I’m quickly coming up on month six of my Miata ownership experience! I’ve now had the car since November 2015.
I love car reviews, and I love to read them. But it’s not often you get to hear from someone who’s lived with a brand-new car for thousands of miles unless you, you know, ask them. So that’s why I’m writing this post. And for publications that do conduct long-term testing, test notes are few, far between, and generally not especially detailed unless problems with the vehicle arise. What I plan to accomplish in this post is to convey aspects of the Miata ownership experience that only became apparent to me the more I used the car. This post will focus on the positive aspects. There will also be a post focusing on the negative ones.
#1: The gas mileage really is good
I know, mundane, right? But this is important. Previous MX-5s have generally gotten pretty poor gas mileage in anything but extended not-too-fast highway driving because of short gearing and a very narrow power-band. The new SkyActiv engine and transmission in the “ND” 2016 Mazda Miata really do fix this.
After 5,500 miles, I am now averaging around 30-32MPG in mixed conditions. I get around 25-28 city MPG, and well over 35MPG highway. With a gentle foot and an eye for the speed limit (65MPH on freeways / interstates in CA), I can nearly crack 40MPG highway. I never expected the gas mileage to be quite this good.
Is it as good as some cars weighing a thousand pounds more with even more horsepower? No. But the Miata has always had pretty crappy gas mileage (for a vehicle of its weight and power), and the ’16 MX-5 really takes efficiency seriously. With a 10.9 gallon gas tank and a requirement of 91 octane gas, this matters even more.
Single tank range is generally around 320-360 miles depending on, well, gas mileage. That’s pretty good for a car this small. 400 miles on a very extended highway drive may well be doable.
#2: It challenges and rewards you every single time you drive it
Let me be clear: the 2016 MX-5 is a very easy car to drive. And skilled drivers, especially, have long noted this about Miatas, because it makes them very easy to “play around” with and take to the limit. For those people, the MX-5 may never present a real challenge. But I am not a particularly skilled driver.
Because the car is so light, the drivetrain is extremely responsive to your inputs – be it the clutch or throttle. Getting 2nd to 3rd shifts just right when pulling the car to around 5000 RPM is so rewarding. When you do it, the car gently glides into third and you get back on the gas. But with a fairly light flywheel, if you don’t match the revs just right, you’ll feel resistance. In a heavier car with a heavier clutch (and more momentum), you don’t always feel encouraged to get your shifts laser-precise. The MX-5 wants you to, and I love that. It makes me a better driver.
Rev-matching on downshifts has been a very fun learning experience, too, and the Miata is the least intimidating car I think you could try it out on. The engine revs quickly, but not manically, and the short gearing gives you plenty of opportunity to experiment with this.
A simple trip down to the grocery store a mile away is fun in an MX-5. You put the top down and the peripheral sensation of speed from the world rushing by you from the low driving position is exhilarating. Simply going from first to second gear is a joyful, smile-inducing act, rather than a chore, especially with such a light and easy clutch pedal.
Let me put it this way: no one is having more fun zipping down LA’s sprawling surface streets in rush hour than I am, unless they’re also in a Miata. It makes the mundane enjoyable.
#3: The manual rag top is a million times better than a power folding top
Mazda has designed what is probably the best folding convertible top in history. You can put it up or down with one hand at a red light or when rolling out of a parking lot. Unless you’ve got shoulder problems, this system couldn’t be any more ideal.
I was literally able to put the top up and down for this by sticking my hand through the passenger window. It’s that easy.
To put the top down, just use your thumb to push in the switch on the lever above the rear-view mirror and pull back on the lever until it clears the anchor point, then push the entire top back behind you until it clicks in place. I can do it in 3-5 seconds at this point. Putting it back up is no harder – just grab the release handle above the center console box between the seats, the top will pop up, then grab the handle on the top itself and pull it over you. Latch the anchor into the windshield surround and pull the lever forward until it locks. Done.
As to noise? For a convertible, the MX-5 is pretty quiet on the freeway with the top up. But it’s obviously noisier than a typical car, and significantly louder than a luxury sedan. But the top itself is just a win all around, I don’t for a moment think I’d want a power top, or a power hard top. This is lighter, easier, and less likely to break. Mazda did a great job.
#4: It is surprisingly well-equipped, and the tech is modern
What’s the #1 problem with buying a niche vehicle, especially a small sports car? Even one with relatively large scale production? I’ll tell you: it’s being at the mercy of vehicle designers who need to cut corners and features to make that vehicle “work” from a profit and engineering timeline perspective.
Often, this means an out-of-date infotainment system, oddly minimal or hacked-together creature comforts, and old-but-reliable parts bin choices. The 2016 MX-5 completely turns this on its head.
