Mazda MX-5 Sport Tech Nav Reviewed

In Car Reviews, Mazda by Neil Lyndon

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What could be better than a new Mazda MX-5?

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Answer: possibly an old MX-5.

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Even 25 years after the introduction of the first MX-5 – the one that was called Miata in the US and which bore those fetching pop-up headlights – the arrival of a new MX-5 on a week’s loan is still a moment that can make you almost clap hands with pleasure and wonder to yourself “how lucky can one guy get?”.


Car Reviewed Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport Tech Nav

The best small open-top two-seater ever made still manages to combine all the same enchantments which have always made it irresistible – a lovely simplicity of form, ease of getting in and out, perfect driving position, exquisite balance of weight and powers, sheer joy in motion. This is – and always has been – exactly and completely what a cheap, lightweight, front-engine, rear-wheel drive sports car ought to feel like. For a young, single person or a childless couple, no more perfect car exists on earth (lucky sods).

“It was all about balance, delicacy and immediate sensation. The earliest MX-5 was a machine with which you could feel fully in communication at the wheel at any speed”.
Sense a reservation coming? It is this: I’m not sure I’d take the pristine new MX-5 that was delivered to my door last week over the beloved, cherished 13 year-old, 1.8 litre MX-5 of my own which was sitting on the other side of the house.

There’s plenty to love about the 2.0i Sport Tech Nav MX-5 I borrowed – which is the run-out production of the third generation MX-5 that dates back to 2005. An all-new MX-5 is due later this year so this loan car presented an opportunity both to look forward and back.

The cabin is without question a major advance on the old MX-5. Its artful mix of hard, gleaming surfaces and soft-touch materials – like the leather-rimmed steering wheel with piano-black inserts – is more sophisticated than my car to the same extent that Vogue is a cut above Good Housekeeping. There’s a charming, chunky solidity to the dials and secondary controls which is reminiscent of Fisher-Price or Tonka toys. The green arrows that light up in the instrument panel when you use the indicators are like an instruction manual for three year-olds on the difference between left and right. Five-stage heated seats allow this car to be driven comfortably with the roof down even on a frosty morning in Scotland – as I did.

When we come to that roof, however, we start to hesitate over reservations.

As folding metal roofs go, this MX-5’s is one the best and most efficient you can buy. A simple central clip is released, freeing the roof from the top of the windscreen and then a press of a button powers the roof back into its compartment behind the seats so quickly that you can hardly count the seconds.

It’s almost as quick as throwing back the fabric roof on my MX-5. But could it ever be so satisfying?

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One of the loveliest aspects of the earliest MX-5s was the sheer, youthful abandon of being able to ask your companion “shall we put the roof down?” and then instantaneously creating open-top motoring with two flicks of your wrists, one for each of the fastenings on either side of the roof. It was perfect, primitive simplicity, enhanced by the physical involvement. The folding metal roof on the latest MX-5 is cold-hearted and mechanical by comparison. Of course, it’s superior from a technical point of view (more efficient for weather and sound proofing etc); but that doesn’t make it better.

The same goes for the greatly enhanced brawn of this latest MX-5. 160 PS and 180 NM of torque are lusty powers for a car that weighs about 1300Kg, giving performance figures that are close to a hot hatch and overtaking ooomph in the middle gears of the six-speed box that could rival a motorbike.

But speed was never the MX-5’s raison d’etre. It was all about balance, delicacy and immediate sensation. The earliest MX-5 was a machine with which you could feel fully in communication at the wheel at any speed. As a matter of fact, 60 mph in my MX-5 feels like 90 mph in a Porsche roadster.

That entrancing range of sensation gets blunted and blurred in the latest MX-5, whose power-assisted rack and pinion steering lacks the coarse contact of earlier models.

I feel the same way about the body of this latest MX-5. Its humpy rear, bulgy bonnet and muscular wheel-arches may be more in keeping with the fashions of the moment but they don’t seem to me to be an improvement over the glorious, clean, functional simplicity of my old car.

It’s a mystery to me how Mazda have managed to make the boot in this car bigger than the one in mine while, at the same time, making space for the roof compartment in the rear.

In that respect, this latest £23295 version is a clear improvement on its predecessors; but, much as I long to get my hands on it, I doubt if the new MX-5 which will appear this coming summer will give me more pleasure than my ’02 MX-5 which cost £2750 when I bought it four years ago and is still worth pretty much the same.

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About the Author

Neil Lyndon


Neil Lyndon has been a journalist, broadcaster and writer on the UK's national stage for 40 years, writing for every "quality" newspaper on Fleet Street. He started writing about cars and motorbikes for The Sunday Times in the 1980s and was Motoring Correspondent of the Sunday Telegraph for 20 years, having previously written a column on motorbikes for Esquire. He is also recognised as a leading commentator on gender politics, having published No More Sex War in 1992 - the first ever critique of feminism from a radical, egalitarian point of view.

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Review Mazda MX-5 2.0i Sport Tech Nav

Price as tested: £23295

Engine: 2.0-litres, 1999cc 4-cyl in line, DOHC, 16 valves
Power: 160PS at 7000rpm
Torque: 188Nm at 5000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear wheel drive
0-62mph: 7.9 seconds
Top speed: 136 mph
Fuel economy: combined 36.2 mpg
CO2 emissions: 181 g/km
Kerb weight: 1248kg
Luggage Capacity: 150 litres
RFL/Insurance band:  I / 26E

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