack with capacitive touch controls. Instead, the Avalon uses a narrower and blocky center stack with actual buttons. I’m sad to see the touch controls go away as I found them to be quite responsive. Toyota likely dropped them as buyers complained there was no feedback - a click sound or pulsation - to whoever was using it. Other changes include a slim chrome bar running along the dash vents and more color choices.
      Finding a comfortable position in the Avalon was no problem due to the numerous amount of power adjustments available on the Limited. Like the ES, the Avalon’s seats strike the balance of comfort and support just right. In the back, there is an abundance of legroom that allows passengers to stretch out. Headroom is fine for most adults.
      Infotainment
      Toyota has installed the latest version of Entune for the 2019 Avalon. While looking somewhat dated with a muted color palette and dull screen, Entune retains its ease of use. The menus with large touchscreen buttons make it very easy to move around the system, along with clearly marked buttons and knobs sitting on either side. Toyota has also got with times and made the Avalon the first model to feature CarPlay integration. Those wanting Android Auto will need to wait until 2020.
      If there is an Achilles heel to the ES 350, that would be Lexus’ Remote Touch. I have written numerously about how using this system is not only a pain, but very distracting when driving. Take for example changing an XMSirius station.
      Look at the screen to see where the cursor is. Use the touchpad to move the cursor to the station you want, making sure to keep an eye on the screen. Press down on the touchpad to make the selection, hoping you’re finger doesn’t slip and causes something else to happen. This whole routine plays out time and time again whenever you want to do something. Even Apple CarPlay which was introduced for 2019 is a pain to use with Remote Touch. There is salvation on the horizon. Earlier this year, Lexus unveiled an updated RX crossover with a touchscreen for the infotainment system. The automaker said that it will be available on other models in the coming years. Here’s to hoping the ES is one of the first recipients. 
      Performance
      Both vehicles come with the choice of either a 3.5L V6 or hybrid system using a 2.5L four-cylinder. An eight-speed automatic is teamed with the V6. The hybrid uses a CVT.
      The 3.5 V6 has been given a bit more power for 2019, now producing 302 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. This bump makes for a noticeable improvement in overall acceleration, feeling slightly quicker than the last ES 350 I drove. Power builds on a smooth and linear fashion. The engine is also noticeably refined, with barely a rumble coming from underneath the hood. 
      With only a total output of 215 horsepower, the hybrid system in the Toyota Avalon may seem underpowered. This is only an issue when climbing a steep hill or needing to make an immediate pass. Otherwise, the hybrid system provides plenty of oomph for the daily drive. I like how the system seamless transitioned from electric to hybrid power with only a minimal buzz coming from the engine bay. Like other Toyota hybrids, the Avalon Hybrid can travel on electric power alone - albeit a short distance and at speeds below 25 mph.
      In EPA testing, the ES 350 returns 22 City/33 Highway/26 Combined and the Avalon Hybrid returns 43 City/43 Highway/43 Combined. I clocked averages of 25 in the ES 350 and 40 in the Avalon Hybrid.
      Ride and Handling
      Aside from engines, the Avalon Hybrid and ES 350 share another vital component. Under the skin of both models is a version of Toyota New Global Architecture (TGNA) known as GA-K. This variant provides the stiffer structure and lower-center of gravity found on other TGNA models, but allows both Toyota and Lexus to build larger front-wheel drive vehicles.
      In the Avalon Hybrid, the move to GA-K doesn’t change much. The last-generation model showed that you could have good driving dynamics and retain a mission of comfort. The new model continues that with slightly improved handling and sharper steering response. The ES 350 is a different story. Changing over to GA-K transforms the model from a creampuff on wheels to a luxury sedan with that can take corners without embarrassing itself. Body roll is significantly reduced and the steering responds to inputs without fuss. Neither one of these sedans will challenge the likes of the Germans or the Kia Stinger GT, but they will not fall over and cry uncle when pushed.
