Mazda MX-5 is one car that has endured. It emerged 16 years ago and
despite the ‘purists’ who kept likening it to a Lotus Elan (the
first model), it has defied early skeptics and is probably even more
popular today as it was in 1989. Do not forget that it is the
best-selling two-seat sports convertible in history.
Having had one of the 1995 models as a daily drive
car, it was hard not to fall totally in love with it. It was cramped,
the seats were dreadful, it really did not have enough power, but it
was a ‘drivers’ car. A vehicle that just delivered fun, was
totally bulletproof, and kept its resale value amazingly. After three
years I sold it when I moved to Thailand, and I still miss it.
It has now gone into its third guise, and I
wondered if Mazda had managed to retain that ‘fun’ element, which
had made the previous models so entrancing. GoAuto in Australia would
make me believe that it has. Their take was that the third-generation
MX-5 has more performance, better handling, more comfort and more
safety, yet it hasn’t watered down the charm of the 1989 original.
Rather, it’s enhanced it.
The various models have stuck very closely to the
original 1989 concept. The MX-5 was virtually unchanged until 1997.
There were some limited edition models and a larger 1.8 liter engine
in 1993 but the essence of the car remained – a stylish, soft-top
two seater. In March 1998, the all-new second generation two seater
arrived with new sheetmetal and no pop-up headlights. In October 2000,
the MX-5 was tweaked a bit more - given a new front bumper, bigger
alloy wheels, subtle head and tail-light changes and a power increase
courtesy of variable valve timing. And now we have the 2005 model.
According to GoAuto who tested the new MX-5 in
Australia, it is an entirely new model (apart from the side indicator
repeaters apparently), and almost all the things considered less than
perfect in the second generation MX-5 have been dealt with.
The car is bigger in every dimension than the
Series II MX-5, yet Mazda says the weight is up by just 4 kg. The boot
is bigger than the previous MX-5 by four percent, achieved by ditching
the spare wheel and replacing it with a repair kit. Record one black
mark for Mazda’s latest sports car.
The new 2 liter MX-5 alloy engine is more compact
and weighs less than the previous 1.8 liter but the increase in
horsepower and torque is not much. With 118 kW at 6700rpm it’s only
up by 5 kW, while the torque increase is equally conservative, going
from 181 Nm at 5000rpm to 188 Nm at 5000rpm. Like the previous engine,
it uses twin overhead camshafts with four valves per cylinder, along
with variable timing on the inlet valves, which combines with the
variable inlet manifold to maximize torque spread.
The transmission choices include a six speed manual
and a new six speed sequential auto, complete with steering wheel
paddle shifters, that is sure to be a hit in the new car (though I
still do not like paddle shifters).
new larger body has a bigger cockpit but in base form it still sports
velour seats and a simple instrument layout that doesn’t even
include a trip computer.
Mazda has given driver and passenger more room to
stretch and breathe (10 mm more legroom and 17 mm more headroom), and
the A-pillars have been moved back and re-angled to improve vision,
while the gearshift and brake continue to sit where they easily fall
to hand. The wider body means less for shoulder room than it does for
safety, for it has allowed the standard fitment of side airbags, as
well as improved side-impact protection by the body itself.
The new folding rag roof is still manually
operated, but the process is simplified by a single, center-mounted
fastener above the windscreen rail.
The new 2 liter four-cylinder, consistent with
previous MX-5s, is far from being a rorty, punch-in-the-back
powerplant, but it does enjoy a bit of a wind-out and develops a
distinctly throaty note as it winds towards its 6700rpm red line.
The 5000 rpm torque maximum indicates it might be a
high-strung engine, but the torque curve is such that 90 percent of
the maximum is available from 2500rpm. This means that once past
2500rpm – and even a little bit before - the engine feels nicely
throttle-responsive and well matched to the six-speed transmission.
The MX-5 delivers a satisfying accelerative surge,
helped along by the short and tight shifter mounted high on the
transmission tunnel. The only problem experienced with our test car
was a decided baulkiness shifting from first to second when cold.
Even more significant, and maintaining a
well-earned tradition, the third-generation MX-5 remains a
beautifully-balanced driver’s car. Its center of gravity is lower
than before, and its neutral handling has improved to the point that
the MX-5 is best in its class. Without the face-saving luxuries of
electronic stability control, or automatically adjusting shock
absorbers, the MX-5 simply points ands steers like a sport car should.
And the brakes, always nicely capable in the MX-5,
are always assured and comforting with standard ABS along with
electronic brake-force distribution to maintain a solid grip even on
It’s not easy to convey in words the pleasure of
spending time behind the wheel of an MX-5 on a winding, dipping road
with the roof lowered. But this is a car that really imprints itself
on you and engenders a fondness that borders, with time, on obsession.
Just ask the many multi-MX-5 owners of first and second-generation
cars who are growing misty-eyed at the arrival of generation three
(and I am one of them).
The only real disappointment with the new MX-5 in
the GoAuto experience was that the seats, though generally fine,
weren’t up to long-distance driving and induced back pains after
more than two hours at the wheel.
And that is how the Down-under testers saw the new MX-5.
Undoubtedly Mazda have yet another winner on their hands!