The car has LED exterior lighting all around – the headlights are tremendously bright and extremely low profile, and that’s allowed Mazda to reduce the overhang on the front of the car. LEDs also last longer than halogen bulbs and use far less power to provide the same level of illumination. This is stuff Mercedes and BMW still don’t even do on a lot of their entry-level trims – it’s an option. The MX-5 has LED lighting completely standard.
But that’s just one example. Here’s a list of things that I think are genuine conveniences you might not expect on a sports car (I’m not saying these are all new to the ND, just taking them as a whole):
- Completely keyless entry, engine start, locking, and trunk opening. No fiddling with a key fob for anything. Just tap the button on the door to get in (or lock), the start button to start the engine. There is a small button on the rear bumper to pop the trunk.
- Auto-lowering windows when you raise or lower the folding roof. Both windows have full-down switches built into the toggles, as well.
- Front and rear defrosters that actually work.
- Power side mirrors.
- Hill-start assist (no more e-braking on steep hills to get started).
- Gear indicator built into the tachometer with upshift suggestions.
- Digital water temp gauge, digital fuel gauge, and digital trip computer with gas remaining in miles, average MPG, current MPG, and average speed.
- Steering wheel controls for music, trip computer readout, phone calls, and cruise control.
- AC and heat with 3-level output (bottom, center console, defrost). A/C and heat both work well, too. Dual-zone with climate control is only on the Grand Touring model, though.
- 2x USB ports, aux-in jack, and cigarette lighter power port
And that’s not even touching on Mazda’s Connect infotainment system, which is leaps and bounds better than those of most of their price competitors. Mazda Connect does give you a 7″ touchscreen, but interaction is primarily through the rotary / d-pad knob in the center console. Could it be better? Sure. But so could the systems on cars costing twice as much or more. Mazda’s is simple enough to learn in terms of layout, and while it’s not incredibly fast, it’s also not agonizingly slow. It does what it needs to and it isn’t filled with a ton of useless features for their own sake.
Conveniences, conveniences everywhere!
I do have gripes about Mazda Connect, but for the most part, this is leagues above what we saw on $50,000+ sports cars even 5 years ago. Technology has moved incredibly fast, and the ’16 Miata is on the right side of that shift.
#5 It’s a normal car, and I can use it and treat it like one
Would you take your Alfa Romeo 4C into a gravel and mud parking lot filled with potholes? Maybe? Sure, I could see that – brave soul! But maybe get a clear bra done just in case… and hope it doesn’t scrape. Would you do a 400-mile road trip in it? If the weather was right and you could fit all the stuff you needed in it, sure, I guess. But that’s a fair number of miles. And the road might be rough in spots. Maybe it’s better to get a rental. What’s your insurance like? Mine’s pretty much exactly what it was when I had my old, much more boring car. Rock chips from the freeway? Which gas station should I use? Do I need some kind of crazy European oil every 5,000 miles? Is it going to explode the moment I get out of warranty?
The trunk is small, but not obnoxiously so – here’s my full-sized Timbuk2 messenger bag on the floor for scale.
Mazda builds the MX-5 with the average person in mind. It needs to be able to do normal car things, normally. And it is a normal car, and it costs normal car money. And so it costs normal car money to insure and maintain. It has good ground clearance, because it’s a normal car that needs to go many places. It has reasonable trunk space, because normal cars need places to put stuff. It has lots of suspension travel, because a normal car can’t be breaking your back everywhere you go. It doesn’t have insanely huge wheels with ultra low-profile tires, because normal cars can’t be bending their rims every time they hit a pothole. It gets good gas mileage, because normal people are starting to care about that. It isn’t obnoxiously loud or droney, because that gets annoying in a normal car you have to use every day.
That really is what I love most about my MX-5: I don’t have to do anything really all that different than I would when I drive it than any other car, and I don’t have to make many special considerations (aside from cargo space) when I use it. It’s just a car. Might a $70,000 Boxster or Alfa 4C Spider feel more special, and be faster? Absolutely! And there’s a place for those cars. They’re great. I’m just not sure they’re cars I’d want to use, or accept the consequences of using, every day without having another vehicle to fall back on for more mundane activities.
Make no mistake, the MX-5 isn’t an everyday vehicle for everybody. But as 2-seat roadsters go, it’s about as close to “a normal car” as anybody’s gotten yet, and the price is the most normal thing about it.
If you want to support my blog and posts like these, you can shop on Amazon with my referral code (use this link). Here are a few car care products I use and can recommend, as well.
- Sonax car wash concentrate
- Sonax glass cleaner
- Zymol cleaner wax
- Meguiar’s “Quik Wax” quick Carnauba wax detailer spray (love this stuff, especially for black cars)
- California car duster
- Meguiar’s Endurance tire shine gel
- Amazon microfiber towel 24-pack
- Mothers Back To Black plastic and trim restorer
- Lexol leather cleaner and conditioner kit