An Evening With the 2016 MX-5

On October 27th, 2015, Mazda Canada hosted a test drive event at the parking lot at Stampede Park they called “The Soul of Motion Event” About fifteen CRMC members and many others took in a lovely catered reception as we signed up before we were sat down for a presentation about the current Mazda line.

We were treated to a thankfully brief but still passionate presentation that underscored Mazda’s continued effort in producing vehicles that resonate with the Japanese phrase “Jinba-Ittai” - horse and rider as one. A brief introduction to our racing-driver co-pilots followed then we were off to the small track set up in the parking lot. Provided for our enjoyment were one manual transmission 2016 MX-5 (ND), two automatic-transmission 2016 MX-5s, a manual 2015 MX-5 (NC) as well as the new CX-3 and the CX-5 and CX-9 for good measure.

The course was sufficiently twisty and included an initial acceleration zone and then a grouping of 2nd-gear twists and turns with a lane-change and 4-cone slalom. The whole thing was over with in about 30 seconds but it was enough to get a small idea of what the car’s handling is capable of. Several of us took multiple runs and even went across to check out the CX line on the outer track.

What did we think? The first impression from those of us standing in line was that he new ND had more body roll. Watching it for the first time on the track our initial thought was along the lines of Hugh’s observation that it was “too soft”. Then we got in and drove it.

Our autocross enthusiast, Gary, quoted our president, Tom, who quipped it was a hell of a car. Gary went on, “It's light, nimble, and makes all the right noises. With an aftermarket sway bar or two, some sticky tires, and warm pavement (which were in short supply) it would be... no, make that will be a terror on an autocross course.” Gary also noted “how good the 2015 MX-5 (NC) felt on course. I was expecting something a bit more ponderous and imprecise, but it really is a great performing car and can be easily tweaked to make it even better.” Gary also left the flock to drive the CX-3 and “felt instantly at home. It lends credence to Mazda's Jinba Ittai and Kodo philosophies.” Pretty high praise for a small SUV!

Rob H, our photo expert, was very technical in his assessment. Of the manual ND, he said, “The first thing you notice when getting into the ND is I felt the seats wrapped you tighter then the previous generations. Door sills are lower then on the NC. Also, the higher front fenders over the wheels. Made an interesting perspective while looking out the windshield. [One] thing that bugged me in the brochure was the NAV system display. I thought for sure it would be in the way while driving, but it’s not. You don’t even notice it.” Rob also said the car was very peppy and enjoyable to drive. “Taking off in 1st gear you definitely feel how much lighter the ND is compared to the NC. With the NC you really feel the extra weight but only after you have driven the ND. I felt the clutch to be good, but a little on the light side. Shifting was very smooth, not that I got in a lot of that in on the short track. The ND has that Mazda Zoom-Zoom zoom for sure, as it seemed a lot livelier then previous generations. The Skyactiv-G engine was super quiet, I never noticed the body roll, but then again the NC has tons of that until you stiffen up the suspension, so I’m somewhat used to it. Brakes seemed positive and steering was very positive.”

John W observed, “[The] ND manual was a scalpel of a jewel, in my opinion. I absolutely loved it!  The ND automatic was one of the better automatic transmissions I've tried but, at the end of the day it's still an auto. But I must admit it was better than I thought it was going to be. The NC manual I drove almost immediately as I finished in the ND manual. Honestly, it felt fat and soft - pillow-like compared to the new ND.” Rob refined this point a bit saying the the auto was “vastly improved over previous-generation automatics, though still had a few lag points. If you had to settle for an automatic you won’t be disappointed, but personally I think the manual which I believe is still where it’s at.”

Our doctor in the house, Richard, was succinct:

  • ND Automatic: Sluggish. Felt like an econobox sedan.
  • NC Manual: Surprised how agile it was after all the negative articles when compared to the ND.
  • ND Manual: Felt nice, hard to form an impression in one short test lap particularly with the copilot constantly telling me how to drive it.

"Odd position for handbrake, quite a stretch for hill starts. subjectively more body lean than NC - but maybe I was going faster - no time to glance at speedometer with the tight cones."

Richard finished with, “Overall not enough in the ND manual for me to sell my old NA with the mods and upgrade to it unless the old car becomes unreliable.” Let’s just say Richard has invested a lot in his little NA rocket.

For my part, a couple things struck me. First of all, there was no acclimatizing to the car. Once I had adjusted the seat, all I did was drive. No energy put into wondering what I should do. I, too, felt the car rolled a bit much but I was reminded later in the evening by Fraser who imparted that Mazda put a lot of engineering into that suspension. By putting tighter bars into the vehicle, you are lessening the influence of it. Fair point.

Several of us are smitten, there was no doubt. I think to a man and woman, we agreed the experience at this event was one we will not soon forget. We are all very appreciative of Mazda’s R&D and performance efforts to get the new ND on the road. The one thing I don’t think any of us can get over at this date is the rather steep price tag for an ND spec’d out to the level we would likely buy. The Canadian Dollar valuation certainly does not help but the MSRP certainly does give us pause.