The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is the most important car in the Japanese maker’s lineup, and it’s also one of the riskiest. The new car is smaller, lighter and less powerful than the car it replaces, and while that is good for performance, it can be bad for comfort, refinement, and in today’s fickle world, it could also hurt sales. 26 years after the original debuted, and 10 years since the last generation model was born, does this all-new Miata still have what it takes to be the benchmark driver’s car?

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The 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is not only loaded with fancy Skyactiv technology, but it’s also loaded with the most aggressive design the nameplate has ever seen. The new nose is angry and snarling with a large grille and sharp angular headlights. Black inset fog lamps and a black nose splitter up the visual punch even more. Then moving to the side you have the black painted 17-inch BBS forged wheels wrapped around the bright red Brembo brake calipers. But despite the go-faster touches, the profile is still very smooth and elegant. The rear bumper is taught and small to keep weight and size down, but it is the least attractive part of the car. The taillights are poorly proportioned and the Miata seems to end abruptly, but at least touches like the black lip spoiler keep things interesting. Overall the new 2016 Miata is easily the most attractive roadster the company has ever produced.

Video Review: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata

That sexy new look is complimented ever further by the Ceramic Metallic paint on our tester. This peculiar paint is almost pearlescent in the way it handles light. While it’s technically white, when dusk hits it turns a very pale shade of blue. In the harsh light of the streetlamps around town it takes on a gray hue, and when the sun hits it directly in the day, it sparkles with a heavy dose of metal flake. I traditionally hate white cars, but this fantastic paint, couple with the black wheels and black body accents makes this Miata a total visual treat.

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Mazda has also made some dramatic strides in quality and design for the cabin. The cockpit is full of interesting details, high quality materials, and a simple and efficient design. The gauge cluster is classic Miata simplicity, and a large center screen brings the technology into the 21st century with satellite radio, navigation and more. The screen is a touchscreen and there are redundant controls for things like volume on the steering wheel, which is great, because the lower mounted control and volume knobs are a little awkward to reach. The only sore spots for the cabin design are the cupholders. They are positioned against the rear bulkhead, and anyone with longer arms is likely to hit them frequently with their elbow when going for a 1-2 shift.

GALLERY: 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata Review

Of all the new interior details, my three favorite parts are the new door panels, the amazing top, and the seats. The door panels feature a beautifully sculpted top section that is covered in the same paint as the exterior. It adds a nice luxurious touch, looks great, and it helps make the car feel smaller and more tightly wrapped around you. The seats are incredibly comfortable and supportive. They are a little lacking in lower lumbar support, but otherwise, these seats will be the perfect companion for anything but the most abusive track days.

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As for the top, it is a work of engineering art. Just like the NC, there is a single latch mounted high center that unlocks the lid. With a quick throw of your arms, the top sails behind you and tucks neatly into its designated spot. It usually managed to get it to lock without any extra effort, but you may need to give it a slight push downward to make it lock. Either way, I could drop the top in less than four seconds with one hand. Putting the top up is just as easy. A lock handle is located between the headrests. When pulled, the top is spring loaded and pops up partially so it’s easy to grab. Just reach back, slide it forward and lock the single latch. Again, it took me less than four seconds to operate with one hand, and I never had to take my eyes off the road. It is the quickest and easiest manual convertible top I have ever used.

Every time you activate a latch, the windows will also automatically drop so you have zero glass interference. Sadly, they won’t automatically roll back up.

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Under the hood you will find a 2.0-liter Skyactiv engine. It is the same one found in the Mazda3, and it produces 155 horsepower. That actually makes the new 2016 MX-5 less powerful than the 2015 model, but thanks to better drivetrain efficiency, and a dramatic cut in weight, the new ND-generation car is the fastest Miata to ever leave the factory.

The engine itself is a wonderful match for the fun and playful Miata. It revs freely, and thanks to plentiful lower end grunt, and remarkably smart gearing, the car is always deep in the power band. Pick any gear you want and slam the throttle, the car will respond immediately. The clutch is wonderfully easy to modulate, and the six-speed shifter is one of the best I have ever used. It is on par with any Porsche shifter I have experienced in its precision and feel. Best of all, despite being the fastest Miata ever, it’s also the most fuel efficient. The window sticker says it is good for up to 34 mpg on the highway, but I saw more than 40 mpg on highway jaunts. Even after almost 500 miles of beating and flogging, I still saw more than 32 mpg on the dash. It is incredible how little fuel this thing drinks.

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What makes that number even more impressive is the fact that I spent almost zero time on the highway. This car begs to be driven hard on the windiest road you can find, and I was all happy to oblige. Our tester was a club edition car, so that means it comes with a limited-slip differential and tighter Bilstien dampers in all four corners. The car exhibits a fair bit of body roll, but it’s nowhere near excessive, and gives the car a playful character. That roll also helps to let the car talk to you; it helps you figure out the car’s limits. It needs that help too, as the traditionally magical steering feel of the Miata is mostly absent on the new car. The steering is still very quick and precise with great weighting, but the feel is gone. The rest of the car steps up to fill the gaps though. You get just the right amount of feedback from the seat and the pedals to know what is going on.

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Those big red Brembo brakes found under the front tires did a superb job of hauling the Miata down from speed, and regardless of how much I was pounding on the car, they showed zero fade. The only things these brakes need to be 100-percent track ready is a more aggressive set of pads. Pedal feel was also excellent, and it was very easy to modulate the force needed to slow the car.

When you combine the sweet motor, perfect shifter, great seats, stiffer suspension and the stopping power of those brakes, you are left with one of the best driver’s cars on sale today. In fact, I can say without hesitation that the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata is the best review car I drove in all of 2015.

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Quite simply, the 2016 Mazda MX-5 is one of those special cars that is more than the sum of its parts. It is more than 0-60 times and horsepower, it is a machine that revels in delighting the senses, creating fun, and reminding you why you fell in love with driving in the first place.