      Ride quality is still one of the impressive points for both models. On some of roughest, pothole-ladened streets that the Metro Detroit has on offer, the Avalon Hybrid and ES 350 made it feel like mere ripples. Not much outside noise comes inside the cabin of either model, making them a perfect place to decompress after a long day.
      Verdict
      Let’s begin with the 2020 Avalon Hybrid. This updated sedan didn’t surprise me and that’s fine. Aside from the styling, Toyota made small changes to address certain issues of the previous-generation and build upon its strengths. Getting 40 MPG is still an impressive trait for such a big sedan. With a starting price tag of $35,560 for the gas version and $36,650 for the hybrid, the Avalon is still the one to buy if you want the luxuries of the ES without the luxury tax.
      The ES 350, on the other hand, is the more impressive of the two. You have to wonder if Lexus was motivated by what Toyota was able to pull off with last-generation Avalon. In a lot of ways, the ES 350 looks and feels like a proper luxury car. Add in a new platform that doesn’t make you feel like you’re going to tip over and Lexus is very close to that idea of “Experience Amazing”. The only fault is Remote Touch which sours many of the dramatic improvements. If Lexus can get that new touchscreen into the ES ASAP, I would gladly give it my “Most Improved Car of the Year” award. 
      How I would configure a 2019 Lexus ES 350 or Toyota Avalon Hybrid
      Starting with the ES 350, I would skip the base model and go with the Luxury trim. This adds such items as leather upholstery, heated and ventilated seats, and ambient lighting. On top of this, I would add Blind Spot Monitoring package and a power rear sunshade. With destination, I'm out the door with a final price of $45,540.
      For the Avalon Hybrid, I would pick the XSE. This is positioned as the sporty model with various exterior treatments including a mesh insert for the grille. Other standard equipment includes a moonroof, leatherette and suede upholstery, and wireless phone charging. The only two options I would tick are the Ruby Flare Pearl paint and 14-Speaker JBL Audio System. Add destination and the final price comes to $41,480.
      Alternatives
      Genesis G80: A perennial favorite, the G80 slots between the Avalon Hybrid and ES 350 in terms of price - $41,750. It comes showered with loads of standard equipment and an excellent engine lineup. It cannot match the ES and Avalon in terms of interior design, but provides a more modern and easier to understand infotainment system. Ride quality is similar in all three vehicles, but the ES and Avalon have a slight edge in handling. Disclaimer: Toyota Provided the vehicles, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas 
      Year: 2019
      Make: Lexus
      Model: ES 350
      Trim: Luxury
      Engine: 3.5L DOHC 24-Valve with Dual VVT-i V6
      Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Eight-Speed Automatic
      Horsepower @ RPM: 302 @ 6,600
      Torque @ RPM: 267 @ 4,700
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 22/33/26
      Curb Weight: 3,649 lbs
      Location of Manufacture: Georgetown, Kentucky
      Base Price: $42,755
      As Tested Price: $45,955 (Includes $1,025 Destination Charge)*
      Options:
      Blind Spot Monitor with Rear Cross-Traffic Alert, Intuitive Parking Assist with Auto Braking - $1,065.00
      18-Inch Split Five-Spoke Alloy Noise Reduction Wheels - $950.00
      Wood and Leather Trimmed Steering Wheel - $300.00
      Power Rear Sunshade - $210.00
      *No window sticker was provided for the ES 350. This is me taking a guess as to final price and options.
      Year: 2019
      Make: Toyota
      Model: Avalon Hybrid
      Trim: Limited
      Engine: 2.5L 16-valve DOHC with Dual VVT-i Four-Cylinder, 650V Electric Motor
      Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT
      Horsepower @ RPM: 176 @ 5,700 (Gas);  118 (88 kW) (Electric); 215 (Total Output)
      Torque @ RPM: 163 @ 3,600-5,200 (Gas)
      Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 43/43/43
      Curb Weight: 3,715 lbs
      Location of Manufacture: Georgetown, Kentucky
      Base Price: $42,800
      As Tested Price: $45,118 (Includes $920.00 Destination Charge)
      Options:
      Advanced Safety Package - $1,150.00
      Carpet Mat Package - $248.00

      View full article
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