Are you pining for a Porsche or craving a Corvette, but lack the paycheck? Well then, step right up; you're the ideal candidate for the Mazda MX-5, also called the Miata.
At long last (10 model-years, to be exact), Mazda is introducing the fourth-generation of the world's all-time best-selling roadster, with a little help from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), it must be said.
In today's world, it takes deep corporate pockets to design an entirely new vehicle. In Mazda's case its pockets aren't lined with as much gold as, say, Toyota, Ford, Volkswagen or other dominant automakers. To rationalize costs, Mazda partnered with FCA's Fiat branch on platform development, which will reportedly also lead to a future sports car to be branded the Fiat 124 Spider.
For Mazda, the end result is here now, and an impressive result it is. Compared to the outgoing Miata, the 2016 model is considerably sleeker from grille to trunk lid. The design also signals a complete departure from the Miata's original inspiration, the Lotus Elan that came out of England in the early 1960s. The fenders now bulge aggressively out from the body, the grinning air intake has thankfully been toned down, and the truncated rear deck evokes thoughts of BMW's Z4 two-seater. The crowning touch is a pair of headlights that appear influenced by Siamese cats' eyes.
In shaping the new MX-5, Mazda's stylists cut the overall length down by more than three inches and reduced the distance between the front and rear wheels by close to an inch. Trunk space is also down slightly. A full-court press aimed at weight reduction has also yielded a not-insignificant 150-pound decrease, with the help of aluminum body panels and lightened components.
On the plus side, the half-inch gain in width adds a wee bit more interior space. The completely revamped cockpit is as clean as they come, including a trio of clearly marked gauges, oversize control knobs for the ventilation system and an available seven-inch touch-screen with voice command for the audio and communications units. The slick non-power soft top (a power-operated retractable hardtop is no longer offered) can still be operated using one hand and uses a single latch to secure it in place.
But the serious fun starts with the top dropped, revealing the sweet sounds of the MX-5's sport-tuned exhaust and the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Although it's identical in displacement to the previous 2.0, its output is less (155 versus 167 horsepower). Its 148 pound-feet of torque beats the older version's 140 pound-feet rating, however. According to Mazda, with less heft to deal with, the new engine makes the Miata the quickest and the most fuel-efficient in the brand's history. The estimate is 27 mpg city and 34 mpg highway with the six-speed manual transmission (previously 22/28). An optional six-speed automatic improves the MX-5's highway number by two mpg, but it takes some of the fun out of driving a roadster like this one.
For $24,800 (including destination charges), the MX-5 Sport arrives with air conditioning, a six-speaker stereo, push-button start and Bluetooth connectivity.
Along with the aforementioned touch-screen display, the Club adds a sport-tuned suspension with Bilstein-brand shocks, limited-slip differential, front suspension brace (manual-gearbox-models only), front and rear spoilers, Bose audio system with headrest speakers and 17-inch wheels (16-inchers are standard).
The top-level Grand Touring upgrades include climate control, heated leather seats, navigation system and an insulated cloth-lined top. Extra GT safety features include lane-departure warning (for the inattentive driver) and blind-spot monitoring with cross-traffic alert (warns when other vehicles are approaching from behind on the highway and when you're backing up).
With nearly one million MX-5's sold worldwide over the past quarter-century, Mazda's light, lively and affordable roadster remains an aspirational choice for drivers for whom wind-in-the-hair, gear-snicking, open-road traveling beckons.
What you should know: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Type: Two-door, rear-wheel-drive roadster
Engine (hp): 2.4-liter DOHC I4 (155)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual; six-speed automatic
Market position: Most open-cockpit two-seat roadsters are priced well above $40,000, leaving few options available for sports-car buyers on a budget. The MX-5's affordability has helped its popularity for the past 25 years.
Points: Attractive redesign is dimensionally similar to first-generation Miata; Fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine is no slouch, aided by reduced vehicle weight; Lack of luggage space forces passengers to pack carefully; Suspension improvements designed for greater cornering, steering capability; The automatic trans will help sales, but not performance.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control;
MPG (city/hwy) 27/34 (MT); Base price (incl. destination) $25,700
Base price: $27,000
2015 is the final year for the Roadster and Coupe, including hot JCW models.
Scion FR-S Base price: $25,700
Other than a fixed roof, the FR-S is as fun and affordable as the MX-5.
Volkswagen Beetle Base price: $26,400
The Beetle's cool drop top has room for four and a 210-hp turbo option.