WHILE MAZDA'S HEADLINE ACT WITH THE NEW 2016 MX-5 MIGHT BE PRICE, VARIETY IS THE REAL STORY OF THE DAY. Joining the effervescent 1.5-litre model, with a starting price just $2500 more, is the more muscular 2.0-litre version.
It’s the first time Mazda has offered a choice of engines (discounting the limited-run turbo editions of the past), and it opens up a whole new appeal for buyers.
There’s the same nimble handling, and same wind-in-the-hair experience, but the bigger engine does things differently to the sparkling 1.5-litre.
Vehicle Style: Two-door roadster
Price: $34,490 - $41,550 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 118kW/200Nm, 2.0-litre petrol 4cyl | 6spd m anual or 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.9 - 7.1 l/100km | tested: 7.2 l/100km
Externally, you’ll barely pick the difference between the 1.5-litre MX-5 and the new 2.0-litre version. A set of LED running lamps and 17-inch wheels are the outward signs, but, with the wheels sharing the same design, it’ll be trainspotters that pick the difference.
There are still two grades, a Roadster and Roadster GT, and, for the most part, feature specification mirrors the 1.5 except for the addition of MZD connect to the 2.0 Roadster, now optional on 1.5 Roadster.
So, with bigger muscles to flex, has the MX-5 been radically altered?
Not really, and that’s definitely not a bad thing - the MX-5 is a most excellent little beast with the smaller engine, and the new larger unit continues that legacy.
But there is some difference, slight - yes, but present all the same. We took to the roads in anger around Victoria's Mount Hotham to dig a little deeper into its character.
- Roadster: Push-button engine start, LED headlights and tail-lights, multi-function sports steering wheel, air-conditioning, cruise control, map-reading lamps, cloth seat-trim, leather-trimmed gear-knob and handbrake boot
- Roadster GT: (in addition to Roadster) Leather seat trim (tan or black), heated seats, auto lights and wipers, climate control, auto-dimming mirror, proximity key, heated exterior mirrors
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch MZD Connect touchscreen display, rotary controller, internet radio integration, multi-function rotary controller. Nine-speaker Bose audio (Roadster GT)
- Cargo volume: 130 litres
Nothing to see here - well, almost nothing as there are no changes to interior trim or specification compared to the 1.5 litre MX-5, except for the addition to the 2.0-litre Roadster of Mazda's smart MZD Connect platform.
That means both 2.0 litre versions, Roadster and Roadster GT, get Mazda’s clever touchscreen and rotary control infotainment unit.
There’s still fabric seat trim in the Roadster, and, in the Roadster GT, heated leather chairs in your choice of black or tan.
Roadster GT also gets colour-coded door-tops, to match the exterior colour and bring the outside in. The GT also picks up auto lights and wipers, climate control, nine-speaker Bose audio, and proximity key.
Fit and finish is impressive. The dash however is all very dark and sombre unless you opt for Tan trim on the Roadster GT, but the ergonomics are spot-on.
We could gripe about things like the cupholders (they’re a little short on grip) or the glovebox (it’s behind you, not in the dash) but that would be pointless - it’s a sports car, not an SUV
No such complaints exist about the grippy seats, nor the seat travel - the driving position feels pretty precise too, although reach adjustment for the wheel is missing, which is a shame.
With the roof up it's cozy but comfortable, we picked up a bit of wind noise, but we were also driving in some pretty severe cross winds. There’s a bit of road noise too - part of that ‘connected’ feeling that roadsters do so well.
Boot space, at 130 litres is compact, you’ll need to pack with soft bags, but luggage for two on a weekend away shouldn’t be a problem.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 118kW/200Nm 2.0 litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, rear wheel drive
- Suspension: front - double wishbone; rear - multi-link
- Brakes: front - 258mm ventilated discs; rear - 255mm solid discs
- Steering: electric power steering, turning circle: 9.4m
Fire the 2.0-litre MX-5 up and there’s not a huge point of difference between it and the smaller 1.5, in this instance though there’s an extra 22kW and 50Nm plus an extra 24kg at play.
