The world's most popular roadster grows up by shrinking down

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At an event that included a performance by Duran Duran, the next Miata was unveiled. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

At an event in Monterey, California, Mazda finally pulled the wraps off of the next generation of the Miata. When compared to the current model, the 2016 MX-5 Miata will be wider, lower, lighter, and -- oh, yeah -- it's got a whole new look and a few new creature comforts that should help broaden the roadster's appeal.

However, Mazda was curiously tight-lipped when it came to more substantial questions about performance and tech. Here's what we know so far.

Starting at the front end, the Miata's new look includes sharply designed, compact headlamp housings which necessitate the use of compact LED headlamps and daytime running lights. The fascia has been updated to include elements of the automaker's latest design language.

However, where most Mazdas are moving away from the last generation's goofy grin, the Miata keeps the vaguely-pentagonal "smile" of the third-generation intact. This is partially because the Miata is unique within Mazda's lineup and partially because Mazda is paying all kinds of homage to previous Miata generations all over the roadster's small canvas. For example, the sides and doors have been kept largely devoid of creases in an effort to evoke the simple design of the first generation, and the front and rear fenders are muscular arches that echo those of the second generation.

The new roadster is wider and lower than the previous model, a fact that is accentuated by the hood, which dips deeply toward the ground at the front end, and the windshield hoop, which Mazda tells us will always be painted black to emphasize the low-slung profile.

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A black windshield hoop emphasizes the 2016 Miata's low-slung construction. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Around back, the Miata's tail rises up over the wheels before tapering inward and upward to aid with aerodynamics. The rear end is, perhaps, the most awkward bit of the Miata's design, with teardrop shaped LED tail lamps. (I don't think I'm the only one seeing a bit of Jaguar F-Type in their design.) Perhaps we'll grow to love them; perhaps the ride will be good enough that we won't care.

The cabin has been updated with what Mazda called a "more aspirational" design in an attempt to move the Miata upmarket and appeal to a wider audience. However, Mazda was careful to stress that it also worked hard not to alienate the purists and enthusiasts who want to keep the Miata simple.

One of the first things I noticed when peering at the dashboard was the 7-inch touchscreen sitting front-and-center at the top of the center stack, followed immediately by a physical rotary controller on the center console. I wasn't able to fire it up and give it a go, and Mazda, again, didn't want to comment on options, but the automaker did let slip that the tech would be on par with what we've seen in the new Mazda3. That means available navigation, Mazda Connect app integration, Bluetooth, HD Radio, and more. But because Mazda isn't talking packaging or trim levels, I have no way to confirm my hunch that the Miata will also be available without the screen and gadgets.

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A touchscreen and physical controller put the Miata's new tech at the driver's fingertips. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

One thing that I didn't notice in the MX-5's cabin was a CD slot. I may have missed it, but the pair of USB ports and what looks like an SD card slot near the shift knob are likely indicators that the Miata will be the next vehicle to ditch optical media.

As I stated earlier, today's unveil was all about the Miata's new look, so all of our speculation about the engine, the possibility of a turbocharger, and inquiries about performance and pricing numbers were met with a firm "we're not talking about that right now." As far as performance goes, all that I was able to confirm was that both examples present at the reveal were equipped with six-speed manual transmissions and a small switch to toggle Sport mode. (Which prompts the question, "Isn't a Miata always in Sport mode?")

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The unveil was light on specs and tech, but we expect to learn more in the coming days. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

However, we expect to get more information and possibly driving impressions very soon, so be sure to check back for more details as this story develops.

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2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Part Number: 2016MX-5MIATA
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