Car ReviewsFirst Drive

Mazda MX-5 First Drive

The Mazda MX-5 refresh has given it a more purposeful stance and honed what was already a decent sports car, says Isaac Bober.

How do you refresh an icon? Carefully. Very carefully. When the original Mazda MX-5 was launched back in 1989 it arrived like a bolt out of the blue, delivering fun, open-top motoring thrills to the likes of you and me. It was affordable and attractive and gave us something we hadn’t had since the demise of the gorgeous Lotus Elan.

The Mazda MX-5 offered an alternative to the hot hatches of the 1980s and 1990s. And we loved/love it. Easily one of the most recognisable vehicles on the planet, the MX-5 has sold in excess of 900,000 units around the world.

Mazda MX-5 driving2

Sure, it’s gotten a little bigger, heavier and more comfortable over the years, but it’s also become more polished and indeed accomplished. And while the early generational changes were seemingly radical redesigns the philosophy remained true to the original tenet of the vehicle being fun and affordable. The latest generations, including this refresh we’re testing, have been subtle adjustments to the look, and that’s perhaps slightly disappointing because we had been expecting an all-new MX-5, but it would seem this model will have to last a little longer until it’s replaced.

There’s a deeper front grille (47mm deeper to be precise), the new front fog light bezel design has been honed to reduce air resistance, there’s a new body colour (Dolphin Grey Mica) and the 17-inch alloys have copped a gunmetal grey finish. Inside, there’s glossy black inserts everywhere to replace the earlier silver decoration panels.

The MX-5 starts at $47,280 (+ORC) for the soft-top Roadster Coupe with six-speed manual and tops out at $52,010 for a hard-topped six-speed auto-toting Roadster Coupe Sports. We drove the MX-5 Roadster Coupe Sports with six-speed manual and folding hard-top which lists from $49,885 (+ORC).

The two-seat interior is well finished.

That near $50k sticker price gets you air-conditioning, cruise control, power windows, tilt-only adjustable steering wheel, radio with six-disc in-dash CD player and MP3 jack, lockable glovebox, and a puncture repair kit and air compressor in place of a spare wheel, Bluetooth is a cost option. Hmmm. Because I was in the Sports test car there were smart BBS alloy wheels and Recaro seats.

There’s only one engine for the MX-5, a 2.0-litre in-line four-cylinder producing 118kW at 7000rpm (or 118kW at a slightly lower 6700rpm in the auto) and 188Nm at 5000rpm. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but a kerb weight of 1167kg for the Sports variant in manual trim ensures that’s enough grunt as long as you keep the revs up to it. Fuel consumption is 8.1L/100km but that will rise if you’re, well, keeping the revs up to it.

Similar to both the Toyota 86 and the Subaru BRZ, you’ve got to keep the MX-5’s engine stoked to make rapid progress, but let it go off the boil, say, anywhere south of 2500rpm and it feels a little flat. On hills or when overtaking the engine could use more torque to avoid the driver having to drop down a cog or two; other than that it’s fluid enough and well matched to the six-speed manual.

Mazda MX-5 rear driving

The sharp throttle response, short-throw gearbox, and well weighted pedals make it a cinch to blip downshifts without seeming like an idiot. Indeed, to really get to the meat of the MX-5 you’ve got to drive it pretty hard or else it comes off feeling a bit dull.

The MX-5 isn’t as flightly as some road testers would have you believe, but you do have to commit when driving it. And while it can come off feeling a little crashy on coarse bitumen it’s a delight when you find a smooth stretch. There were question marks over the steering and the front-end in the old car, but that’s been addressed with this refreshment; the steering feels meatier and the nose is more direct.

A low kerb weight and precise handling make the MX-5 a lot of fun

PRACTICAL MOTORING SAYS

Easily the jewel in Mazda’s crown, the MX-5 is loaded with character and joy. That it gives so much back to the driver at regular road speeds is icing on the cake. That said, there’s not a lot of room inside the MX-5, and taller drivers will struggle with the limited space in the footwell, and the high transmission tunnel sees you driving elbows up. But those are no reasons to not buy the MX-5, and there are a gazillion reasons why you should buy one.

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MAZDA MX-5 ROADSTER COUPE SPORTS

PRICE From $47,280 (+ORC) WARRANTY three-year, unlimited kilometres SAFETY RATING five-star ANCAP ENGINE 2.0-litre four-cylinder POWER/TORQUE 118kW/188Nm TRANSMISSION CVT BODY 4.02m (L) 1.25m (H) 1.72m (W) WEIGHT 1167kg THIRST 6.5L/100km (combined)

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober