Hello MX-5! Wel­com­ing 2.0-litre ‘big block’ to The Garage

Motor (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

Good­bye to an Aussie icon and hello to a Ja­panese one

WITH sum­mer slowly turn­ing up the dial on Mel­bourne’s tem­per­a­ture, we’re glad to wel­come Mazda’s lat­est MX-5 in 2.0-litre form. But it has some mighty big tracks to fill.

See, two months ago we bid Chrysler’s mighty 300 SRT good­bye. And in place of a huge 6.4-litre HEMI V8, our new ar­rival’s plucked its 2.0-litre four banger straight from a Mazda 3, which spins four less cylin­ders and ig­nites less than a third of the V8’s ca­pac­ity. And this is Mazda’s ‘big-block’ vari­ant. Gulp.

That’s right, Ja­pan never re­ally wanted to build this car. If it wasn’t for Amer­ica stomp­ing its feet about the 1.5-litre base road­ster be­ing a lit­tle short on poke, it would have never ex­isted.

Yet we’re glad it does, be­cause Mazda hasn’t done this of­ten. Mazda Aus­tralia spiced up the sec­ond-gen MX-5 with a turbo with the lo­cally-built SP of 2002, which Mazda HQ took in­spi­ra­tion from when cre­at­ing the more com­mon but less pow­er­ful SE of 2004.

Mazda has promised grunt-lovers a longer in­nings this time ’round, as the MX-5 launched with both the 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre donks to serve up an in­ter­est­ing choice be­tween ‘pu­rity’ and ‘power’.

Why’d we go for the lat­ter? We threw both into the ring last year and the fam­ily fight re­vealed 500cc makes a lot of dif­fer­ence.

Com­pared to the 1.5-litre en­gine’s 96kW and 150Nm, the larger donk un­locks an­other 22kW and 50Nm. Pack­ing 118kW/200Nm in to­tal, we’ve seen it cut 0-100km/h in 6.54sec and the 400m in 14.68.

That’s knock­ing on the door of VW Golf GTI pace, cov­ers off the mini turbo hot hatches you’d find at Ford, Peu­geot, or Re­nault, and is more than a sec­ond health­ier than its less en­dowed bro.

Straight-line go isn’t all you get with the big­ger en­gine, ei­ther. Mazda also chucks in big­ger wheels, beefier brakes, stick­ier tyres and stiffer sus­pen­sion. This, it says, help deal with the en­gine’s ex­tra weight.

But while 24kg counts for more in a car that weighs just over a tonne, 1033kg to be pre­cise, it’s hardly no­ticed. Our MX-5’s proved lithe as a feather zip­ping around town and the bowser seems to agree.

Cru­cially, how­ever, we’ve found the sus­pen­sion bits to do more than just keep belly fat in check. The en­gine lets you thrust into traf­fic gaps more quickly, the ABS re­mains un­fet­tered and vi­o­lent pitch and roll has been re­duced.

So, re­ally, Mazda’s saved you the cut knuck­les and fo­rum-dig­ging usu­ally needed for an en­gine swap. And you haven’t had to sit down with a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer to dream up the right spring rates, tyre sizes and brake pack­age to suit.

Okay, the lit­tle 1.5-litre en­gine’s a zingy delight to rev out, mak­ing its slick shift all the more sat­is­fy­ing, and it’s keener to wag its tail. But for hard-driv­ing MO­TOR-heads, the 2.0-litre washes up as the smarter choice. Bet­ter yet, at $34,490 for the base ver­sion, the 2.0-litre’s only $2500 more. And MZD con­nect (Mazda’s in­fe­rior imi­ta­tion of BMW’s iDrive) is also thrown in to boot.

Don’t get us wrong, it’s not tuner-proof. We’d love to shrink the gap be­tween its wheels and guards, and a cou­ple of Jet Black MX-5s get­ting around Mel­bourne make our 2.0-litre’s Crys­tal White Mica paint look a lit­tle bland.

That’s fine, though, be­cause we’ll fix that up over the next few months. The Kuroi styling pack, which proved pop­u­lar on the Mazda 3, has spurned a new ver­sion for the MX-5, and we’ve put our name down for it.

We’ve also pen­cilled in a date with an­other stand­out from Ja­pan. Toy­ota’s 86 has just been up­graded for 2017, and it’s not just a facelift. So we’ll com­pare our 2.0-litre to the stiffer, quicker coupe.

First im­pres­sions, oth­er­wise, is that in­side the MX-5’s cer­tainly no Chrysler 300. We’ve bagged a GT-spec 2.0-litre, that runs up its ask to $39,550 and scores heated seats, leather, along with cli­mate con­trol, but you can sense the com­pro­mise around the cabin.

En­gi­neers slaved to make the fourth-gen­er­a­tion lighter than the porky NC be­fore it, but you’d ap­pre­ci­ate some­where to hide your phone, more sound dead­en­ing at the rear, and a glove­box up front.

On the other hand, we love that you can slam-dunk the man­u­ally-op­er­ated roof when­ever you want, and while it’s no 300 SRT to drive, that’s en­tirely the point. We’ve swapped a Big Mac for sashimi. And we’re rel­ish­ing the taste.

Keen-eyed en­thu­si­asts will im­me­di­ately clock the big­ger 17-inch wheels on the 2.0litre MX-5

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