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