It’s a special moment for fresh air fiends when the world’s best selling roadster gets replaced.
Jonathan Smith is among the first journalists to drive the new Mazda MX-5 which is lighter and shorter but wider and lower than the outgoing model.
Cars Reviewed: The Mazda MX-5 1.5Litre and 2.0Litre
For more than 25 years the Mazda MX-5 has ruled the sports car pack, beating off such rivals as Toyota MR-2, MGF and Fiat Barchetta.
Gradually the competitors have fallen by the wayside leaving the road ahead clear for the two-seater Mazda to notch up nearly one million global sales. It’s particularly popular in UK with almost half of all European sales going to British buyers.
The new model, which goes on sale from August 28, goes back to its roots in offering fun and reasonably priced open-air motoring with the sort of handling dynamics that are rarely available in cars double the price. Possessing perfect 50-50 weight distribution, its chassis is 12kg lighter and stiffer than before and the body is lower and wider yet shorter. Despite the scaling down of the exterior, the cabin’s dimensions are fractionally roomier.
Nine models are on sale with prices ranging from £18,495 to £23,295. There are two engines, both petrol – a 1.5litre 129bhp and a 2.0litre 158bhp and five grades of trim. All versions have LED headlights, six-speed manual gearbox and alloy wheels as standard.
To most eyes, including yours truly, the Kodo: Soul of Motion styling – as Mazda calls it – is fresh and exciting with near ideal proportions. It is actually marginally more compact than the Mark I MX-5 that was first shown in Chicago in 1989. The driver sits lower and further back in the cabin than previous MXs emphasing the roadster attitude and giving excellent visibility from the helm. Less impressive is the rear visibility when the hood is up.
The hood itself remains manual and is a stroke of genius allowing driver or passenger to raise/lower with one hand from inside the cabin. An easy action that takes only a few seconds…I know after repeating the process in the showery Highlands. The roof stows neatly into a slot behind the roll-over hoops and doesn’t intrude into the boot space.
The 130 litre boot isn’t exactly huge but you can stow a couple of airline-sized cabin bags.
But it is the driving that remains the true essence of MX-5. And here enormous fun can be had from relatively few horsepower. The car was designed around the smaller 1.5litre engine and this model proves to be the more athletic and enthusiastic of the two with a shade more feel. The 129bhp unit pulls strongly and will see off 62 mpg in a nifty 8.3 seconds. Of course, you have to rev the engine a bit and row through the gearbox but with a fast, light change this is a pleasure rather than a chore.
Steering is pin-sharp and you feel every change of surface through the neat leather-trimmed wheel. It loads up nicely as the cornering speeds rise. Traction is strong and the MX takes bends swiftly and neutrally. The ride is far from harsh with refreshing suppleness for is a racy two-seater. Quite a bit of road noise is transmitted into the cabin together, depending to some extent on the surface underfoot, and there’s a noticeable sporty rasp from the exhaust which is more pleasing than irritating.
The two litre version has noticeable more torque but revs to 6500rpm rather than 7500rpm in the 1.5. The larger engine car has bigger brakes, limited slip diff to help cornering exit, and the Sport version I drove also benefited from Bilstein dampers which reduces body roll. Inevitably, less roll results in a slightly stiffer and less pliant ride.
Mazda executives pointed out that the 2.0litre was introduced mainly for the US market which feared that the 1.5 might appear too puny Stateside. Most of us this side of the Atlantic will be quite happy with the smaller unit…and a saving of around £850 plus reduced fuel consumption. CO2 emissions of the 1.5 at 139g/km are 22g/km lower than the 2.0litre. Both models are pretty economical in real life terms – I got 41mpg from the 2.0litre and an impressive 47.5mpg from the 1.5litre during the test drives over 250 miles.
Fun, frugal and agile…three qualities the fourth generation MX-5 has by the bucketload. If you liked the last version, this is even better and costs just £5 more.