Two to tango

Driv­ing en­thu­si­asts are spoiled for choice with the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of the world’s big­gest sell­ing roadster

Mercury (Hobart) - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARSGUIDE EDITOR richard.black­burn@news.com.au

TWO-litre or not two-litre? That is the ques­tion on the lips of most buy­ers when they head into a Mazda show­room to look at the lat­est ver­sion world’s most pop­u­lar two-seat roadster.

Many re­spected judges — in­clud­ing the Carsguide Car of the Year panel that made it a fi­nal­ist — ar­gue the 1.5-litre en­gine that pow­ers the cheap­est ver­sion of the fourth­gen­er­a­tion MX-5 is more than enough.

It’s more in keep­ing with the de­sign phi­los­o­phy of the 1989 orig­i­nal, which fo­cused on light­weight, af­ford­able mo­tor­ing thrills.

But there’s a strong ar­gu­ment for op­tion­ing the big­ger en­gine.

For a start, the big­ger en­gine has a com­pelling bang-for-your-buck equa­tion.

The 2.0-litre costs $2500 more but gives you roughly 20 per cent more power and a third more torque. That gets you to 100km/h a se­cond quicker, in a claimed 7.3 secs. Op­tion that en­gine and you also get big­ger 17-inch wheels with lower-pro­file tyres and LED day­time run­ning lights.

On the down­side it is 24kg heav­ier and uses about 13 per cent more fuel.

DE­SIGN

The MX-5 is a hand­some car. It ex­udes sporti­ness from ev­ery crease and panel and the fab­ric roof doesn’t de­tract from the de­sign when it’s up, al­though it looks bet­ter with the top down.

The cabin is min­i­mal­ist and in the base model it lacks the cen­tre screen peo­ple have come to ex­pect in even the most ba­sic hatches.

There’s no con­ven­tional glove­box but there’s a handy space be­tween the seats to store gear and the boot is a cosy 135L.

For a sports model, the seats aren’t as body-hug­ging as you’d ex­pect but there’s enough sup­port for en­thu­si­as­tic cor­ner­ing. The thin rimmed steer­ing wheel feels sporty.

Man­ual op­er­a­tion of the fold­ing roof — the mech­a­nism is a tri­umph of sim­plic­ity — means you can have it up or down roughly as quick as a pair of trousers.

Gripes? Head­room will be tight for taller driv­ers and the cabin feels a lit­tle cramped. The cupholder also in­trudes awk­wardly into the pas­sen­ger’s legroom.

Our test car was the man­ual GT, which starts at just un­der $40,000 plus on-roads. Over the base car it adds auto headlights and wipers, LED day­time run­ning lights, leather trim, cli­mate con­trol air­con, 7inch touch­screen, sat­nav, pre­mium au­dio and key­less en­try.

Un­like most car mak­ers Mazda doesn’t charge ex­tra for most of its metal­lic paints. There are six colours to choose from and only the hero colour, Soul Red, adds a rea­son­able $200.

ABOUT TOWN

You can’t help but feel a lit­tle ex­posed in traf­fic in the MX-5. You sit with your bum only inches off the ground and when you’re sur­rounded by trucks, you find your­self hop­ing you’re not in their blind spot.

Mazda seems re­signed to a four-star rat­ing in crash test­ing and the car doesn’t have a re­vers­ing cam­era, so safety isn’t a strong point. But hey, it’s a sports car and it’s still safer than a Har­ley if you plan to come out the other side of that midlife cri­sis.

The sat­nav is handy around town. Rear­ward vi­sion isn’t great so park­ing sen­sors would have been a wel­come ad­di­tion.

Apart from that, the Mazda is rea­son­ably re­laxed and re­fined on the ur­ban crawl.

The ride is firm with­out be­ing too crashy and the 2.0litre is no­tice­ably live­lier off the mark than the 1.5, which makes the car a lit­tle more fun in the city. The only thing miss­ing is a bit of bur­ble and pop­ping ex­haust.

ON THE ROAD

The lit­tle Mazda is as happy as a pig in mud on a tight, twist­ing bit of tar­mac. It feels su­perbly bal­anced when chang­ing di­rec­tion and the pin-sharp steer­ing makes it easy to point ex­actly where you want it to go.

The rear-drive setup means it will carry a bit of go-kart style at­ti­tude through cor­ners, which adds to the fun fac­tor.

Mid-cor­ner bumps and cor­ru­ga­tions fail to up­set the sus­pen­sion, which is firm but not bone-jar­ring.

In 1.5-litre guise, the en­gine is ad­e­quate for shift­ing the MX-5 along at a brisk pace. How­ever the ex­tra urge of the 2.0-litre is wel­come, par­tic­u­larly if hills are part of the scenery.

Road and wind noise are un­avoid­able when you’re this close to the ground with a fab­ric roof over your head and it would be­come tire­some on a long free­way haul.

VER­DICT

The lat­est MX-5 proves that you don’t need a V8 to have fun. It’s the kind of car that puts a smile on your face ev­ery time you get in.

And you’ll find the smile is wider with the 2.0-litre en­gine.

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