Hard act to fol­low

The lat­est gen­er­a­tion of the world’s most popular road­ster car­ries the heavy weight of ex­pec­ta­tion. As al­ways, the proof is in the driv­ing.

Herald Sun - Motoring - - First Drive - PETER BARN­WELL peter.barn­well@news.com.au

BE­FORE me is the lat­est in­car­na­tion of the world’s best- sell­ing, two- seater sports car.

Close to a a mil­lion peo­ple have bought an MX-5, lured by the of old­fash­ioned, wind-in-the-hair driv­ing thrills.

So the weight of ex­pec­ta­tion on this lit­tle red road­ster is im­mense.

In the metal, it looks well and truly y upp to the task.

The sen­sa­tional new look is s more com­pactp as well as more e aero­dy­nam­icy than­tha its pre­de­ces­sor.p

But the looks only y tell half the story.y Over the years,y Mazda’s iconic con­vert­ible has s drifted ever so slight­lyg y from the orig­i­nalg for­mula of light­weight,g g af­ford­ableaff driv­ing g fun.

The new model is tippedpp to steer thingsg back on course. It’s 100kg g lighterg than be­fore­befo and sug­ges­tion­sgg are the cheap­estp ver­sion could sneak in un­der $40,000,$ 40,000, well shy y of the cur­rent pri­cep tag g that is creep­ingp g to­wards $50,000.$ 50,000.

But that that­means means noth­ing g if the new Mazda can’t crack it

on a twist­ing g moun­tain road.

Thank­fully,y the new MX-5MX- 5 is an awe­some car to drive.

Af­ter a search­ing drive throughg the out­skirts of Barcelona, we can re­portp it tot be evo­lu­tion­ary y in ev­ery re­spect,p with in­cre­men­tal­in­creme gainsg to dy­nam­ics,y per­for­mance,p func­tion­al­ity, spec­i­fi­ca­tion,spec­i­fi­ca­tiop tech­nol­ogy gy and qual­ity.q y

Part of the se­cret to its

im­provedp road­hold­ing g is the lib­eral use of alu­minium alu­mini­umi in

sus­pen­sionp and body y struc­ture com­po­nents,p as well as the in­cor­po­ra­tion of other com­pos­itep ma­te­ri­alsm into the struc­ture.

Some thingsg never change,g though.g The soft-top­soft- top p roof re­mains man­u­ally op­er­ated and has one cen­tralc latch for

sim­plic­ity.p y The cabin is small­ers­mal than

be­fore but more

ac­com­mo­dat­ing g and has more e head room thanks to lower set seats and bet­ter de­sign.g But the dash is hard apart

from “leather’’ cladding g to the lower sec­tion.

In­side it feels and looks

like an up­grad­edpg MX- 5 but now has a large,g centrally y mounted tacho while the

wheel af­fords more legroomg for the driver. You sit closer

to the pas­sen­gerp be­cause of the de­sign­ers’de­sign­ers de­sire to cen­tralise

mass for op­ti­mump han­dling. We drove the 1.5 1.5man man­ual

and have to say y were scep­ti­calp about its po­ten­tial.p

The en­gineg is based on a Ja­pane­sep do­mes­tic mar­ket Mazda3 unit — also in the new

Mazda2, but mod­i­fied. They y re­worked the en­gine’sg camshafts and con­trol com­put­erp as well as in­stalling g a bet­ter qual­ity steel crankshaft to al­lowall a red-line

of 7500rpm.p

The ex­haust fea­tures equale q lengthg head­ers and an en­gi­neered “note”,“note”, with a

stir­ring g bur­ble on the throt­tle over­run.

