The Mazda MX-5 is the world’s best-selling roadster. Every time Mazda decides to release a new one we can’t help but get a little (or very) excited about the purity that a simple, well-designed and built sportscar offers up. This latest version does not stray too far from the successful formula, so we headed for the sweeping roads hugging the Western Cape mountains and even dropped the top for a few sun-soaking moments.
The new bits
This latest MX-5 is not too different from its predecessors in basic design, so see it more as a fine-tuning of an already polished product. The new model is, however, some 100kg lighter than before and also 105mm shorter. So in a sense, it represents a return to the purity of the original. Mazda is aiming to make sure it delivers the lightweight sportscar thrills its customers want without breaking the bank on price. The exterior design is a highlight as it rolls in looking like a slim and athletic red ninja... No wonder that it has become a finalist in the Cars.co.za Consumer Awards Design of the Year category.
Under the bonnet
Under the bonnet the simplicity continues - there is no modern turbocharged engine to deliver buckets of torque low down or make spirited whistling sounds as you climb through the revs. Instead, there is a reliable 2-Litre naturally aspirated motor. It delivers 118 kW and 200 Nm of torque, which is actually slightly less than it makes in the Mazda3. Don’t be too concerned though, because the MX-5 is not about power and acceleration thrills, but about the driving experience and fun factor. The engine feels more than capable of delivering thrills, hauling the MX-5 to 100kph in 7.3 seconds and topping out at 214kph. The other thing about lightness is that consumption figures are improved. The MX-5's 2-Litre uses just 6.7L/100km and even after a week of 'spirited' driving our test unit still returned around 9L/100km.
Thanks to a short-levered six-speed manual gearbox, you can really wring the neck of the new MX-5. It likes to rev and the accompanying soundtrack is pleasing in the mid ranges. To get the best out of the MX-5, you have to work the engine and gearbox all the time, keeping the powerplant on the boil. You’re constantly going up and down the gears and it’s so engaging and before you know it you’re at the end of a 15km mountain pass.
Turning the tables
The first thing you notice when you fire up the MX-5 and get going is how easy and quickly you get to grips with it. Mazda says the seating position is lower in this model, but for a sportscar, it still feels quite high. The Toyota 86 is much lower by contrast. The slightly higher driving position gives you good visibility when looking through corners and actually makes it more manageable when driving around town. The MX-5’s party trick is its handling characteristics. It has always been fun, but not scary and gives sportscar thrills to those who can’t afford something like a Porsche 911. It delivers on this feel-good factor in heaps.
While most pure sportscars can be harshly sprung and set up for the racetrack, the MX-5 feels like it was developed to drive on regular roads. There’s a bit of give in the suspension and it is more comfortable on bumpy roads than expected. The extra softness means that it leans a little from side to side, but because it’s so light it doesn’t feel like it hinders the dynamics at all. In fact, the MX-5 loves to whip from corner to corner, the tighter the better.
There’s no talk about how many seconds it takes to put the roof down in the MX-5, but that’s because it’s so simple. You pull a latch at the front of the roof and it releases. From there it almost springs open and a quick push or pull by hand and it clicks into place. While enduring a heat wave in Cape Town, the MX-5’s open top drive is just as good and with the new edgier styling it attracts a lot of attention.
When making a bare bones sportscar, it’s often easy to forget the creature comforts and build something that’s as empty as a freezer before payday. The MX-5 is well-equipped and Mazda has brought in a highly specced model for South Africa. The infotainment system is good and can be used through either the touchscreen or a rotary knob in the centre console. The cabin is quite tight, but there’s still a small storage bin behind the driver’s left arm and cup holders are detachable. Seats, steering wheel and gear lever are all clad in black leather with a hint of red stitching to add some life to the cabin. The boot measures in at only 130-litres which is just enough for an overnight bag. Don't go planning any long road trips with more than one night on the schedule.
The new model also improves in the safety department with a stronger underpinnings. Four airbags are crammed into the cabin and there’s collision avoidance systems like ESP and ABS with EBD.
The MX-5 continues the simple formula created some 25 years ago by the original car. It is lightweight, has acceptable power and a fun chassis to exploit. It’s entirely addictive to drive and feels faster through the bends than the speedo sometimes suggests. It still remains a great choice for the enthusiast and has the added bonus of being able to drop the roof to add more delight to the drive. The only real competition is the Toyota 86 and that’s a hardtop-only model. Both offer up an overdose of fun with the 86 being a more slidey product where the MX-5 prefers not to break traction easily. Pricing is also extremely similar, so the choice is even tougher to make.
Mazda MX-5 pricing
There's just one model in the MX-5 range and it's set at R389 800.
Test team opinion
While I wasn't particularly sold on the looks, I really appreciated the refreshing simplicity of this little sportscar. It's most enjoyable to drive and there's nothing complicated about it. The feel-good factor is through the roof. I also liked how quickly you can manually close the roof if the summer sun gets a little too hot. This is proof right here that money can buy you happiness. -David Taylor
We Like: Great design, sportscar thrills and open top fun
We don’t Like: Small boot, a tad expensive
Also consider: Toyota 86