Lighter, slighter, mightier Mazda MX-5
09:40 27 August 2015
Mazda has taken the world-beating MX-5 sports car back to its roots – smaller, lighter and even more fun to drive, says motoring editor Andy Russell.
When it comes to affordable, fun motoring, Mazda’s MX-5 is a lightweight that packs a punch. That’s why the world’s best-selling two-seat sports car has racked up nearly a million sales in quarter of a century – one in eight finding a home in the UK.
The MX-5 is a crucial car for Mazda, for sales and image, so it was vital to get the radically-different fourth-generation model spot-on. I say radically different, but the Mark IV MX-5 actually has more in common with the original Mark I than its predecessor.
Having grown, generation by generation, the all-new MX-5 is the most compact ever – 55mm shorter than the Mark I and, having shed 100kg, the lightest since the iconic original.
The stunning new MX-5, the final model to adopt Mazda’s Kodo Soul of Motion design and the best execution so far, has gone back to its roots as a compact, fun-packed simple sports car that will put a huge smile on your face.
Under the bonnet
New high-efficiency SkyActiv four-cylinder petrol engines – 131PS 1.5-litre and 160PS 2.0-litre units – are mated to a snappy, short-throw six-speed manual gearbox which is a delight to use.
The 2.0-litre is tuned for wider low and mid-range torque, pulling strongly in any gear for zippy, nippy acceleration but I preferred the 1.5-litre engine which is more characterful and in keeping with this iconic car’s ethos.
It just loves to be revved and sings sweetly all the way to the peak power at 7,000rpm but, drive it gently, and you can see a genuine 50mpg on a run. Mind you, the 2.0-litre was nudging 40mpg with a light foot and mid-30s even with enthusiastic driving.
How it drives
The MX-5 is more about the driving experience and sheer entertainment rather than scintillating sprinting and unattainable top speed.
With the new model smaller, 100kg lighter and having the wheels pushed out to the corners and the lowest centre of gravity of any MX-5, it has risen to new levels of ride and roadholding.
The 2.0-litre models get 17in alloy wheels (the 1.5-litre rides on 16in ones), a strut brace to stiffen the suspension and the 2.0-litre Sport gets sport suspension with Belstein dampers and a limited slip differential to put the power on to the road effectively through the rear wheels.
It’s great to drive… but again the lower-powered engine makes for an even more entertaining and enjoyable all-round package.
The ride is a little softer, without spoiling the handling, and is more comfortable on bumpy, bouncy roads. It also feels purer to drive, crisper turning into corners and altogether more involving making you feel more connected to the road – and that’s what a sports car is all about.
Space, comfort and ease of use
The body may be significantly shorter but six-footers still fit comfortably into the cabin which feels even snugger and cockpit-like with seats set closer together, lower and further back for better weight distribution.
It that also makes for an excellent driving position even though the steering wheel adjust only for height. You sit directly in front of the simple instrument cluster and straightforward controls, your legs out straight on to perfectly-aligned pedals, a natural set-up as soon as you get in.
With no glovebox, cabin storage is not plentiful but there is a useful lidded locker between the front seats in the rear bulkhead, along with a couple of removable drinks holders which look as though they could be prone to damage without care.
The boot isn’t big at 130 litres but it’s 35mm longer and 36mm deeper and, while it doesn’t sound much and you have to travel light, you can now fit in two airline-sized cabin cases rather than just one.
The lighter fabric hood doesn’t eat into boot space and needs even less effort to pull in up one-handed from behind the seats and clip it shut… and there’s also decent headroom and visibility.
Entry-level SE, only with the 1.5-litre engine, includes alloy wheels, LED headlights, air-conditioning, electric windows and heated mirrors, remote lock and trip computer but SE-L adds more niceties like climate control, cruise control, DAB with speakers in the driver’s seat headrest, Bluetooth and seven-inch multimedia touchscreen while the 2.0-litre version gains 17in wheels and a limited slip differential.
Sport also gains rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, heated leather seats, adaptive front lighting, keyless entry, lane departure warning and Bose surround-sound system while the 2.0-litre gets sports suspension. There are also SE-L and Sport Nav versions with integrated satellite navigation.
Smaller, smarter and smashing to drive, the all-new Mazda MX-5 is not only the world’s best-selling two-seat sports car but the most desirable for the money, and better than many costing considerably more.
The Mark I MX-5 cost £14,249 (£31,687 in today’s money) 25 years ago, now it starts from £18,495. Pound for pound, that’s unbeatable value in anyone’s book.