Mazda hits the spot with new MX-5

Fourth generation of iconic sports car more lightweight, economical and faster than previous models

Make: Mazda

Model: MX-5

Year: 2015

Fuel: Petrol

Date Reviewed: August 24, 2015

Wed, Aug 26, 2015, 01:00

   

Whisper it, and only among friends, but it’s okay to own a sports car again. In the ignominy of the economic crash it was uncouth to be seen in one. You felt uncomfortable at traffic lights, as people looked on with disdain. Within the months between the spring of 2008 and the winter of that year, admiring glances and thumbs-up were swapped for dirty looks and extended index fingers. I briefly considered getting removable decals for the cars, to indicate that they were test models, not my own.

Suddenly, with this year’s new-car sales topping 100,000, there’s an air of positivity in the motoring world. What’s more, with Mazda’s new MX-5 you have a car that evokes admiration rather than envy, is relatively affordable and offers all the fun that lightweight sports cars have been meant to epitomise since their arrival on the scene, in the 1950s.

The beauty of the MX-5 has always been that it lacks much of the arrogance of many of its rivals. It’ s not trying to be some sort of motoring metaphor for the owner’s bank balance; instead the message it sends out is that its owner likes to drive and is carefree enough to put that pleasure ahead of the comforts that come with larger cars or ones with more menace.

If the SUV fad is a reflection of motoring aggression, the bouncer at the nightclub, then the MX-5 is that ever-smiling dancer who doesn’t mind if they’re the only person on the dance floor so long as the tunes are good.

Fourth generation

This is the fourth generation of the iconic little Mazda, and this model is more curvaceous, taut, lightweight and economical – and faster. The first thing that strikes you about the MX-5 is its compactness. The car is noticeably smaller and lower than its predecessor, with tiny overhangs at either end. In what is always an aspiration in a sports car, the four wheels really are at the far corners of the car. Mazda engineers have worked hard to get the weight balance right, with a 50:50 split on each axle, and the result is an incredibly tidy package.

Styling is a lot sharper than in the past, with touches that would not look out of place on a BMW two-seater.

The cabin is rather cramped, with the car wrapping around its occupants. It’s no problem to stretch across from the driver’s seat and open the passenger door. You don’t even have to strain. From the low-set driver’s seat – 20mm lower than the outgoing car’s – the eyeline is focussed on the road and the rev counter that dominates the binnacle. Naturally to hand is a stubby short-throw gearstick and, next to it, the handbrake.

The gearbox is wonderfully smooth and natural. That’s lucky, for the 1.5-litre petrol engine puts out 131bhp but has a relatively tame torque curve, with just 150Nm on offer, so you need to change gear quite a bit to get the most from the engine.

Yet that’s something you’re eager to do in the MX-5. It feels a natural part of the experience that you should be flicking that little stubby stick through its gates.

The 1.5-litre is actually faster than the outgoing 1.8-litre, hitting 100km/h from a standing start in 8.3 seconds, while delivering official fuel consumption of six litres per 100km (47mpg) and emissions of 139g/km, reducing the annual motor tax for owners to €280, from €447 for the old version.

Sadly Irish buyers will not be offered the more powerful 2-litre petrol version, which also comes with a limited-slip differential for more cornering fun. That will be on sale in the UK but not here.

Another endearing feature about the rag top on the MX-5 is that Mazda has forgone fancy electric motors and needless electronics: it’s all manual and can be done with one arm. Click a lever behind your shoulder, reach back and pull the little canvas roof forwards, clip the lever in place and, hey presto, you’re dry. It’s simple, idiotproof and faster than any whizz-bang motor can manage.

Direct rivals

Starting at just under €28,000, it’s clearly not a practical purchase, but as a second car it’s so much fun. And it has no direct sport-car rivals in that price bracket.

Mazda has smartly created a niche for the MX-5 and fended off any potential rivals by creating a loyal fan base for the car, one that admittedly hasn’t been active in Ireland for several years.

By now you have gleaned that I’m smitten by the MX-5. Maybe I’m having a midlife crisis. But if at any time you’ve dreamed of owning a sports car, then this is the one you need. For the fun it delivers behind the wheel, the go-kart steering feel, the open-top motoring opportunities and the nippy if never quite racy performance, this is the most affordable sports car on the market.

There are faster cars for the price, and several are far more practical, yet this taut and tidy little package retains a DNA lineage to the glory days of open-top sports-car motoring, the world of MGBs and days spent driving for pleasure and exploring the countryside. But, as it’s a Mazda, you won’t need a mechanic on speed dial.