As we prepare to drive the U.S.-market 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata for the first time, Mazda officials gave us an up-close look at some of the most important innovations that help keep the roadster’s zoom-zoom spirit alive. Here are ten more things you need to know about the new Miata.
1. The Club model has stiffer suspension springs for the first time
Buyers opting for the Club version of the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata receive stiffer suspension springs but the same size anti-roll bars as other trim levels. That’s a change from the outgoing NC-generation car, on which Club models used the same spring rates but a stiffer rear bar. In addition, the Club is now the only way to get the upgraded suspension (which also includes a limited-slip differential, extra bracing, and Bilstein dampers). The NC offered the Club’s suspension as an option on Grand Touring models, but for the ND Miata the upgrades are exclusive to the Club.
2. The Miata’s manual transmission has an unusual 1:1 sixth-gear ratio
In most modern manual-transmission cars, fifth, sixth, and even seventh gears are overdrive gears, meaning the transmission’s output shaft spins faster than the input shaft to lower engine speed and, hopefully, save fuel. In the Miata’s 6-speed, top gear has a 1:1 ratio because the lack of a gearing change saves a minute amount of friction, improving highway fuel efficiency. As a result, all of the Miata’s gearing has been adjusted to compensate: The final-drive ratio is an unusually tall 2.866:1 (versus 4.1:1 in the outgoing NC Miata) and the first-gear ratio is 5.087:1.
3. There’s no seat-height adjustment
Mazda engineers found that the drivers who were raising the seat in the Miata tended to be shorter, meaning they also needed to sit closer to the steering wheel and pedals. In the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata, they eliminate the seat-height adjustment mechanism and instead fixed the seat sliders on an incline. As you move the seat closer to the pedals and wheel, it moves higher. Removing the height adjustment help save weight in the new seats.
4. Head- and legroom improve more than the spec charts say
According to Mazda’s published specifications, head- and legroom are unchanged in the new car, at 37.4 and 43.1 inches, respectively. But Mazda insists that’s because of the positions the seats must be in when those measurements are calculated; if you take into account how much lower and farther back the seats can be moved than in older Miatas, both headroom and legroom have greatly increased over the outgoing car.
5. The Miata has Mazda’s second implementation of rack-mounted electric power steering
The first application was in the RX-8, but while most modern Mazdas use electric power steering, it’s really tricky to fit rack-mounted systems in front-wheel-drive cars. In the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata, a rack-mount assist system allowed engineers to improve steering feedback (other cars have the assist system in the column, which is less precise). Mazda did experiment with unassisted steering for the new Miata, but officials say the effort at parking speeds would have been too high.
6. The 2.0-liter engine is the same inside, different outside
As was already made clear, the 2.0-liter Skyactiv inline-four in the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is the same one available in the Mazda3 compact. Internally, the engines are identical, but on the outside the Miata engine needs new manifolds to fit in a longitudinal arrangement. It also has an exposed metal valve cover, which is heavier than the plastic cover used on other Mazdas, but engineers felt it was worth the extra weight to have a prettier engine on display under the hood of a sports car.
7. Yes, it’s faster than the old car
Unofficially, Mazda expects the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata to be about one second quicker to the 60-mph benchmark than its predecessor. That’s despite the fact that peak horsepower is down from the NC’s 2.0-liter engine (155 hp versus 167 hp). Not only does the new car’s reduced weight improve acceleration, but Mazda also calls attention to the total area of the new engine’s dyno plot. Below about 6,000 rpm, the new Skyactiv engine consistently produces more power than the NC Miata’s 2.0-liter. That results in stronger real-world acceleration, and officials say, “to the average driver, this car will feel a lot faster.”
8. Your passenger can’t eavesdrop on your phone calls
Well, sort of. Club and Grand Touring versions of the Miata have speakers in the seat headrests, and when you receive a call via Bluetooth, its audio only plays through the driver’s headrest speakers. The idea is to make it easier for drivers to hear callers if the car’s top is down, but it also means your phone call isn’t blasting at full volume for all to hear while you’re driving topless.
9. You can still defeat the stability control
Going to a track day or autocross in your 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata, or just want to drift a deserted parking lot? You can still fully defeat the stability control, and the electronic nannies won’t re-engage until you push the button again.
10. The 6-speed automatic carries over
The 6-speed automatic transmission is one of the few components that directly carries over from the NC to the ND Miata. Its sport mode has been reprogrammed to better take into account the driver’s intentions, by watching braking and steering inputs during enthusiastic driving. Mazda says that the manual/automatic transmission split has been about 50/50 on the outgoing car.