The latest iteration of the Mazda MX-5 compact two-seater sportscar has won more than 65 major international awards, including the prestigious European Red Dot “Best of the Best” award, which recognises exceptionally ground-breaking design, the UK Car of the Year, and the 2015-2016 Japan Car of the Year.
The fourth generation MX-5, coded ND, was first seen in Australia with a 1.5-litre engine hooked up to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. Now a 2.0-litre version has been added.
With either engine it comes in two variants – Roadster and Roadster GT, with the 2.0-litre version rolling on 17-inch alloy wheels, as opposed to the 1.5’s 16-inch, and sporting daytime running lights. The new 2.0 was the subject of our latest test.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, so the saying goes, and the MX-5, with its 27 years of winning ways, is no better example of this. While paying homage to the MX-5 roots – the British open-top sports car of the 1950s – the new MX-5 had to be true to the latest styling theme that has been so successful for current models in the Japanese brand.
Designers were told to come up with proportions that would, short of plastic surgery, make occupants stand out and look good, especially with the top open and windows down.
The front and rear overhangs are some of the shortest on the market; the cabin was moved slightly to the rear to match the position of the occupants’ heads, and the hip point of the seats lowered in conjunction with the new design’s low centre of gravity.
The new rear design, with its U-shaped rear combination lamp cluster and round tail lamps, hark back to previous generations of the MX-5.
Apart from a few hi-tech touches, the layout is plain and simple and is aimed at giving the driver real open-top sportscar pleasure. The steering wheel and three-meter cluster are on a single axis directly in front of the driver, while round air-conditioning vents flank the meters, aimed at the driver.
The meters, all trimmed with satin chrome rings, consist of a large analogue tachometer in the centre, a speedometer on the right and an information display on the left. The tacho and speedo feature vertical zero position needles; the water temperature gauge covers a higher temperature range to support spirited sports driving.
Of two interior leather options, black represents pure sportiness, while the Sport Tan presents a luxury character with good looks. Metallic finish is used on air-conditioning control dials and steering wheel spokes to attract the eyes or express rigidity.
New Mazda MX-5 connects with the latest technology via the Commander control on the centre console, or by using voice commands. Mazda’s MZD Connect provides hands-free phone and can be used for text messages. It can read aloud the latest tweets in the owner’s Twitter feed or the latest Facebook news feed, and allows ‘like’ Facebook entries or posting of audio messages using the Shout function.
With standard six-speaker, or a nine-speaker Bose premium sound system, in addition to standard AM/FM radio, and in conjunction with smartphone apps, it also offers access to Aha by Harman, Stitcher and Pandora.
The satellite navigation system, with smartphone connected, can also search for destinations and display the weather on route and live traffic.
ENGINES / TRANSMISSIONS
Initially landed Down Under with a 1.5-litre 96 kW four-cylinder engine, this latest model has picked up a 2.0-litre four-cylinder 16-valve DOHC motor putting out maximum power of 118 kW at 6000 rpm and maximum torque of 200 Nm 4600 revs. Much more in tune with the Roadster ethos.
Torque has been substantially increased at low to mid-range engine speeds when compared to the 2.0-litre engine from the previous model. The engine, according to the maker, also delivers fuel consumption of 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined urban / highway cycle.
MX-5 has recently been given an ANCAP five-star safety rating. The use of high-strength steel and ultra-high tensile steel around the centre of the cabin, along with high-strength aluminium in the front bumper beam reduce weight while achieving greater strength around the cabin area.
Front and side airbags are standard across the MX-5 range, while active safety includes Dynamic stability control, Anti-lock Braking with Electronic Brake-force Distribution, Emergency Brake Assist, Emergency Stop Signal and Hill Launch Assist.
The MX-5 is by no means a perfect vehicle. With the fabric roof up it’s a matter of doubling up to get into the car; once in, there‘s no guarantee occupants can make themselves comfortable, so limited is the space. However, Mazda designers have done their utmost to mitigate occupant cramping.
The steering wheel and its surrounds deserve a special mention. With a diameter of 366 mm, the steering wheel features a sharp, compact look, three slim spokes coated in satin chrome, and a grip covered in black leather with red stitching
The grip and rim are designed to enable quick, precise steering wheel operation when negotiating winding roads by providing easy hand-over-hand action and a smooth form that lets the driver slide their hands along the wheel’s surface.The switches mounted inside the left and right spokes are recessed so as not to interfere with steering operations
Likewise the manual gearshift knob which features a bulb-type design fits in the hand well and provides a pleasingly light feeling to shift operation.
Pedals can sometimes be a problem in smaller cars. Their position in the MX-5 has been improved, with the clutch pedal moved 15mm to the left and the distance between the brake and clutch pedals increased by 19mm. The accelerator pedal is adopts a hinged organ style that moves along the natural path of the driver’s foot to provide finer control.
Ride-wise, the car and some road surfaces do not get on so well with the stiff suspension bumping along and the tyres singing out loudly. Handling, on the other hand, is outstanding, as you would expect from a traditional lightweight sports car.
The finely-tuned engine note makes up for the shortcomings with varying sounds across all engine speeds designed to match the style of driving.
The fabric top is spring loaded, reducing the force required to raise the roof almost by half when compared to the previous model. As a result, the top is much easier to open or close in a few seconds.
Despite a few niggles, Mazda once again has delivered on a compact open-top two-seater with a perky engine, rear-wheel drive, 50 / 50 front-rear weight distribution, grippy handling at an affordable price. If that’s your bag, what’s not to like.
AT A GLANCE
MX-5 1.5 Roadster: $31,990 (manual), $33,990 (automatic)
MX-5 1.5 Roadster GT: $37,990(manual), $39,990 (automatic)
MX-5 2.0 Roadster: $34,490(manual), $36,490 (automatic)
MX-5 2.0 Roadster GT: $39,550(manual), $41,550 (automatic)
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact your local Mazda dealer for drive-away prices.
17in alloy wheels
Anti-lock Braking System
Dynamic Stability Control
Electronic Brake-force Distribution
Emergency Brake Assist
Emergency Stop Signal
Hill Launch Assist
LED headlamps and tail-lamps
7-inch full colour touch screen display (MZD Connect)
AM/FM tuner, Auxiliary-audio input jack
Bluetooth® hands-free phone and audio capability
Internet radio integration (Pandora, Stitcher and Aha)
Multi-function commander control
Premium Bose 203 watt amplifier and speakers
Leather seats, steering wheel, handbrake lever
SPECIFICATIONS (Mazda MX-5 2.0 litre Skyactiv-G petrol Roadster)
Capacity: 1.998 litres
Configuration: In-line 4-cylinder 16-valve DOHC direct-injection petrol
Maximum Power: 118 kW @ 6000 rpm
Maximum Torque: 200 Nm @ 4600 rpm
Fuel Type: Petrol 95 RON
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 6.9 (7.1) L/100km
CO2 Emissions: N/A
DRIVELINE: Six-speed manual / six-speed automatic, rear-wheel drive
DIMENSIONS, WEIGHT AND CAPACITIES:
Length: 3915 mm
Wheelbase: 2310 mm
Width: 1735 mm
Height: 1230 mm
Turning Circle: 9.4 metres
Kerb Mass: 1033 (1057) kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 45 litres
Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Solid disc
Three years / unlimited kilometres