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 its production number engraved on it – ‘ours’ was rather special; we’re not huge fans of the multi-function controls, which are fiddly to use when programming the satnav; and talking of the satnav, there were a couple of destinations that it wouldn’t allow us to input, an issue we’ve experienced with other mk4s we’ve tested; standard lane departure warning is irritating if you like ‘straight-lining’ a series of corners and therefore crossing the white line in middle of the road.
Top: standard Sand Leather upholstery lends the compact cockpit a sense of greater spaciousness: looks classy, too.