The doc­tor told me to do it

MONTH 5 MAZDA MX5 RF

CAR (UK) - - Our Cars - MARK WAL­TON

THE MX5 ISN’T a practical car and it’s not even a proper soft-top, so why buy one? Well, one of the great­est plea­sures I’m get­ting from liv­ing with the Mazda is how it spices up my daily com­mute, in a way that only a proper sports car can. Sorry to come over all MG Own­ers Club, but it’s true – the feel­ings you get from the MX5’s steer­ing and through the seat of your pants aren’t avail­able in any hot hatch or sports sa­loon. It’s all to do with its low cen­tre of grav­ity, light weight and di­rect steer­ing – you can at­tack cor­ners and round­abouts, and the Mazda will re­spond to ev­ery in­put in­stantly. It’s tac­tile and re­ward­ing, and at the end of ev­ery day I look for­ward to my 15-mile drive home.

It’s also chal­leng­ing, once it’s re­ally loaded up. Sure, the 2.0-litre en­gine isn’t mas­sively pow­er­ful, so the pow­er­train isn’t in­tim­i­dat­ing; and de­spite our Sport Nav model hav­ing slightly stišer sus­pen­sion, the RF is softly sprung, giv­ing you body roll through bends. But don’t be lulled into think­ing it’s a lazy loafer: the MX5 starts to feel edgy like a fright­ened cat when you’re re­ally press­ing on, and you sense that small move­ments have a big ešect. Yes, it’s won­der­fully be­nign when you’re just pootling along, but along a back road at nine or ten-tenths, you have to be alert in a way never re­quired in a Golf GTI. The MX5 ex­pects things of you – Mazda uses that phrase ‘Jinba it­tai’ in its MX5 ad­ver­tis­ing, re­fer­ring to the con­nec­tion be­tween a horse and rider. Most of the time that’s a load of crap of course… but when you’re re­ally driv­ing quickly, there is some­thing in the con­cen­tra­tion you need, the sen­si­tiv­ity, the sense of bal­ance.

Of course all of this is magni¨ied ten­fold when you turn the trac­tion con­trol oš. The 2.0-litre en­gine’s 158bhp means you don’t have to worry about a pow­er­slide in the way you would if you were driv­ing a Dodge Chal­lenger, but that sen­si­tiv­ity to your in­puts at speed means it’s pretty easy to in­duce a slide by lift­ing mid-cor­ner. In the dry it’s hard to pro­long a slide be­cause the en­gine doesn’t have the power to spin up the wheels, but if you want a quick, tail-out ¨lour­ish as you peel out of a round­about, it’s pre­dictable and great fun.

That’s in the dry – in the wet you have to be much more cau­tious. Trac­tion con­trol oš in the pour­ing rain, even third gear will get you over­steer­ing, and if you try that lift-oš trick the MX5 will snap so far out of line you’ll be look­ing at the road out of the pas­sen­ger win­dow. I’ve had a cou­ple of near spins – for sci­enti¨ic re­search, of course.

But lis­ten, if you don’t want to spin your brand new, rear-drive sports car in the wet, don’t worry, leave the trac­tion con­trol on and the Mazda is per­fectly safe… but if like me you en­joy a car that can chal­lenge you, the MX5 is sim­ply a gift from Mazda to the world.

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