Long-term 2016 Mazda MX-5 update: Doing it all in our red roadster
Still going strong after taking on race tracks, autocrosses, road trips and video production duty.
Jon WongFormer editor for CNET Cars
Jon Wong was a reviews editor for CNET Cars. He test drove and wrote about new cars and oversaw coverage of automotive accessories and garage gear. In his spare time, he enjoys track days, caring for his fleet of old Japanese cars and searching for the next one to add to his garage.
Roughly six months into its stay, our long-term 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata has covered 8,288 miles, and handled virtually everything we've thrown at it. It's completed track days, autocrosses, long road trips and has served as a video production vehicle. Through it all, this beautiful soul red roadster hasn't let us down yet.
It wasn't long after we swapped our Blizzak winter tires for the stock Bridgestone Potenza S001 summer rubber when we found ourselves at GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan. In just one session, it was clear that our new MX-5 Club was better than an outgoing Club model we previously had out.
Body roll is reduced for more confident turn in, and most importantly through GingerMan's Turn 8 and 9 exercise, side-to-side weight transitions happen quicker. Grip is good in corners, but tail-wagging action is easily induced by jabbing the throttle. Going sideways isn't generally the quickest way around the track, but it's often the way with the highest entertainment value. Overall, on track our MX-5 feels familiar, but altogether better, which is expected of any new-generation model.
The 2.0-liter Skyactiv four-cylinder offers serviceable power with 155 ponies, and with great six-speed manual gearbox, making use of every bit of that power is easily done. Throttle response is near instant, which makes rev matching for downshifts in the brake zones a cinch.
Are there any shortcomings on track? Yes, but just the normal issue with stock brake pads and fluid that usually aren't cut out for punishing track work. After a couple of sessions, the brakes began to go away with the pedal getting softer, and stopping power fading. Before we hit the track again, we will be slapping on more aggressive pads and will put high-temp brake fluid into the system, which should help matters.
Some laps around a tight autocross also saw our MX-5 excel. A light and easy to modulate clutch helps with good launches off the line, and the car's balanced chassis is a joy to toss around. In really tight turns, rotating the rear around with the throttle helps return quicker runs. No doubt, a Miata Club straight off the showroom floor will be competitive at any autocross event you show up at.
Really, it's not surprising that the MX-5 feels at home on a track or autocross. What may be a bit of a shocker is how good of a long-distance runner it is. It is fuel efficient, returning a 35.7 mpg average on a round-trip run from Detroit to Milwaukee, and ride quality isn't half bad for a sports car with Bilstein shocks. Infotainment features also help up the Miata's road-trip game with navigation that has yet to steer us wrong, a crisp-sounding Bose sound system and Bluetooth phone capabilities.
The cabin is a bit snug, but seats are comfortable. It isn't crazy loud with the top up on the expressway (although most other convertibles on the market are significantly quieter -- even its new Fiat 124 sibling), and while storage space in the cabin is minimal, there are still a few spots to stash small items like your phone, and two cupholders to have refreshments close-by over the long haul. Even so, some staffers have commented on how inconvenient it is not to have a proper glove box (a victim of weight- and space-saving efforts, there's a small cubby between the seatbacks instead).
Most impressive of all is how well our Miata has does as a video production car. With some creative packing, a Roadshow video producer has had the MX-5 out on numerous shoots packing all his equipment into the 4.59 cubic-feet trunk and every nook and cranny of the passenger seat and footwell area. No doubt, the MX-5 will be on many more video shoots before it leaves us.
Through it all, our MX-5 has also been reliable, which is saying something with a staff of lead-footed car writers hustling it around on a daily basis. The only maintenance so far has been a 5,000-mile scheduled service in accordance to Mazda's severe driving condition service recommendations. The visit included an oil change, tire rotation and general inspection costing us $75.71.
Problems? For a while, we endured an occasional hiccup with the tire pressure monitoring system. Its in-cluster warning lamp would illuminate randomly, even though pressures were fine. We had our local Mazda dealer check the system, but they found nothing wrong. Since then, we haven't had any false warnings appear. Fingers crossed that it stays that way.
It's worth noting that we have started to note a small but concerning amount of wear on two spots of the soft top, below the rear window, possibly from the way the easy-to-fold roof stows. We'll keep an eye on this.
What's another thing we hope stays the same? That would be us continuing to have a blast with our long-term MX-5 Miata. We look forward to the end of the dog days of summer and autumn's crisp air and the changing of the leaves, historically one of our favorite times of the year for convertible driving.