In its latest version, the MX-5 has shed weight to return more enjoyment to a classic sports car driving experience. Car review by Blake Harris, an Australia’s Best Cars judge.
MAZDA MX-5 ROADSTER
Price: $31,990 + on-road costs
Engine: 1.5L 4cyl petrol
Safety: ESC + 4 airbags + tyre pressure monitor + active bonnet
Value: * * * *
Mazda MX-5, born in 1989 as a reinterpretation of the classic, lightweight European sports car, is now a classic itself. Over 26 years and three generations, it’s become the world’s best-selling two-seat sports car, and somehow without ever losing its cult status.
Like most cars, MX-5 got heavier (and more expensive) with each new model. As more features were built into the car and the soft top was replaced with a folding hard top, it slowly moved away from its original premise.
So full credit to Mazda for winding this back with the new MX-5. Although they didn’t manage to pare it back to the 940kg of the original, 1009kg is mightily impressive. Mazda employed a ‘gram strategy’ where the potential weight saving of each component was considered, and a lot of aluminium has been used in the body.
The new MX-5 comes in two trim levels – Roadster and Roadster GT – and with two four cylinder petrol engines, 1.5L or 2.0L. We tested the 1.5L Roadster manual ($31,990 plus on-road costs), which best demonstrates the low weight philosophy that the new MX-5 is all about. As the entry-level model, it has everything you need but not much more. After all, mod-cons add weight and cost.
The 1.5L engine produces 96kW at 7000rpm and 150Nm at 4800rpm. It does not have a lot in the way of low-down torque but makes up for it with a rev-happy nature. This rewards a driver who will stay on top of the engine by working the six-speed manual gearbox, which with its precise short throw is a pleasure to use.
There is also a six-speed automatic for another $2000 but we found the gearshifts were not always the smoothest. The auto also feels out of place after the joys of driving the manual.
The driving experience in MX-5 is focused on its excellent handling. It has a lively chassis with a noticeable amount of body movement that ensures you know what it is doing underneath you at all times. The electric steering is remarkably fast with very little input required to negotiate most corners and it provides good feedback, even if it’s a little on the light side.
The 1.5L versions have 16-inch wheels which are a sensible size for such a lightweight car and allow for a tyre with a reasonable sidewall. Impressive as the ride quality is, there is no denying it’s a sports car and you can feel the road, but it’s never jarring or uncomfortable. Stepping up to the 118kW 2.0L engine (which won’t be available until the end of the year) gets you 17-inch wheels. Neither version carries a spare and you must make do with an inflator kit.
The low weight and reduced cost philosophy is noticeable at times. There is no 12-volt accessory socket and the sun visors feel quite thin and slightly unfinished. There is no CD player, which is becoming the norm, but it does have USB, auxiliary and Bluetooth connectivity. The basic nature of the audio system made connecting the Bluetooth somewhat tedious but the quality of the Bluetooth when making a call was impressive. There is a speaker in the headrest which makes it easy to hear and the microphone does a good job of picking up the driver’s voice, even with the roof down.
From a driver’s perspective Mazda has got the important things right, those that you touch. The steering wheel, gear shifter and handbrake are wrapped in leather and have a quality feel. The cloth seats are comfortable and supportive with good side bolsters. However, there’s no height or lumbar adjustment, while the steering can only be altered for tilt and not reach. This may make it difficult for some drivers to get comfortable, especially bigger ones given the just-acceptable head room.
Stepping up to the Roadster GT costs $6000 extra in the 1.5L model and $5060 for the 2.0L. It doesn’t offer anything extra in its mechanical package but does give the car a much more luxurious feel. Mazda’s excellent MZD Connect infotainment system with satellite navigation is included and it is complemented by a Bose speaker system. The interior trim is improved with heated leather seats and a colour-coded window sill. Climate control and other up-market features such as auto headlamps and rain-sensing wipers are also included.
The MX-5 has the basic suite of safety features we’ve come to expect, with ESC, two front airbags and two side bags which cover both the torso and head. There is also an active bonnet for improved pedestrian protection.
There is not a great deal of luggage space in the boot and soft bags are much easier to pack than a suitcase. A collection of small storage components behind the seats and a lockable centre console help but they are not overly practical.
The sensation of driving a car without a roof is something everyone should enjoy; the ability to hear and smell your surroundings really adds to the motoring experience. Thankfully MX-5’s lightweight fabric roof has a very simple folding action that makes getting fresh air or sheltering from a storm a cinch.
MX-5 stays true to the definition of a sports car. It has a communicative chassis and a playful, if not powerful, engine. It is the sort of car that’s fun to drive on a windy road within the speed limit, and the option of roof-down motoring just adds to the package.