Best Of 2015 Under $50,000: Mazda MX-5 Miata

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Still one of the best driver's cars. Ever.

It's that time of the year when we look back at some of the best new cars that went on sale. Some came with a lot of hype and didn't really meet expectations. Others were the exact opposite. But we went through all of the new cars from every mainstream automaker out there with a sticker price of less than $50,000 (in other words, no supercars or uber luxury here), and there were a few standouts, as always. The criteria for picking them was as follows:

They had to go on sale sometime in 2015 (even if they're considered 2016 models), somehow have pushed the envelope in their respective segments, and, as we already mentioned, a base price under $50k.

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That's it in a nutshell. So what's our first pick for the week? The all-new Mazda MX-5 Miata. How predictable are we? But anyone who previously considered (or still does) the Miata to be a girly car has never been more wrong. Some 25 years after the original Miata went on sale, Mazda wanted to return the roadster to its roots, as in making it even smaller and lighter than its third generation predecessor. The Miata grew in both size and weight with each redesign, and that simply had to end. Compared to the third-gen car, the '16 Miata has a shorter wheelbase and is almost a half-inch lower to the ground. The overall exterior design, still unmistakably Miata, is an evolution of the Japanese automaker's Kodo styling.

Its lines are sleek and the low-slung nose and short overhang properly reflects the roadster's road hugging abilities. In particular, we immediately liked the more aggressive headlights as well as the LED daytime running lamps located at the lower corners of the front bumper. It's certainly less feminine-looking than past versions, but we can see how some can simply not dig the look. To each their own. The rear flared fenders also have a muscular look that we really liked from the get-go. They just sort of give the Miata some much needed attitude. The sides of the body have, for lack of a better description, sort of a "tucked in" look at the corners.

That was very much done on purpose in order to reduce unnecessary mass as well as to improve aerodynamic efficiency. By using state-of-the-art methods, Mazda engineers and stylists managed to achieve what was perhaps the biggest goal: cut weight. The original Miata, for example, tipped the scales at about 2,000 lbs. The outgoing third-gen model? 2,500 lbs. A difference of 500 lbs. or so in a car of this size makes a huge difference. Mazda utilized every trick in the book to shave off the pounds, and the result was a new roadster weighing 2,200 lbs. Add to that (for the US market car) an N/A 2.0-liter SkyActiv four-cylinder with 155 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque, and you've got one of the best power-to-weight-ratios out there, 15.05 lbs per horsepower.

Power goes directly to the rear wheels via a standard six-speed manual gearbox (a six-speed slushbox with paddle shifters is optional, but not rowing your own gears here would kill most of the fun, wouldn't it?). Performance? Well, the Miata was never about the best 0-60 times or anything like that, but the '16 Miata is actually pretty damn fast considering. For example, road tests have proven the new car to be faster around the track than its immediate predecessor and is even faster in a straight line than the celebrated turbocharged Mazdaspeed Miata (second gen car). This time around, expect for the Miata to hit 60 mph from a standstill in 5.9 seconds, to 120 mph in 28.9 seconds, the standing quarter-mile in 14.6 seconds at 95 mph, and a top speed of 129 mph.


Remember, the Miata has never been about going wicked fast, but sheer driving pleasure. Same thing goes for the interior. It's damn near perfect. From the moment we stepped inside, it's clear everything was designed with the driver's needs coming first. The seating position is just high enough so that you can see over the hood, but you also sit low enough to the ground where you can feel literally every bump, big and small, on the road. That's part of the fun, after all. The dashboard layout is straightforward and beautifully designed. Gone is the shiny piano black plastic and replaced with soft-touch materials throughout. If not for the Mazda logos, one might even think the interior is straight out of Germany.

There's definitely an Audi-esque look, and everything, from the HVAC controls to the short-throw shifter are perfectly located. Same goes for the three pedals, allowing for ideal heel-and-toe shifting. Like before, a black fabric soft top is standard, and it can be raised and lowered with one hand from inside the car. A folding hardtop isn't out of the question, but it would add some serious poundage to car that was designed to be as lightweight as possible. Pricing? Like any Miata, it's well under $50k. A base 2016 Miata, with standard 16-inch wheels, Bluetooth, 6-speaker sound system, and leather-wrapped shift knob, comes to only $25,000.

The Club trim adds, among other bits, 17-inch wheels, a limited-slip differential, rear lip spoiler, and a Bose Audio System, starts at about $29,000. A fully-loaded MX-5 Miata Grand Touring will still only set you back $31,000. Faster, lighter, and more enjoyable to drive than ever, the latest Mazda MX-5 Miata is without question one of the best sports car bargains out there right now, if not ever. Still too girly for some? Probably, but it's their loss entirely. The classic roadster lives and it's never been better.

You can also check out SUVs under $25,000.

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