Pure and sim­ple

The back-to-ba­sics road­ster re­calls the sharp re­sponses of the 1989 orig­i­nal

Herald Sun - Motoring - - THE TICK -

SPRING is here, so is a new Mazda MX-5 and there’s a long line of MX-5 trag­ics wait­ing for pre-Christ­mas de­liv­ery of their new toy.

The wait­ing list is not as long as the one for the Ford Mus­tang, which now stretches be­yond cus­tomer No. 3000, but the en­thu­si­asm re­flects well on a car that should be de­scribed as THE new MX-5 and not just A new one.

This one is closer to the orig­i­nal from 1989 than the cars that came be­tween — it’s now safe to say the car got softer and more bloated with the pass­ing of time.

This MX-5 is so sharp and fo­cused that it’s back to a ba­sic 1.5-litre en­gine and trim body. Lit­tle things, such as four wheel nuts in­stead of five and a su­perlightweight gear­knob, show a re­lent­less pur­suit of … well, what makes it a real MX-5.

The re­sult, driven briskly on home roads I know well, is a car that’s great fun and great to look at, and that shows great driv­ing is still pos­si­ble in 2015.

Af­ter sam­pling the MX-5 on preview drives in Eng­land, Scot­land and the Sun­shine Coast, I have a gi­ant smile as I col­lect a car for The Tick test.

It’s no sur­prise that it’s red, that it’s the base model to get the purest ex­pe­ri­ence, and that it’s head­ing straight to twisty roads in a se­cret river val­ley near my home.

But, first, we have to deal with the ele­phants in the room. There are two.

The first is the 2.0-litre ver­sion of the MX-5 that’s com­ing pretty soon and the sec­ond is a likely four-star ANCAP safety rat­ing.

The safety score is com­ing be­cause a car with­out a fixed roof does not have the right sort of crash re­sis­tance and the 2.0 is com­ing be­cause there are al­ways peo­ple who want more.

Miss­ing the five-star ANCAP tar­get could hurt the MX-5 with some buy­ers, as well as harm its as­sess­ment in this year’s Cars­guide Car of the Year judg­ing.

The big­ger dis­place­ment en­gine will be for peo­ple who must go for the top end.

But, for me, the 1.5-litre with its mod­est 96kW/150Nm is more than good enough. It’s

lively — some­thing I’d never said about nat­u­rally as­pi­rated Mazda en­gines be­fore the ad­vent of its new-age Skyactiv tech­nol­ogy — and it works well with the well-cho­sen ra­tios of the six-speed man­ual.

I would like a bit more of a rasp from the ex­haust and I know there are peo­ple, many liv­ing in cities, who won’t like the 1.5 get­ting beaten away from stop­lights.

The 2.0 will prob­a­bly rem­edy that but, for me, it’s more im­por­tant to know the MX-5 can trump al­most any­thing on a driv­ing road.

That’s down to the weight re­duc­tion work, the front en­gine-rear drive lay­out, the en­gine mounted to­wards the mid­dle of the car, and even seats that pro­vide more cabin space while keep­ing you down low to feel what the car is do­ing.

I’m nig­gled by the lack of a reach-ad­justable steer­ing col­umn but the com­pen­sa­tion comes in Blue­tooth with speak­ers in the driver’s head­rest, as per the au­dio in the orig­i­nal MX-5, ef­fec­tive air­con, trip com­puter and cruise con­trol. If you want more “stuff ” you can move up from the $31,990 base price to get the likes of a tablet-style in­fo­tain­ment dis­play.

On the price front, the new MX-5 is fan­tas­tic value. That’s partly be­cause Mazda plays to win in Aus­tralia and partly to keep on par with new ri­vals, in­clud­ing the Subaru BRZToy­ota 86 twins.

How­ever, I’m not think­ing about the price as I snap through the gears, run to the red­line, and en­joy the way it sticks in corners. It’s ter­rific to drive, as re­spon­sive and sharp as the ’89 orig­i­nal.

The roof also works in­cred­i­bly easily, although there is no­tice­able road roar at free­way speeds.

There is ( just) enough boot space and the nar­row tyres pro­vide just enough grip (they don’t over­tax the chas­sis or oblige Mazda to go for more power, which brings more weight and a need for more power etc).

I like the styling, which is dain­tier that it looks in pic­tures, the feel of the leather-wrapped wheel — and the fact that the car is so small that you don’t re­ally need a rear-view cam­era, although there are some peo­ple who will whinge.

In fact, there is lots to like and very lit­tle to quib­ble about. I’m look­ing for­ward to some time with the 2.0 MX-5 and the in­evitable ar­gu­ments, fol­low­ing some great driv­ing, that will come at the COTY shootout.

THE TICK

Be­ing hon­est and re­al­is­tic, and con­sid­er­ing the safety score and the lack of a rear cam­era, the MX-5 might not be quite good enough for a COTY crown in 2015. But it’s more than good enough for The Tick.

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