Mazda’s MX-5 Mi­ata is small, light and made for mag­i­cal sun­set rides with the top down

Calgary Herald - - DRIVING - NICK TRAGIANIS Driv­

“You will be spend­ing time out­doors, in the moun­tains, near wa­ter,” is what the for­tune cookie promised. A few months later, we found our­selves dis­cov­er­ing hid­den wa­ter­falls and slic­ing through the jagged land­scape of north­ern Por­tu­gal. But it missed one thing: the butt-puck­er­ingly ser­pen­tine road lead­ing up to the peak.

Putting you at 829 me­tres into the sky — that’s about 2,720 feet — Mi­radouro da Pe­dra Bela is a look­out in the south­ern fringes of Peneda-geres Na­tional Park. The view is ab­so­lutely breath­tak­ing.

The collection of hair­pins, kinks, and switch­backs lead­ing up to the sweet spot should’ve been the ic­ing on the cake — an en­thu­si­ast’s dream, es­pe­cially when you’re driv­ing a Mazda MX-5 Mi­ata.

My bet­ter half, who is no stranger to Por­tu­gal and its roads, warned me about this the night be­fore.

“You’re go­ing to re­gret it,” she cau­tioned.

The jour­ney to Geres started off in­no­cently enough. We kept the top stowed for the morn­ing and stayed off ma­jor high­ways, partly to take in more sights through small towns and vil­lages, but mostly to save on road tolls. The lit­tle sports car didn’t skip a beat on the oc­ca­sional moun­tain pass we en­coun­tered, slic­ing-and-dic­ing through var­i­ous small towns and vil­lages.

This is it, I thought as we turned off the N308 and be­gan our as­cent on the ac­cess road. Time for the lit­tle Mi­ata to shine!

Boy, was I wrong.

This should’ve been a piece of cake. Mazda’s two-seater ce­mented its rep­u­ta­tion over 30 years for carv­ing roads like th­ese. It wants you to go on a drive with no par­tic­u­lar des­ti­na­tion in mind — and if there is a des­ti­na­tion, it wants you to take the long way. It wants you to push your­self, to chal­lenge your lim­its, to make you a bet­ter driver. But all of that goes out the win­dow when the road, while paved and tech­ni­cally al­lows for two-way traf­fic, is barely wide enough for one car. And you’re crawl­ing up a 25, maybe 30-de­gree in­cline in first gear, blind cor­ner af­ter blind cor­ner. And there’s dense brush on your left, and un­for­giv­ing rock on your right.

The Mercedes-benz Sprinter a few cars up ahead — once a bright red work van, now a sunkissed con­verted camper car­ry­ing a twenty-some­thing Ger­man cou­ple, their puppy, and loaded to the brim with their be­long­ings — with its rear wheels fight­ing for trac­tion, strug­gling to round the cor­ner and ul­ti­mately stalling, cer­tainly didn’t help mat­ters. My palms were sweaty as I gripped the leather on the steer­ing wheel and shift knob. I pic­tured the Sprinter rolling back, cre­at­ing a chain of smacks that’d even­tu­ally meet the MX-5’S nose and push us into the Re­nault Me­gane behind us. My girl­friend — oops, fi­ancée — broke the si­lence.

“Told you.”

She was right. But mer­ci­fully, we reached the peak un­scathed.

Later, we were chas­ing the sun­set and giv­ing the MX-5 a proper work­out on the long way home, on the prop­erly wide and ser­pen­tine N304 and N307 b-roads, be­fore merg­ing onto the wider but still re­spectably fun N205-3.

The Mi­ata comes alive on roads like th­ese. Af­ter the pre­vi­ous-gen­er­a­tion NC, the lat­est, fourth-gen­er­a­tion ND is a re­turn to form, with a smaller foot­print and less weight. Cor­ner af­ter cor­ner, the Mi­ata’s sprightly re­flexes, quick steer­ing, and tight shifter make easy work of th­ese roads.

And to think, all this char­ac­ter is from a modern car with an in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem and nan­nies such as anti-lock brakes and sta­bil­ity con­trol.

Ah, but this wasn’t just any ND Mi­ata. While the in­te­rior and er­gonomics are vir­tu­ally iden­ti­cal, right down to the hi­lar­i­ously im­prac­ti­cal cuphold­ers and in­fo­tain­ment con­troller your el­bow al­ways bumps into, this one’s a bit dif­fer­ent. Be­cause while North Amer­i­cans are spoiled by big dis­place­ment and equally big horse­power — our NDS put out 181 hp from a 2.0-litre Sky­ac­tiv four-cylin­der — the en­try-level en­gine in Europe and Ja­pan is a 1.5-L four.

Putting out 129 hp and 110 pound-feet of torque, the 1.5 car­ries a not-in­signif­i­cant de­fi­ciency in straight-line ac­cel­er­a­tion com­pared to our re­vised (and now thor­oughly ex­cel­lent) 2.0. But I wouldn’t call it un­der­pow­ered.

With less weight up front and a higher red­line than the 2.0 in the 2016-18 mod­els, the lowly base en­gine is an ab­so­lute treat.

We capped off our time in Por­tu­gal carv­ing even more back roads, go­ing for night­time rips with the top down and no par­tic­u­lar des­ti­na­tion in mind, and chas­ing sun­rises and sun­sets in the two-seater. There are faster, more prac­ti­cal cars, but few are as mag­i­cal as Mazda’s lit­tle con­vert­ible.


The Mazda MX-5 Mi­ata has a smaller foot­print and less weight, mak­ing it per­fect for Por­tu­gal’s ser­pen­tine roads, writes Nick Tragianis.

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