By Brian Wong
In the build-up to the unveiling of the new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata, Mazda called the new car a "revolution, not an evolution." We'd agree — the new car is a big departure stylistically from the previous generations.
Related: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata First Photos
While Mazda was very tight-lipped about anything related to specifications or dimensions about the new Miata, we did get a chance to get up-close with a right-hand-drive version of the car that is for all intents and purposes, a production model.
The new grille, combined with the sharp lines that run at an angle down both sides of the hood, give the new car more menace and aggressiveness than the current model.
While the new MX-5 is no longer cuddly, (thankfully) it is still quite small. Mazda wouldn't release exact dimensions, but its chief designer Derek Jenkins did confirm that the new Miata will be slightly wider and much lower to the ground, which gives it a more planted appearance. He also told us that the wheelbase has been lengthened slightly, but shorter front and rear overhangs mean the new car will be more or less the same length as the old car, which will please enthusiasts. Mazda also said that interior volume will be unchanged.
What's interesting to note is that although the new car is similar in measure, it appears to be a lot longer. The diving front hood and steeply raked windshield make the cabin appear further back, which stretches the car visually. In person, you get a better idea of just how low the front of the hood really is.
It's so low that when I first saw it I wasn't sure it would meet pedestrian safety standards. Mazda's designers assured us that it did, and they also said there are a few technologies in place to help protect pedestrians but were unwilling to go into any details. Narrow headlight clusters replace the old rounded units and complete the front styling with full LED headlights and daytime running lights.
The Miata's best angle is its profile. The belt line rises over the front fenders and dips at the cabin, which improves visibility, before rising again to flow over the rear wheels. The side is also free from the sculpting and prominent fender flares found on the Mazda3 and Mazda6, giving it a clean appearance.
Weight is always an issue for cars like the Miata, and the word from Mazda is that the new car will be lighter than today's roadster. While Mazda again declined to offer specifics, company representatives said the weight loss should be similar to what the other models in the lineup experienced when they added SkyActiv technology.
Inside, the 2016 Miata's cabin is of similar size but gives up the retro feel of the current model for sharp, modern angles at nearly every turn. Materials and fit-and-finish also get upgraded; Mazda said it was trying to make the interior feel "aspirational" and added better materials and more polish to do so. Though there is hard plastic still to be found, it is nicely grained and looks more upscale.
I have a larger frame that doesn't always fit well in heavily bolstered seats, but I thought the new Miata's seats were great, pliant but with enough support to hold you in place. There was also one tiny improvement that I, as a Miata owner myself, was happy to see: The center cupholders are no longer right behind the shifter. They have moved back between the two seats, which means that now you can both carry a water bottle and change gears.
Borrowing from the redesigned Mazda3, the Miata's 7-inch media screen sits high on the dash and is permanently fixed. It doesn't rise up and down, though the center console design makes it appear that way. It can be used as a touch-screen or controlled with a rotary knob and buttons. There is also now a large, body-colored trim piece at the top of each of the doors, which is a stylish touch.
Overall, I was impressed by the new Miata. It's a new stylistic direction for the iconic roadster that will be sure to rub some the wrong way, but that happened when the current generation debuted too. The 2016 should offer broader appeal and certainly modernizes the design.
But the big question with this car will be, "how does it drive?" If it can offer the same level of driving enjoyment with all of these additions, the new MX-5 will be a winner for driving enthusiasts.
Click on any image below for a larger version.
Cars.com photos by Brian Wong