In the 2016 Mazda MX-5's cockpit, even the Bose audio system is driver-focused

​The new Mazda MX-5 Miata's cabin is compact, but it's full of quirks and surprises, including a Bose audio system that hides speakers in the headrests and Lego-like cupholders.

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The Miata's Bose audio system features a pair of speakers in each of its headrests. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Recently, I got to spend 24 hours behind the wheel of the new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Grand Touring, but I can't yet share any of my driving impressions. (I know, I hate being such a tease, too.) What I can tell you is what it's like to sit in the new roadster and listen to its new premium Bose audio system, which features a revival of the model's in-headrest speaker feature.

The nine-speaker Bose system -- which is standard on MX-5 Club and Grand Touring models, but not the base MX-5 Sport -- consists of two 1-inch A-pillar tweeters, two 6.5-inch midrange door drivers and one 5.25-inch woofer in a 6-liter custom-engineered enclosure hidden in the passenger footwell. The roadster's Bose system also features the return of the headrest speakers with a pair of 2-inch UltraNearField speakers stealthily hidden in each headrest. The whole system is powered by a seven-channel proprietary Bose TrueSpace digital signal processing amplifier of unstated wattage mounted below the MX-5's convertible-top storage space.

If the Miata's snug cockpit can be described as fitting like a glove, the Bose audio system is like a great pair of headphones. The headrest speakers help to wrap the audio around the driver's and passenger's heads when listening to audio in the roadster's noisy cabin. I found that was able to listen at moderate volumes while driving with the top down, rather than blasting the sound over the wind noise. What's most remarkable is that I hardly even noticed the system was doing anything from the driver's seat. I didn't hear the gimmick, only clearer sound. It wasn't until I turned my head and actually listened for it that I realized how transparent the digital signal processing was.

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The UltraNearField speakers are nearly transparent in operation. You hear the sound, not the gimmick. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Bass from the Bose subwoofer wasn't exactly "cabin-filling" -- though, it was certainly punchy and precise -- so the headrest speakers help to raise the sound stage to ear-level without unnecessarily raising overall system volume. I liked that the system focuses the sound on the driver rather than waking the neighborhood.

Interestingly, I also noticed that hands-free call audio also gets routed through the driver's headrest, almost exclusively. This helps to eliminate that feeling of broadcasting my conversation to the rest of the world when answering a call with the top down and makes the calling experience feel more intimate and less disturbing to my passenger.

The Bose system features two unique EQ settings customized for top-up or top-down listening that are automatically toggled when the fabric roof latches into place. And the more familiar Bose AudioPilot 2 noise compensation can automatically adjust the system's audio volume to compensate for road and wind noise at speed.

The placement of headrest speakers and a hidden subwoofer are two nearly transparent tricks that allow Mazda to cram big sound into the MX-5's small cabin. The Roadster's quarters are close, but comfortable with plenty of room for me and a passenger, both of us pretty broad-shouldered guys. Dave Coleman, vehicle development lead at Mazda R&D, tells me that the MX-5 was built from the driver's seat up to ensure that this is the best MX-5 ever as far as seating position, ergonomics and space are concerned; particularly for taller drivers. (I'm not a taller driver, so I'll take Dave's word for it.) In this pursuit, the Miata has gained a few quirks that I noticed around its cockpit.

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The MX-5's compact cockpit was designed to be the most ergonomic, driver-focused Miata ever. However, there are a few quirks. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

For example, there's no traditional glovebox under the 2016 Miata's dashboard. Mazda wanted to keep the roadster's dashboard low to maximize driver visibility and the open-air feeling of speed, but doing this meant choosing between either a passenger-side airbag or the glove compartment -- there simply wasn't enough space for both. Safety, obviously, comes first, so you'll have to pack light and make do with the roadster's small central lockbox behind the seats for small items.

The Miata has two removable cupholders that easily snap in and out like Lego pieces with a tug. They can be mounted at the rear of the center console at the driver's elbow or removed altogether and stowed. During solo trips, one of the holders can also be snapped onto the passenger side of the transmission tunnel for easier access, but it intrudes significantly into passenger knee space when in that position.

At the driver's elbow is also where you'll find the Miata's single-slot CD player. This is an odd spot that's not easily accessible while driving and often blocked by items in the cupholders. Mazda's Coleman jokes that the CD player is, as we all know, likely transitioning out and will likely completely disappear during this Roadster's lifetime. Frankly, I was surprised to see the optical drive make it this far.

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Space is at a premium in the roadster's compact cabin, so the single-slot CD player finds an unconventional home between the seats, just aft of the removable cupholders. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Many enthusiasts, myself included, got a little worried when it was announced that the MX-5 would feature a standard display sticking up out of the dashboard and getting in the way. Allow me to slightly ease those worries. Because the MX-5's dash is so low, the standard Mazda Connect screen stays out of the way. The tablet-toaster display doesn't break the horizon of the dashboard when viewed from the driver's seat and doesn't block a the view of the road.

The tech that you access via that screen is identical to the Mazda Connect system that we previously tested in the current Mazda3, using a combination of a physical controller and a touch-sensitive screen (only when the car is stopped) to access digital audio sources and more. I found the system to be easy enough to understand, but the learning curve for some of the interface's organizational oddities can be just a tad tough. Navigation, by the way, is standard on the Grand Touring, but doesn't come with the Club model. However, Clubbers who really want turn-by-turn directions to the best driving roads can pick up an SD card from their Mazda dealer that contains the map data and unlocks the functionality.

We'll have more details about the 2016 Mazda Miata including driving impressions on June 1, so stay tuned.

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