The Mazda MX-5 Miata wasn’t in the running for BI’s 2016 Car of the Year — but I absolutely loved it

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Top down, autumn glory.
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Matthew DeBord/BI

Editorial note: Business Insider just named its 2016 Car of the Year, the Acura NSX. In total there were 15 contenders for the award, narrowed down to six. We named five runners-up, but we also tested dozens of vehicles this year, not all of which we could consider for COTY. But some of them certainly made a lasting impression. So each member of the BI Transportation team is revisiting the car that they couldn’t get out their head. For Senior Correspondent Matt DeBord, it was the latest generation of the Mazda Miata, a car he’s loved for a very long time. Here’s his second review of the MX-5!

I’m an unapologetic Mazda MX-5 Miata fanboy.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I owned one – a first-generation classic, with flip-up headlights – and I loved taking it out for jaunts up the Pacific Coast Highway and runs through the canyons.

As Mazda developed the car through subsequent generations, I thought it lost much of its essential roadster character and became more of sports car. But that all changed with the latest version of the peppy two-seater, the fourth iteration, which was unveiled in 2014.

We got a crack at the car over the winter, which wasn’t ideal. But even after a snowstorm and on winter tires, the new Miata was still a blast: I put the top down and cranked up the heater and the seat-heaters. The car has lost 220 lbs. and now feels more like my old Miata.

The new Miata returned to my driveway recently and I got to take it on a proper autumn outing, in what for me is real roadster weather: when it’s crisp and slightly chilly and a driving cap and maybe even some driving gloves make sense.

You already know that I adore the new MX-5. Here’s a closer look at why, this time with more pictures:


It wasn’t exactly convertible roadster weather when we got our first crack at the new Miata.

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Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

I made the best of it, however.

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Matthew DeBord/Business Insider

The climate was more favorable the second time around.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

Also, the $31,000 MX-5 just looks sharp in red.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

To my eye, this is the best-designed MX-5 since the first-generation of the car.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

The exterior has shed some of bulky vibe and gotten back to sprightly basics. Overall, the car is smaller and lighter than the previous gen.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

The round tail lights remain at the rear, but the back of the car is newly svelte.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

It’s a roadster again, not a pumped-up sports car.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

The cloth convertible top is a masterpiece of simplicity and function.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

Throw a single latch inside the car and flip the folding mechanism back (No motors to fail!).

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Matthew DeBord/BI

It all stows neatly and serves as its own tonneau cover when it latches into place.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

Presto! In less than a minute, you’re ready for open-air motoring!

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Matthew DeBord/BI

Off we go.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

The interior has been steadily upgraded over the years, since the first Miata hit the road in 1989.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

There were no steering-wheel controls on the first-gen car. But the instrument cluster hasn’t changed all that much. It’s simple and straightforward. The steering itself is impeccably weighted.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

There’s a nice, big old-school parking brake. Note the oddly placed cupholder — I’ll explain in a second.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

Also, an infotainment screen and interface.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

Which is operated using these controls between the seats, as well as via the touchscreen. To make room for the controls, Mazda has to put the cupholders elsewhere: there’s a removable one, for example, that juts out into the passenger’s leg space. An annoying thing: your forearm tends to jostle the big knob when you’re shifting gears, making for sudden and inadvertent infotainment inputs.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

The glove compartment is between the seats, behind the driver and passenger — and just about large enough to handle an actual pair of gloves.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

The trunk is small but deep. I was able to get a case of wine in there.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

Dual pipes! The new MX-5 has a 155-horsepower 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine, located right up front under the hood. Rear-wheel-drive makes for a classic motoring experience. Some folks complain about the blah exhaust note, but the lack of burps or blare has never bothered me.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

You don’t get big honkin’ brake disc and calipers with the Miata, but that’s the beauty of this baby. It isn’t really that fast: 0-60 mph in about 6 seconds, quick but not blistering, with a top speed of 140 mph. You just don’t need big brakes to rein in that kind of Mazda fury.

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Matthew DeBord/BI

The six-speed manual is pure joy. The shifts are easy and precise.

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For me, sixth is kinda pointless, but it does give you an extra freeway gear for fuel economy.

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Verdict? Well, you already knew, didn’t you?

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Matthew DeBord/BI

I go back and forth on what my perfect car is, but the Miata is the built-for-fun performance ride that I bond with most easily.

The car just feels right. I can effortlessly slip right back into grabbing the gears, pushing that snappy 2.0-liter motor for all it’s worth, rev-match like a madman on all my downshifts, and toss the MX-5 around all over the place, relishing its exquisite balance – all while staying well under the legal speed limit!

My heart remains with the first-gen Miata, but I have to admit that the car has been well updated, without compromising what made its great back when it was introduced. You have everything you could want on the technology front, and the fourth-gen MX-5 restores a proper roadster feel. Hard to complain about anything.

The Miata is motoring bliss. Pure motoring bliss. There’s no better car to spend an autumn weekend with.