REVIEW: Mazda MX-5

EIGHTEEN months after the new Mazda MX-5’s hotly anticipated unveiling, a Mazda-dominated Goodwood Festival of Speed and months of planning, it rained at the official UK Media launch.

On the West Coast of Scotland such weather can be expected — even in August — but as me and a fellow journo sat in a car park eating a packed lunch and gazing out over a very grey sea view it felt like a damp squib. A very British day out.

Yet it was somehow appropriate. The MX-5 might be built by a Japanese firm and embrace a "Jinba ittai" philosophy, which roughly translates as "Person and horse as one", but it was originally conceived to mimic the traits of British sports cars like the Lotus Elan and MGB.

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Sat with the rain pitter pattering on the manual soft-top the MX-5 certainly feels part of a very British landscape.

Said to stay truer to the original MX-5 of 1989 than the two incarnations that followed, the new MX-5 is shorter (55mm) and lower (10mm) than the car it replaces.

The £18,495 entry-level version comes with a 129bhp 1.5-litre four-pot engine and weighs just 975kg.

On the sodden roads of the Highlands it takes no time to realise that this contributes to genuine agility and a telepathic translation of driver input into cornering motion.

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The steering rack is not over-eager but, particularly at speed, the MX-5 can be guided through corners with the smallest of steering inputs.

There's an appreciable fluidity to the chassis too, the springs feeling supple. This pliancy allows the driver to feel what the car is doing and get into a groove on a twisting b-road.

Mazda has mastered the act of producing a sports car for the masses over the past 25 years and the MX-5 is not the most hardcore creation as a result, but that's not to say it isn't a rewarding and wholly satisfying steer.

Tested in £22,445 1.5 Sport Nav guise — Sport being the top of a three-tier tree including SE and SE-L — there's a limited-slip differential, but it still feels like a roadster for everyday, a point backed up by 47.1mpg fuel economy and 139g/km CO2 emissions. 

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The 1.5 will hit 62mph in 8.3 seconds and a 127mph top speed, meanwhile.

Inside, Mazda's latest interior style and impressive quality are becoming pleasingly familiar, with a seven-inch touchscreen capable of an internet hook-up to your smartphone as well as the usual DAB radio and Bluetooth connectivity and an all-singing Bose stereo.

In Sport, there's leather trim and extremely comfortable sports seats, offering reasonable support and Bose speakers in their headrests.

The only downside was that, at 6ft 1ins, I would have liked to have been able to sit lower and set the steering wheel closer to my body, but a lack of adjustment made this impossible.

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Otherwise the contact points are perfectly positioned and the short-throw six-speed gearbox proves a delight to snick through ratios, the pedals perfectly placed for heel-and-toe downshifts.

That gearbox does need hustling if you want to crack on in the 1.5. Its 129bhp payload is delivered at a heady 7,000rpm, 111lb.ft of torque at 4,800rpm. 

Overtaking requires a shuffle to second gear.

The brawnier two-litre engine has more guts. Commanding a fairly modest £850 price premium it packs a 158bhp punch at just 6,000rpm and will hit 62mph in 7.3 seconds on its way to a 133mph top speed.

Claimed fuel economy is 40.9, with CO2 emissions of 161g/km.

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The engine’s added torque is the real boon, however, 148lb.ft at 4,600rpm making rapid progress a less frenetic experience.

In two-litre guise the MX-5 SE-L Nav (£20,695) comes with a limited-slip differential once again, but adds Bilstein sports suspension and a strut brace for some added rigidity. These additions add a little focus but do rob the lightweight roadster’s chassis of some fluidity. Bumps and broken tarmac are quickly dealt with but the ride slightly less comfortable.

Power oversteer is off the agenda, but both MX-5’s feel precise and adjustable mid-corner, albeit preferring to lean more heavily on an outside front tyre rather than its rear-end.

A lift of the throttle will see the nose tuck into an apex, a floored throttle will add attitude to the rear, but it always feels predictable and progressive in its responses, an ideal introduction to a rear-wheel-drive car.

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Drop the lightweight manual roof — as we eventually managed to — and its charms are intensified.

Decades after the last of the great affordable British sports cars stopped rolling off the production lines Mazda is still delivering reasonably-priced drop-top thrills.

To my eyes the more compact new MX-5 looks better than any that have come before.

It may lack the rough-around-the-edges purity of the original, but there’s no doubting it is a far more well-rounded car and a modern package worthy of its iconic badge.

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An honorary British sports car icon, the MX-5 legend prevails and that is something we should all celebrate.


Mazda MX-5

Engine: 1,496cc/1,998cc, four-cylinder, petrol

Power: 129bhp and 111lb.ft./158bhp and 148lb.ft.

Performance: 0-62mph in 8.3/7.3 seconds and 127/133mph

Economy: 47.1/40.9mpg (combined)

CO2 emissions: 139/161g/km

Price: from £18,495/£20,095


For more pictures and details of an MX-5-mad Rotherham racer, read Chase magazine on-line by clicking here.

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