The skinny: To drive the new Mazda MX-5 is to love it. It is as simple as that. And if you can get any time at the wheel – five minutes or five hours – you will find every second of it just sheer unadulterated joy.
Wide, flat, light and toy-like externally, the new MX-5 is the epitome of on-road balance and involved motoring. And, although as hip as hell, it also taps into a nostalgic spirit of “classic open-topped sports motoring” in a way that few modern cars can.
Vehicle Style: Two-seat sports convertible
Price: $31,990 - $41,550
- 96kW/150Nm 1.5 litre 4cyl petrol | 6sp manual or 6sp automatic
- 118kW/200Nm 2.0 litre 4cyl petrol | 6sp manual or 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.1 l/100km (1.5 manual) to 7.1 l/100km (2.0 auto) | tested: 8.1 l/100km (1.5 manual)
Every now and then a car comes along, one so thoroughly well-executed and just “so right” for the market, that it simply sells itself.
And there is nothing any ‘creative’ from any advertising house can add or subtract from the story it makes for itself, nor its impact on the market.
Like the new Mazda MX-5. Any single word we might say about it – in terms of a ‘review’ – is probably entirely wasted air.
Because, once people see this new MX-5, and start talking about it, how blissfully well it drives and how inexpensive it is – “$31,990? You’re kidding…” – this car will simply bolt out of Mazda showrooms.
With just 1.5 litres producing 96kW and 150Nm, it’s not fast – certainly not in the way a hot-hatch dispatches the red-light derby – but is liquid mercury through a set of bends.
It is also so well hooked up, so enticing at the wheel and simply such fun to whip through the racy six-speed gearbox, that whether it’s short on power, or not, becomes simply irrelevant.
The world’s most popular roadster, the MX-5, has just been engineered a whole lot better. And it is also much, much cheaper. As Mazda’s Alastair Doak said, “We wanted to put the affordable back into the lightweight small sportscar.”
But, don’t rely on this “wasted air”, you really must try it out for yourself. Do it, and you will surely agree, Mazda has hatched something very special here with this new MX-5.
MX-5 Roadster standard features:
- Push-button engine start
- LED headlights and tail-lights
- Multi-function sports steering wheel
- USB-audio input port (iPod compatible), AM/FM tuner, aux-in jack
- Six-speaker audio, Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio streaming
- Air-conditioning, cruise control, map-reading lamps
- Cloth seat-trim and interior highlights
- Leather-trimmed gear-knob and handbrake boot
MX-5 Roadster GT adds:
- Internet radio integration, Pandora, Stitcher and Aha
- Multi-function commander control
- 7-inch full colour touch screen display (MZD Connect)
- Premium Bose 203 watt amplifier and 9-speaker audio
- Radio Data System (RDS) program information and satellite navigation
- Daytime running lamps (LED)
- Leather-trimmed seats and interior highlights
- Piano black, brushed metal garnishes and highlights, among a host of premium features.
The new MX-5 is tiny; almost identical in fact to the first MX-5. And, understandably, larger drivers may expect to find the quarters cramped.
But my six-foot colleague had no trouble getting in and settled at the wheel.
Though the seating position is a long way down, and the engine has been moved rearward in the chassis, climbing in and out doesn’t require any more contorting than for a small hatch.
And requires none of the grunting, angling, unfolding and knocking of shins that accompanies getting into a similarly-sized Lotus Elise (for instance).
The seats themselves, in both Roadster and Roadster GT models, fabric and leather respectively, are snug and comfortably shaped. Just right in fact for a whippy sporting drive.
The leather trim highlights and stitching of the Roadster GT interior, the smart piano-black and buffed metal highlights, and the colour-keyed tops to the doors, looks and feels really smart.
And, for the impression of quality, feels somewhat north of the GT’s $37,990 price point (especially in the tan leather).
But while the cheaper Roadster – missing the stitching, leather, metal garnishes and 7-inch touchscreen – may be a little spare inside, it neither looks nor feels "cheap".
Mazda interiors, it has to be said, just seem to get better and better and always carry a touch of class.
The fabric top folds flat behind the seats, and can be easily lifted and manoeuvred into place if a sudden shower threatens, without getting out of the seat. Once locked in, it can feel a little beetle-browed, but it’s snug and quiet.
The controls are all finger-tip close, instruments under the sporty binnacle are clear and easily read, and there’s a sports-racer feel to the legs-forward driving position.
In fact, at the wheel, everything in here is about the drive and a sense of ‘one-ness’ with the car.
