DRIVING MAZDA'S MX-5 IS PURE DELIGHT: ITS ENGINE POWER, STEERING FEEL AND SUSPENSION TEAM UP TO OFFER INCREDIBLE PERFORMANCE
WHAT’S THE world’s best-selling two-seater sports car ever? It’s the Mazda MX-5. The MX-5, which is also known as the Roadster or Miata depending on which continent and country you’re in, celebrated its 25th anniversary last year with accumulated sales of more than 940,000 units.
The MX-5 is definitely the most successful Mazda ever, with cult-like following well-established into the fourth generation.
The new model, which will be introduced in Thailand later this year, features the SkyActiv technology and KODO design treatment like other new-generation Mazda models.
Mazda is pretty excited about the new MX-5, and invited a group of Thai journalists to test-drive the car at its Mine proving grounds in Japan, along with attending the Mazda Asean Brand Forum that seemingly put participants in a state of euphoria.
It wasn’t hard to get carried away with what Mazda executives were trying to explain, and the part on the new MX-5 nailed it perfectly.
Despite being a best-seller throughout its lifespan, the MX-5 was never a souped-up powerful car like one would expect a sports car to be.
Instead, this is a lean, lightweight open-top car that’s been designed to shower you with the joy of driving as a whole experience. It’s how the car handles and reacts to various situations, most importantly maintaining a strong connection with the driver. That’s what the “Jinba- Ittai” philosophy is all about – rider and horse as one.
So don’t be surprised that the fleet of MX-5 cars that awaited us at the Mine circuit are Japan-spec 1.5-litre models (Thai customers will get the 2.0- litre model with automatic transmission). Surely a 1.5-litre car isn’t going to be fun to drive, many would think. Wrong! The 1.5-litre high-compression normally aspirated direct-injection 4pot engine pumps out 131 horsepower and 150Nm and does the 0100km/h in 8.5 seconds with its slick 6-speed manual gearbox before nailing the 212km/h top speed. All this while the average fuel economy is an eco-friendly 17.2km/litre, while CO2 emissions are 135g/km, thanks to SkyActiv technology.
Actually, the great thing about the MX-5 isn’t in the specifications chart. The Mine circuit’s great layout allowed drivers to experience that driver-car connection first hand and, boy, did I enjoy it!
The manual gearbox is definitely more fun to drive here and after driving the auto (which is not SkyActiv and outsourced but does come with sport and blipping function) for two laps, I quickly switched back to the manual.
Drive the MX-5 on a track and you’d quickly understand the benefits of lightweight technology. This car weighs about a tonne (10 per cent lighter than its predecessor), with 5050 front-rear weight distribution (it’s mid-front engined with the whole engine sitting behind the front axle and mounted lower than usual. It also comes with finely tuned steering and suspension that team up to provide you with a car that oozes with driving enjoyment.
The steering weight might be way too light if you’re a first- gen MX- 5 lover, but then you’ll have to stick to used cars. Nevertheless, it is highly communicative, and although the suspension isn’t rock solid, it is still highly sporty in nature.
Lapping the circuit in the MX- 5 was the most entertaining thing on wheels I did this year, and it was amazing how everything worked out just right – the engine power, steering feel, suspension – teaming up to offer an incredible performance.
When driven at the limit, the MX5 is highly predictable, and you are already informed and prepared when counter-steering or easing off the accelerator is required.
The brakes are easy to judge, and the pedal is located close enough to the accelerator for heel-end-toe. Driving the MX-5 fast around the tracks was super fun, and I can imagine numerous MX-5 track days coming up for its owners.
While the first-gen MX-5 was small both inside and out, the latest model continues only half the tradition. The body length has been shortened compared to the third-gen model as well as the first-gen itself, but you’d never feel cramped inside, thanks to the larger cockpit.
The console design makes you think of the Mazda2, which is actually nice if you don’t mind sharing, and I loved the door panel with actual body paint. This makes it look really expensive.
The driving position isn’t bad either, although there isn’t a seat cushion height or steering wheel reach adjustment. There’s also a big bulge in the footwell due to the gearbox architecture, but thankfully it doesn’t interfere with your legs or feet.
The first thing you’ll have difficulty searching here is the glovebox, which isn’t there. This has allowed Mazda to lower the console height and increase passenger legroom. A small cabinet with a lock is provided between the seats, and there’s a tiny storage box on the centre tunnel for placing mobile phones.
There’s not much space in the trunk either, with space enough for two small carry-ons, so just take what’s necessary and help maintain the car’s lightweight status.
The MX-5 will be available here this year and prices for the 2.0-litre automatic should not be much different to the outgoing model, which is in the Bt2.6 million-2.7 million neighbourhood.
It’s a pity that the 1.5-litre model, if imported, won’t cost much less, and Mazda has decided not to offer it here. It would have been my preferred choice.