MOTORS REVIEW: Mazda MX-5 Power Shift

By Tom Sharpe | 27/09/2017

MOTORS REVIEW: Mazda MX-5 Power Shift
Mazda MX-5 Power Shift

Engine: 2-litre, four cylinder, petrol
Power: 158bhp and 180lb.ft.
Performance: 0 to 62mph in 7.6 seconds
Fuel economy: 30mpg (combined)
CO2 emissions: 188g/km
Price: £21,695
For: Compact, stylish sports car with a cracking chassis.
Against: Auto box, and softened edges that come with it, ruin the mix.
Rating: *** 

MX-5 AUTO MISSES THE MARK

I CANNOT think of a single car out there which is able to dominate a market sector like Mazda's MX-5 dominates that of the small, affordable sports car.

With the retirement of Toyota's MR2 defeat was conceded by its main rival some time ago.

This year saw the little drop-top celebrate its 20th birthday and it did so with 855,000 world-wide sales under its belt—making it the best selling two-seater sports car of all time.

A simple formula, mimicking that which brought us numerous popular British sports cars in the 60s and 70s, proved its recipe for success.

From its 1989 launch compact dimensions and low weight meant that the little MX-5 was always a car which appealed through the purity of its responses and lack of excess rather than its outright pace.

As a result its crisp dynamics and friendly rear-wheel-drive balance through corners won it numerous fans.

This year 20 years of development has culminated in an update of the third version of MX-5. Being style tweaks, rather than overhaul, this is probably best thought of as version 3.2.

Appearance-wise the changes amount to little more than a sleeker pair of headlights which create a more aerodynamic, slightly less dumpy image than the original series three.

Under the skin there have been changes to the two-litre engine (a 1.8-litre is also available). The 158bhp power output remains the same but maximum power is now reached 300rpm higher and the rev limit has risen to 7,500rpm.

A forged crankshaft has been introduced to ensure rigidity at higher engine speeds, along with fully floating pistons and revised valve springs.

There are also modifications to the front suspension which have lowered the front of the car's centre of gravity by 26mm.

All good mechanical modifications set on future sharpen the MX-5's impressive dynamics.

But there remain concerns that Mazda might be losing the plot.

Tested here is the MX-5 Roadster Power Shift.

Powerful name, no doubt, but with a £21,695 price tag—£2,650 more than the standard two-litre and £3,650 more than the standard 1.8-litre, respectively—a folding hard top roof and...here's the worrying part...an automatic gearbox, is this really what the MX-5 is all about?

In a car that has built its reputation of the purity of its concept, the interaction it offers a driver, a slushy six-speed auto does not look like a welcome addition, even if it does have steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.

Reservations are strengthened by the auto-equipped car's lack of the standard two-litre's modified exhaust note, grip-enhancing limited-slip differential and Bilstein sports dampers.

There's also a lull in performance—8.5 seconds to 62mph against 7.6 seconds for the manual—but improved fuel economy of 30mpg. CO2 emissions stand at 188g/km.

The Power Shift proves a mixed bag on the road.

Moving away, with a cold engine, the roadster lurches off the line in auto mode, the gear changes seeming too eager for the steady progress I am trying to make.

The issue becomes less pronounced as the engine and gearbox fluids warm through but it's not the smoothest shifter.

With clear tarmac ahead it should allow me to concentrate of the MX-5's handling, though.

The Power Shift transmission does adapt to my driving style as the pace rises, changing down automatically as I brake and holding gears to sustain acceleration but moving the gear lever to manual mode is essential to achieve a level of control which allows you to make the most of the MX-5's stunning balance.

Once using the paddles the things improve greatly.

This is no trick twin-clutch gearbox, the shifts aren't lightening fast, but manual mode brings a degree of predictability which allows the MX-5 to be driven as intended.

With the revs up beyond 5,000rpm and a twisty road to play on, it's reassuring to note that the MX-5 is still one forgiving and involving sports car.

Turn-in is sharp and the suspension is supple in a way that allows you to feel the limits of adhesion as you rail around another apex.

The engine note is alone in its lack of enthusiasm...

In combination with the Roadster's folding hard top the MX-5 Power Shift should make sense as the ultimate easy convertible experience but, ultimately, this is never what the last pariah of affordable sports cars has ever been about.

Put simply, the MX-5 remains at its best when it is at its purist...mines a 1.8-litre soft top, thanks.

 

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