NEWS

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We get be­hind the wheel of Mazda’s new Z-sport lim­ited edi­tion, plus all the lat­est news, views and prod­ucts

Last is­sue we told you the story of its cre­ation, now we’ve had a chance to drive the lat­est lim­ited edi­tion MX-5 mk4

WE MADE a big splash about the lim­ited edi­tion Z-sport in the last is­sue of To­tal MX-5 partly be­cause it was in­ter­est­ing to learn how th­ese spe­cials are con­ceived, and partly be­cause, within the MX-5 world, lim­ited edi­tions are held in high re­gard.

Of course, be­ing the smart folk that you are, you’ve al­ready re­alised that in terms of the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, the Z-sport isn’t all that lim­ited. That’s be­cause it’s based on the 2.0litre Sport Nav, and while it has unique 17-inch BBS al­loys, me­chan­i­cally the Z-sport’s no dif­fer­ent to any other 2.0-litre Sport Nav: it has the same sports sus­pen­sion with Bil­stein dampers, strut brace, lim­it­ed­slip dif­fer­en­tial and six-speed man­ual gear­box. In other words, it’s not go­ing to drive any dif­fer­ently to the stan­dard car.

So why are we both­er­ing with this lit­tle road test? Well, it’s been a long while since we’ve been in a 2.0-litre road­ster, and we’ve never had the chance to spend an en­tire week with one, liv­ing with it as if it were our own. That kind of in­tense ex­po­sure can give you a fresh per­spec­tive on any car, po­ten­tially re­veal­ing the ir­ri­tat­ing as well as the mar­vel­lous.

The first thing we noted about the Z-sport is that it’s all about vis­ual sub­tlety. Pre­vi­ous mk4s we’ve tested in brighter colours have had the neigh­bours call­ing in for a look, but the lim­ited edi­tion’s unique (for the road­ster) Ma­chine Grey paint, to­gether with those black BBS al­loys, ren­der it far less eye­catch­ing. By the end of our week’s ten­ure of the car, though, reg­u­lar passers-by be­gan to pay it some at­ten­tion, and those who stopped for a chat were quite taken with the deep cherry red hood – the first coloured roof for the mk4 – and the car’s gen­eral air of so­phis­ti­ca­tion.

The Z-sport’s stan­dard Sand Leather up­hol­stery is an in­ex­pen­sive (£200) op­tion with other trim grades, and to our eyes is rem­i­nis­cent of how some Fer­raris of old used to be kit­ted out in­side: it cre­ates a classy ef­fect in keep­ing with the re­fined de­meanour of the ex­te­rior. The colour also be­decks the lower half of the fa­cia, help­ing to brighten the cabin, make it ap­pear more spa­cious. And space is an is­sue. If you haven’t been in a mk4 be­fore, or haven’t been in one for a while, the cock­pit can seem sur­pris­ingly tight. Those taller than six feet may strug­gle with the lim­ited rear­ward move­ment of the seats and the less than gen­er­ous head­room. Lift your fin­gers off the steer­ing wheel in a ges­ture of thanks to a cour­te­ous fel­low road-user, and it can be a shock to bang your nails against the wind­screen. And at the op­po­site end of your body, the breadth of the trans­mis­sion tun­nel takes its toll on room in the footwell. It’s all in a good cause, of course, to keep the MX-5 small and there­fore light, but you def­i­nitely need to try a mk4 for size be­fore stick­ing down a de­posit.

Those who fit won’t be dis­ap­pointed. Even at low speed the steer­ing is nicely weighted, pleas­ingly di­rect: up the pace and the feel and feed­back re­main faith­ful, sur­pris­ingly so for a mod­ern

power steer­ing setup, and the turn-in to cor­ners is brisk with­out be­ing sud­den. What we were caught out a lit­tle by – and per­haps had just for­got­ten about – is the speed and de­gree of the ini­tial body roll when you pitch into a cor­ner, es­pe­cially at the rear, and de­spite the lim­ited edi­tion’s sports sus­pen­sion. Noth­ing amiss with the chas­sis’ agility, how­ever, or the Bil­stein dampers’ abil­ity to soak up mid­bend bumps and help main­tain the cho­sen cor­ner­ing line.

The brakes could do with im­prove­ment. They work just fine when you’re ham­mer­ing them, but in more moder­ate mo­tor­ing there’s too much brake pedal travel be­fore they bite with any real con­vic­tion; you then end up brak­ing later and harder out of ne­ces­sity, which can dis­turb the chas­sis’ rhythm through a se­ries of in­ter­est­ing cor­ners. It makes heel-and-toe­ing tricky, too, un­less you’re ab­so­lutely nail­ing the mid­dle pedal.

Nail the right-hand pedal and the Z-sport shoots along with sat­is­fy­ing vi­tal­ity and not in­con­sid­er­able speed, the 2.0litre Skyactiv-g four-cylin­der mo­tor rel­ish­ing high revs and, with just 1058kg to haul along, feel­ing punchier than its mod­est 158bhp would sug­gest. While it’s not short on per­for­mance or smooth­ness, in stan­dard form its sound­track fails to de­liver the emo­tional tin­gle that’s so im­por­tant in an open-top sports car – the mk4 is cry­ing out for an af­ter­mar­ket ex­haust sys­tem. Es­pe­cially as this gen­er­a­tion of MX-5 works so well with the roof down, keep­ing its oc­cu­pants warm and cos­seted even in the depths of a cruel win­ter.

The crit­i­cisms out­lined here are nit­pick­ing in a way, be­cause driven with gusto the Z-sport is gen­uinely fast and truly ful­fill­ing; we just wish that it felt more spir­ited and was bet­ter sorted dy­nam­i­cally at cruis­ing speeds. And it would be great if the sat­nav were more in­tu­itive to pro­gramme and fea­tured bet­ter map­ping and in­struc­tions; on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions dur­ing our week be­hind the wheel we were left frus­trated, though thank­fully not com­pletely lost.

And yet, a cou­ple of years on from its launch the mk4 MX-5 re­mains a joy to pilot and an at­trac­tive own­er­ship propo­si­tion. The UK’S 300 Z-sport buy­ers are go­ing to be very happy campers…

Clock­wise from above left: mk4’s tail-lights re­main amongst our favourites of any mod­ern car; black BBS al­loys unique to the Z-sport – we buck­led two of them and burst a tyre when we hit a deep pot­hole…; each Z-sport has its own dash­mounted plaque with...

Top: stan­dard Sand Leather up­hol­stery lends the com­pact cock­pit a sense of greater spa­cious­ness: looks classy, too.

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