Many of us stayed up late last night, eyes glued to the screen as Japan unveiled their latest. This was our hope revealed, the masterpiece we had sleeplessly awaited for years. This was the 2016 Mazda Miata, and it was breathtaking.
But not at first. I had one look at the grille-mouth any nearly facepalmed. Despite Mazda’s snarling new Kodo “Soul of Motion” design language having conquered the rest of their fleet, they just couldn’t bring themselves to dump the derpy front grin. No, this wasn’t the insane, I-can’t-wait-to-burn-down-your-house smile from the previous Mazda 2, but I was still hoping for a fascia with a bit more Jack Bauer for the new Mazda Miata.
Then I took a look at the new, Kodo-infused Mazda 2, due next year, and I shifted my stance. Kodo’s angry face would take some adjustment to fit on the diminutive Miata, but even more that that, I wouldn’t want all that fake chrome trim busying up what, upon second glance, is a refreshingly minimal front clip. It grew on me quickly.
Simplicity has always been at the heart of the Mazda Miata. It was to be the sports car distilled to its most basic elements: rear-wheel-drive, a manual transmission, two seats, a folding roof, and as few pounds as possible.
They’ve kept and/or improved all of that for this new Miata, chassis code ND. (These are pretty easy. NA for the first generation, NB for the second, and NC for the third. Now you can hang with the cool kids.) Especially the weight drop. Though Mazda hasn’t released an official spec yet, they say they’ve dropped 220 pounds from the NC, which brings the total weight of the car to right around 2,200 lbs. That’s kit car light, fairly virgin territory for a modern car with an actual interior, airbags, infotainment, and an NHTSA stamp of approval. And you thought the BRZ/FR-S were trying hard at 2,700 lbs.
They dropped that 220 lbs through clever minutiae, like switching from five lugs to four. Another key element was likely the support beam that runs from the transmission to the rear differential. It looks a bit like something that holds up the lighting at the last Miley concert you went to. This is to improve structural support and rigidity in the same space using lighter materials. Probably.
At the other end of that transmission tunnel lurks a still mysterious engine. No, that weight figure, which still isn’t officially official, is about the only spec of any consequence we got last night, other than the car’s smaller dimensions. We still don’t know how big the engine is or how much power it makes. Carmakers are just doing that these days, aren’t they? It was ages after we’d seen the new Mustang that we finally heard about the power plants. Gotta stretch out the hype.
But what we do know is that this engine resides completely and entirely behind the front axle. Not in front of it like a Subaru or on top of it like most cars. Behind it. Like a Dodge freakin’ Viper. The Miata is now a mid-engine car. It’s front-mid-engine, but the boffins must admit, it’s mid-engine nonetheless.
That drive still goes back to the rear, where all sorts of interesting things are happening. There’s a svelte taper in the rear quarterpanels leading to a race-style bumper area. That bumper is smoothly and skillfully integrated into the rest of the body, crowned with a pair of modern, bladed taillights.
But my favorite by far is the trunk lid. Now, I get the modern trunk lid. I understand that extending it downward until it can have friendly conversations with the exhaust means the practical ingress and egress of cargo, and that when you have a pair of skis or a stack of 2x4s or a bundle of Welsh longbows that need to stick out, a cut-down boot makes that all happen.
The Mazda people, however, gave practicality a big Steve-McQueen-in-Le-Mans two-fingered salute and just put a flat trunk lid on there, because your Welsh longbows can go in your other car. So old-school.
Not to discount the car’s profile. There’s a clean but muscular shrug above the rear wheel arches, short front and rear overhangs, and a cloth top that’s just a little bit longer than the one on the NC, to give more of a “fastback” sweep. A miata hardtop is also rumored to make a return. The profile might be the ND’s best angle.
No, we’re never getting back the daring minimalism of the NA. Safety regulations have bled into styling, and it’s just not going to happen. The NC was too busy and crowded, the NB too full of compromise. But in the pantheon of Miatas, the ND may be the best looking MX-5 ever.
For the Mazda Miata, 2016 will be a banner year.
Andy Sheehan is a blogger, aspiring novelist, and relentless hoon. He plans to will his 2002 Subaru WRX Wagon to his firstborn, plans his daily commute around the swoop of its roads, and doesn’t plan to ever buy an automatic. A cool-car omnipath, he loves the common Mustang or Chevelle, but hunts for the weird and wonderful Velorexes and Cosmos of the autoverse. And when he can afford a garage, he’s going to turn an MX-5 into a race car.