The engine itself is 14kg heavier than the 1.5, but Mazda hasn’t made any changes to suspension tune, and the difference isn’t enough to alter the 50:50 chassis balance, thanks to the front-mid engine position.
Our drive route wasn’t exactly urban - we were glued to the fantastic mountain roads surrounding Mount Hotham in Victoria - so we’ll keep city impressions for when we get a longer test drive.
On the rolling roads we drove though, the extra torque from the larger engine really makes itself known.
While the 1.5 will dance through corners like the tight mountain turns we were driving, you have to row the gearbox like you're whipping eggwhites. In the 2.0-litre, you can relax a little.
Yes, for maximum extraction you still have to work it, but this engine has more muscle. The 1.5 however seems like the sharper tool, because you really need to get involved.
The 2.0 is as pointy through a turn, loves a rev, and still engages you in the process, but if you like you can change gears less and shift a little earlier. It’s sporting, but it's a more relaxed kind of sport.
The supremely accurate gearbox for manual models remains; it’s a gem to use, sliding between gears quickly and obediently, backed up by a communicative clutch, with a pleasantly weighted feel.
Opt for the six-speed automatic, and you’ll lose the limited-slip differential of the manual, and we found that hard starts would encourage it to spin a single rear tyre a little more freely.
The 2.0-litre engine is really a much better match to the auto than the 1.5 though. The added torque really seems to help the self-shifter’s cause.
There’s a normal mode, for snoozing through traffic, and a sport mode that livens things up on more engaging roads. Manual paddles are obedient, and downshifts get a sweet little blip - making for an auto that doesn’t penalise too severely.
Ride on the bigger 17-inch rims doesn’t seem as absorbent as the 1.5-litre car and its smaller 16-inch wheels - the handling is just as crisp, but fine road surface irregularities are a touch more noticeable.
This might be considered heresy by some, but the smaller wheel package looks more at home underneath the MX-5 too - at least to these eyes (but you’re welcome to disagree).
If visual upgrades are you thing, Mazda also offers a Kuroi styling pack, with a lower lip-kit, rear lip-spoiler, and multi-spoke alloy wheels - all in black - for $2600.
ANCAP rating: This model is currently under assessment by ANCAP, we’ll bring you the results as they become available.
Safety features: Standard safety includes dual front airbags, dual side airbags, Antilock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, brake assist and emergency stop signal, hill launch assist, stability and traction control, front seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters and tyre pressure monitoring.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Cut-price drop-tops aren’t something many manufacturers have shown a serious interest in. Now the closest you’ll get is the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 twins.
In its most expensive iteration, the MX-5 Roadster GT automatic bumps up against the Ford Focus ST and Volkswagen Golf. While they may be hot hatches that outgun the MX-5 and offer seating for five, they’re in a different league - fixed roofs and front-wheel-drive dynamics (no matter how good) make sure of that.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
So which MX-5 is right for you? There are some factors that you’ll need to consider.
For some, there’s no replacement for displacement, and in that case the larger 2.0-litre engine ticks the box. We’d also suggest the bigger engine if you must team the MX-5 with an automatic transmission.
For manual devotees the decision is much harder. The bigger engine is stronger but here at TMR we don't lament in the slightest the lower output of the 1.5. It’s involving, lively, spirited, and an all-out hoot behind the wheel.
But, so is the 2.0-litre MX-5. It’s not the same car through, it feels different, stronger, and just a little more more relaxed.
You don’t need to squeeze every last drop out of it for maximum effect, although you still can. The brattish exhaust note of the 1.5-litre is absent too, but the 2.0-litre still sounds terrific.
So, we’ll offer this: as a sports car, the 2.0-litre is no more, nor less, than the 1.5 - it’s just different.
A little quicker in a straight line, and a little more relaxed if you’d like it to be, but still utterly sublime in just about every driving situation.
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