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Brand New Mazda MX-5

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Tony O'Kane | Nov 3, 2012 | 4 Comments

2013 MAZDA MX-5 REVIEW

Engine: 2.0 litre petrol inline four
Power/torque: 118kW/188Nm
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic
Fuel consumption listed: 8.1 l/100km

 

OVERVIEW

Mazda’s MX-5 is the most popular two-door convertible ever made: more than 900,000 have been sold since the model was introduced in 1989.

It’s changed little over the years. Now in its third generation, the MX-5 has stayed true to the original’s ‘Lotus Elan formula’ of light weight, modest power and sublime chassis balance.

The 2013 MX-5 is the third and final version of the third-generation NC MX-5, and will soldier on until 2014 when an entirely new ND model arrives.

The differences between this NC3 model and the preceding NC2 are quite minimal, but this is no surprise. In a car that’s all about no-frills thrills - very little needed changing anyway.

 

INTERIOR

Besides different coloured trim panels, there are no big changes here.

It’s still the same compact snug cockpit as before, and although every control falls neatly to hand, there are some shortcomings.

Like the lack of a reach-adjustable steering column, no Bluetooth phone integration and no USB audio input.

The standard leather seats could also use a bit more bolstering for hard cornering, although it could be argued keener drivers will opt for the much better Recaro seats of the MX-5 Roadster Sports anyhow.

It’s a minimalist cabin, but again, not such a bad thing. After all, a car like the MX-5 is all about the driving experience, not being surrounded by mod-cons.

Still, at nearly $50k you’d be forgiven for expecting more.

 

ON THE ROAD

The MX-5 has long been one of our all-time favourite drives, and even nearing the end of its life the NC MX-5 remains at the front of the pack for dynamic ability.

Why? It’s incredibly light for a modern car, and that alone gives it a performance advantage. Even with the extra weight of the power retractable hard-top, the 2013 MX-5 weighs well under 1.2 tonnes when empty.

The benefits of such low mass are many. For starters, you don’t need a big heavy engine to get moving, you don’t need massive brakes to slow down, and with less inertia than most other cars the MX-5 reacts much faster to steering inputs.

It feels incredibly agile, a fact that’s made even more noticeable by the feedback-rich and very direct hydraulic power steering.

And, thanks to its rear-drive chassis and 50-50 weight distribution, it engages the driver like few sports cars can.

The suspension is relatively soft, but turn-in is crisp and the MX-5’s nose tracks through corners with nary a hint of understeer. Even at the very limit of front-end adhesion, all it takes is a slight lift of the throttle to tuck the nose back in.

A more fun alternative is to give the accelerator a firm prod and steer from the rear.

With only 118kW coming from its 2.0 litre naturally aspirated inline four however, it’s difficult to initiate a proper drift in the MX-5. But this car is about exceptional, delicate chassis balance, not lurid powerslides.

Under high cornering loads you can feel the car squirm and skate across the road, but it never feels like it’s about to get away from you. Mid-corner bumps that would upset other sports cars barely break the MX-5’s stride.

So in other words, it handles just like the old one did.

The major difference for the 2013 NC3 model is a recalibrated throttle map and revised braking system.

While 50 percent of pedal travel called-up more than 80 percent of power in the outgoing NC2, the same pedal deflection produces much closer to 50 percent power in the NC3.

That makes it feel slightly less zippy than before, but keen drivers will appreciate the more linear throttle response, especially when finely balanced on the throttle when cornering.

 

FIRST DRIVE VERDICT

Mazda’s little roadster, its MX-5, is a fantastic machine and still very much one of the best - and purest - sports cars around.

But the market has changed and, despite all of its charms, the little MX-5 may be starting to look a bit old hat.

It now competes against a brew of dynamic, genuinely quick hot-hatches as well as against the formidable and much cheaper Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ.

That said, there’s something special about the MX-5. And, being the only rear wheel-drive convertible under $50,000, it sits perfectly happily in its own niche.

If you want a drop-top with true sports car cred but can’t stretch the budget to Nissan’s $75,790 370Z Roadster, you really only have one choice: the 2013 Mazda MX-5.

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