Get settled in, get a sense of the road just inches below, press the start button and listen to the eager burble, push the short-throw shift into ‘first’, and then you’ll begin to feel the magic of this car.
Otherwise, there are the expected toys to keep you entertained – the GT in particular is certainly well-featured with Pandora, Stitcher and Aha, as well as sat-nav and Bluetooth streaming.
Lastly, should you wish to plan a trip around the MX-5, you will need to pack carefully. Cargo room, even despite the absence of a spare (a bottle of goo to keep you going), tops out at 130 litres.
With a bit of squeezing, that’s enough for two ‘carry-on luggage’ bags, or one larger bag. The golf clubs will have to travel belted-up into the passenger seat.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 1.5-litre (1,496cc) in-line 4-cylinder 16 valve DOHC S-VT petrol engine
- Transmission: SkyActiv manual 6-speed/ SkyActiv auto 6-speed, rear-wheel drive with limited-slip differential (manual only)
- Suspension: front – double wishbone; rear – multi-link
- Brakes: front – 258mm ventilated discs; rear – 255mm solid discs
- Steering: power assisted double-pinion electric
First, the new MX-5 is not fast; the 1.5-litre we’ve been driving is barely quicker off the line than a ‘warm’ hatch. And the 2.0-litre version expected in a couple of months will also be no scorcher.
Will that deter buyers? Will it deter you?
Well, we have never found a kilowatt we didn’t like, but after rowing it up and down through the short-throw six-speed box for some hundreds of kilometres, it’s hard not to feel that brute power would sully in some way the terrier character of the new MX-5.
Weighing in at just 1009kg, with the engine set back in the chassis and with a 50:50 weight balance, this beautiful little car is as fluid and lively sideways as it is pointing forward.
Light on its toes, so responsive to the slightest commands at the wheel, and with astonishing agility through a tight set of corners, it is enormous fun at the wheel.
Turn in is simply electric; you can carry throat-tightening speed into a corner, place it though the apex as though guided by a laser, and fire it out the other side.
And the tail, with the rear wheels beautifully planted right at the hip, can be easily ‘brought around’ to tighten the line on exit.
It can be pushed and slid and hustled like a go-kart, and, even when induced into a slide, the grip and sense of control is unshakeable.
Sure, its best work is done above 5000rpm, and in sixth there is little under the toe if you’re looking for a burst of speed. But use that delightful short-throw shift, and there is no shortage of tow out of corner nor any huffing and puffing to belt around slower traffic.
Pushing hard, with the engine effortlessly singing above 6000rpm, and slipping back and forth through the short sports gate, it feels every inch the pure sports car.
Lastly, another word of praise about the suspension. It is tight, the firm feel for the road of a the true sportscar, but with an elasticity that takes the jarring out the biggest bumps, and a refusal to be thrown or bounced off-line.
As far as the drive is concerned, there is, simply, stuff all to complain about, but so much to enjoy.
ANCAP rating: Not tested
Safety features: Dual front and side airbags, ABS brakes, dynamic stability control, electronic brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist, emergency stop signal (ESS), hill launch assist, seat-belt warning, pretensioners and load-limiters, side impact door beams and traction control are standard on the MX-5 range.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Really, at this price, there is barely a rival for the MX-5.
If you were to set value against the quality of the drive, you would choose it over Audi's TT Roadster, no kidding (though the seductive TT has one of the most gorgeous modern interiors around).
You might however consider, at this $31,990 entry point, the following coupes - but the Mazda, again, has them licked for feel and charm:
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
If the brief was to produce a car that was instantly at one with the driver, perfectly in-tune with the road, one that slices corners like a razor and is rare and unadulterated fun at the wheel, well, call us smitten, spell-bound, fools in love, but Mazda has ‘nailed it’ with this car.
You, like us, will want to drive the wheels off the new MX-5.
And even though packing just 96kW, you will see MX-5s at track days everywhere, because drivers who revel in balance and handling, will be out to prove that it’s the sublime totality of the package that defines a car’s sporting soul.
Could it do with more ergs? Yes, maybe for everyday driving where forever wringing the neck of the jewel under the bonnet may become a little wearing, a few more Newton-metres might be appreciated.
But you will never tire of it stretching its lungs through 5000rpm, to six and beyond, on a winding country road.
And you certainly won’t tire of the superb feel of the steering, its ‘thread the needle’ handling and the way the new MX-5 sits around you like a glove.
This is a great car, a modern classic. You simply must check it out.