The 2.0- litre donk is also out of a Mazda3 with sim­i­lar

up­grade­spg as the 1.5- litre. Thoughg rated at just j 96kW, the 1.5 has plenty of

per­for­man­cep and lapsp up hard driv­ing.g

And in the rightg en­vi­ron­ment, it givesg noth­ing away y to more pow­er­fulp (and( a more ex­pen­sive)p cars. The clas­sic moun­tain road is where this car comes into its own of­fer­ing g p pre­cise (elec­tric)( elec­tric) steer­ing, a

sup­ple but well con­trolled

ride, a su­perp rigidg chas­sis, strong g brak­ing g and vi­brant en­gineg per­for­man­cep all rolled into one at­trac­tive pack­age.p g

Speak­ingp g of which, we would rate the new newMX- MX-5 5 as

far and away y the best looker of them the­mall all par­tic­u­lar­lyp y around the front with LED head­lights,headli g raised guards,g a short over­hang g and sharpp creases in n the sheet metal for a look that

owes noth­ing g to any y other car on the road.

Any y gripes?g p It needs lum­bar sup­portpp ad­just­mentj and we think the hard dash is

a stepp in the wrongg di­rec­tion even thoughg they use dou­ble row red stitch­ingstitchin g to high­lightg g the in­te­rior.

But aside from that, it’s a

car that does j jus­tice to the MX-5MX- 5 leg­end.g

And there’s moremor goodg news: the price.p

There are sug­ges­tion­sgg the new model could come in at as lit­tle as $ 36,000 for the

new 1.5 litre man­ual. That is if Mazda’s

Aus­tralian man­ag­ingg g direc­tor, Martin Ben­ders, getsg his way.y

“We“We will be push­ingp g our case hard in ne­go­ti­a­tionsg with head of­fice and are aim­ing g to getg the new MX-5MX- 5 in at the most com­pet­i­tivep pri­cep pos­si­blep ,” pohe said at theth of­fi­cial pressp drive.

”It” It all comes down to

num­bers, how many y we think we can sell, and on that score,

it’s a dif­fi­cult call,” Mr Ben­derss

added.

Four ver­sions will be

avail­able with a choice of the

1.5- litre or 2.0- litre four

cylin­dery en­gi­nesg and ei­ther a

six- six-speed­speedp man­ual

trans­mis­sion de­vel­opedp and

man­u­fac­tured by y Mazda it­sel it­self

or an ef­fi­ciency y op­ti­misedp “SkyAc­tive”y six-speed­six- speedp con­ven­tional auto.

SkyAc­tivey tech­nol­ogy gy is

used in both en­gines,g which

op­er­atep on an ex­cep­tion­al­lyp y

highg com­pres­sionp ra­tio and

with­min­imised­with min­imised in­ter­nal

fric­tion to use less fuel and

gen­er­ate fewer emis­sions. While the 1.5 is good for

96kW/ 150Nm, the 2.0- litre

should achieve about

125kW/ 200Nm.

The lat­ter is an in­cre­men­tal

gaing over the cur­rent 2.0-litre, which is rated at 118kW/ 188Nm. This car has been al­most a

decade com­ing,g with the globalg fi­nan­cial cri­sis six yearsy agog de­lay­ingy g de­vel­op­mentp of the fourth-gen­er­a­tionfourth- g gen­er­a­tion model.

Thank­fully,y de­spitep theth wait, the for­mula has

re­mained p pretty y much the same over 25 yyears: years: a fron­tengined,g rear-drive,rear- drive, four­cylin­dery rag-toprag-g top p with greatg dy­nam­ics,y 50/5050/ 50 weight dis­tri­bu­tion anda a highg fun quo­tient.q And Mazda ex­ec­u­tives

have giveng a com­mit­ment that there will al­waysy be room for that for­mula in the fu­ture

be­cause it’s the essence of

the brand’s “p phi­los­o­phy”p y of driv­ingg plea­sure. p

You know … thet ”Zoom Zoom” thing.

VER­DICT

The iconic road­ster g goes one bet­ter and is likely to be­morebe more ac­ces­si­ble this time around.

The for­mula has re­mained pret­tyy much the same over 25 y years: a fron­tengined, rear-ear-drive, drive, four-cylin­der rag-top with great dy­nam dy­nam­ics, 50/50

weight dis­tri­bu­tion and a high fun quo­tient

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