Mazda MX-5 Review

By: Scott Newman

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Driven: Iconic roadster entertains, but is beginning to show its age

Mazda MX-5 Review
Driven: Mazda MX-5

 

Mazda MX-5

As a bona-fide member of the the ‘Cars to Drive before you Die’ club, there’s a mixture of excitement and apprehension as I prepare to tick the MX-5 off my automotive bucket list.

Mazda’s recreation of the classic British roadster has garnered an enthusiast following that few modern cars can match (see Past Blast on p.94), but I’m apprehensive because, well, you should never meet your heroes and all that.

The NC MX-5 won Wheels’ 2005 Car of the Year award (MX-5’s second win), which gives you some idea of how long this model has been around. But it must soldier on until at least 2014, when the next MX-5 – whose development will be shared with Alfa Romeo – breaks cover.

Trouble is, Mazda seems to be short of ideas. Changes for the 2012 update are limited to a more aggressive front bumper design that saves 0.4kg and "improved brake and accelerator control characteristics". Oh, and a new colour – Dolphin Grey Mica.

The big news is you can no longer buy a soft-top MX-5. Only the Roadster Coupe ($47,280) and Roadster Coupe Sports ($49,885) remain, the latter featuring BBS wheels and Recaro sports seats. The folding hardtop doesn’t intrude on boot space and takes just over 12 seconds to open or close.

Inside, the MX-5 feels its age. There’s hard grey plastic everywhere, and it’s lacking a few 2013 niceties you might expect at almost $50K – sat-nav, for instance. Cracking Bose stereo, though.

It’s also extremely snug. Drivers who are particularly tall or wide will struggle to fit, and some senior members of staff had difficulty exiting the low-slung sports car.

But MX-5s have always been about the driving experience. The 2.0-litre MZR four still produces 118kW/188Nm, with a six-speed manual standard and six-speed auto a $2125 option, though that deletes the LSD. On the road, it feels faster than you’d expect, thanks to a slender kerb weight. And it will rev past its 7200rpm redline, ably assisted by the close-ratio, albeit occasionally notchy, manual ’box.

But forget any rear-drive oversteer heroics (in the dry at least), as the little Mazda is all about corner speed. A mid-corner lift of the throttle or dab of brake will tuck the nose in keenly, which can be initially disconcerting, especially in faster corners. However, with familiarity, this adjustability allows you to play with the car’s balance at will. It’s very predictable and can be thrown around with abandon, without scaring you witless.

Trouble is, there’s now another rear-drive Japanese sports car that offers a similar driving experience for a lot less cash. While you can’t lose the roof, the Toyota 86, starting at $29,990, makes the MX-5 look $10K too expensive. And there’s an 86 on the horizon...

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Mazda MX-5

 

Engine: 1999c 4cyl, DOHC, 16v

Power: 118kW @ 7000rpm

Torque: 188Nm @ 5000rpm

Weight: 1169kg

Gearbox: 6-speed manual

0-100km/h: 7.9sec (claimed)

Top Speed: 220km/h (claimed)

Price: $49,885

 

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