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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

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Base Price: $25,735
Price as Tested: $32,820

Until someone has piloted a 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata – yes, it’s still OK to call it Miata – around for a few hours, describing its spunky, fun-to-drive characteristics to him or her is like describing the color blue to a sightless person. A 155-horsepower convertible couldn’t possibly be that big a kick to drive, could it?

Oh, yes; oh, yes it could and it is.

Lucky enough to have been included in the MX-5 media introduction last year, I was in full anticipation mode to spend some serious time in one during a week-long loan at home. A Club grade Miata coated in ceramic-color paint arrived in my driveway in February. After a week with it, my bottom-line reaction: Only this spirited two-seater’s lack of trunk space would deter me from making it my full-time driver. I simply love tossing it around!

From the beginning, Miata has been about conquering the curves as opposed to straight-line speed. Of course, because your butt DSC00215rests only inches above the asphalt, things seem to be happening at a much more frantic pace then they actually are. The exuberant exhaust note and your proximity to the pavement collude to increase your sense of speed by 10 to 15 miles per hour. Miata always makes you feel as though you are traveling faster than you actually are. A feather weight among sedans, crossovers and trucks, reaching 60 miles per hour from a standstill takes Miata less than seven seconds – neither super quick nor sluggish – despite its smallish engine. But you would guess it’s faster.

When Miata first rolled into showrooms in 1989 as a 1990 model, the motoring press heralded it as a British roadster with a functioning electrical system. Indeed, the Brits had been completely out of the two-seat-convertible business for almost a decade when Mazda came to the rescue with Miata. It behaved much like the vaunted roadsters from merry old England, but with the latest in safety technology, a dependable heater and an electrical system that didn’t short out with every rain.

Miata hasn’t strayed from its roots. Sure, it has a few more ponies under the hood today – 155 versus 116 in the original – but it’s still all about the twisties. That’s where it really shines. Don’t get me wrong; Miata transforms every mundane grocery-store run into something worthy of Christmas-morning anticipation, but it’s engineered for the switchbacks. Wonderfully balanced, it rips through curves as surefooted as a cheetah running down a gazelle.

The 2016 Miata is armed with a 2-liter four-cylinder engine. When combined with the slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission found in my test MX-5, it delivers 27 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and 30 mpg in the city. Forking over an extra $1,480, qualifies it for the driver-shiftable six-speed automatic tranny. It gets the same combined and city mileage, but bests the manual’s highway number by 2 mpg.

Some manual transmission are more difficult and tiring to shift than others. Miata’s manual is one I could live with every day in any sort of traffic flow. The clutch works easily and the gearbox is remarkably fluid. And, it has hill holder to keep it from rolling on its own as you shift into gear.

MX5Club_2016_037-regSix footers fit just fine inside Miata’s tidy cabin. There isn’t much in way of storage, but, hey, that’s why you have pockets. One of the benefits of such a cozy cabin is that the driver doesn’t need to stretch to reach anything. Every knob and switch is easily within arm’s length. Nicely bolstered, the seats lock driver and passenger upright. The seven-inch touchscreen, standard on the Sport and Grand Touring grades, stands upright on the middle of the dashboard, somewhat interrupting the flow of the instrument panel. There is a redundant knob on the center console duplicating some of its touch functions. Only 4.6 cu-ft of trunk space provides Miata’s storage capacity. That’s about enough room to hold four and a half basketballs.

An exceptional feat of engineering, the soft-top with its glass rear window unfastens with the flip of a lever and then can be folded out of the way, or back into place, with one hand as the driver sits behind the wheel.

Miata comes in three grades – Sport, Club and Grand Touring – topping out in price at $30,885. Even the base trim comes with a heaping helping of goodies, like air conditioning, full power accessories, push-button start, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, and a six-speaker audio system with CD player and USB port.

The extra three grand the Club model fetches over the Sport pays for additions like interior red-accent stitching, a sporty front fascia and rear-lip spoiler, the already-mentioned touchscreen and a nine-speaker Bose-infused audio system with dual USB ports, satellite radio capability and Pandora. Additionally when you stick with the manual transmission, Club also includes Bilstein shocks, a shock tower brace and engine enhancer.

My test Miata had a $3,400 option package featuring Brembo brakes, 17-inch forged wheels and advanced keyless entry system.

With the Grand Touring trim you get the automatic transmission as standard, heated leather seating, automatic climate control, DSC00214automatic wipers, adaptive headlights with auto highbeam, navigation system, blind-spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and lane departure warning.

Because Miata doesn’t pack the acceleration punch of some other sports cars, there are those who dismiss it as unworthy of a serious driver. Nothing is farther from the truth. All that’s required to shut up a naysayer is to put him on a twisty California mountain road behind the wheel of one. Case closed.