Mazda MX5 beats the competition by some distance!
Once in a while comes a car that changes everything. The original Mini was one. It revolutionised the small car and became a fashion icon. The E-Type Jag brought supercar beauty and performance to a new and relatively affordable level. The VW Golf introduced the hatchback and changed family motoring forever, spawning the ‘hot hatch’ in the process.
And then there was the MX5. Simple, reliable, light and buckets of fun it breathed new life into the small sports car market which was all but dead and buried. Drawing inspiration from 60’s classics like the Lotus Elan and Triumph
It's A Knockout!
Spitfire, rarely has a car nailed its market so effectively from day one and it’s now the most successful sports car of all time.
But therein lies the challenge. Having got the formula so right and with so many happy punters, how do you stay ahead of the game? Over the years, they’ve added bells and whistles, bulked out and introduced incremental improvements to keep up, and ahead, of the Joneses. This time out, Mazda are taking full advantage of the zeitgeist for efficiency and lightness to turn back the clock.
Has it worked?
When launched in 1989, the MX5 tipped the scales at a spritely 940kg. By 2005 it was up to 1110kg. With the 4th gen MX5 it’s back to 985kg. That weight loss is equivalent to a Wales prop forward and in a car the size of the MX5 that’s going to make a heap of difference – especially when the engine options are limited to normally aspirated 1.5 and 2.0 litre unit. And boy does it. The new MX5 is motoring pleasure at its purest.
The weight loss is the product of Mazda’s SkyActiv philosophy (where every component, not matter its size, is pared to its minimum), the replacement of the foldaway hardtop with a simple but effective rag top and a reduction in overall size. In no way have Mazda skimped on the important stuff – the chassis uses cutting edge materials and design and is nigh on perfect, as is the suspension set-up, which, sans fancy adjustable damping etc, relies on more traditional, albeit it wonderfully setup, technology. Tallied with a combination of 50/50 weight balance, rear wheel drive and afore mentioned lightness the MX5 is wonderfully nimble, lithe and grips like a limpet encouraging you to really throw it around. Unlike many modern sports cars you don’t need to cane it to have fun either – it’s as thrilling a drive at 50mph as some are at licence losing speeds.
This is partly the consequence of its handling abilities and the glorious steering feel, but also the pokey, rev-happy 1.5 litre under the bonnet. Spurning a turbo in favour of high compression ratios and red-lining at 7500rpm it’s a sparkling little engine that rewards enthusiastic use of its entire rev range and what must be one of the sweetest gearboxes in the business. There’s not much that beats racing up and down the revs, making fast, slick, short-throw gear changes as you hurtle from one, well-negotiated, corner to the next – man and machine in harmony. Outright performance in the more powerful 2.0 litre may be greater (160bhp, 0-62 in 7.2 secs and better overtaking) but the 131bhp 1.5 is only a second slower to 62, more economical (47mpg) and it’s more fun.
So, yes, the drive’s a wonderful throwback to joyful, spirited sports car motoring. Are there any compromises? Certainly not from a comfort or refinement perspective. For a car of this type it’s refined at speed, with wind and road noise well suppressed and the ride is compliant, ironing out bumps and undulations very well. Kit-wise it’s well spec’d with air-con, USB and iPod connectivity and a good infotainment system on the base model and an infotainment/nav system, climate, cruise and Bluetooth on our SE-L Nav. Build quality and the cabin are also good with high levels of finish, a minimalist feel and ample space, particularly in the boot. The driving position is excellent with good visibility, even with the top up, and a nice ‘cockpit’ feel. One could argue a foldaway hard-top is desirable in the UK but the fabric hood is a piece of cake to use one-handed, vandal resistant and designed to maintain refinement levels so I’d counter the weight/cost benefit justifies the hardtop’s loss.
Being a sports car the MX5 has to look the part too. Fortunately, Mazda has been refining its ‘Kodo’ design language throughout its current range and it’s very well resolved in the MX5 – its excellent proportions and judicious use of cuts and creases give it an attractive and striking Corvette-like presence.
Pound for pound (both £’s and lb’s) the MX5 still can’t be beat. Further, it shifts the bar much higher – the handling and performance gains that have come from slimming down and technology advances, all without compromises elsewhere, mean that 25 years on the Mazda MX5 has changed the game again.
Top speed: 127mph
Price: from £18,495
Thanks to Victoria Park Mazda for their assistance.