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Car reviews - Mazda - MX-5

Our Opinion

We like
Small changes add up, smile-inducing performance, value for money, steering, gearbox
Room for improvement
Still noisy with the cloth roof up, small boot

Another model-year update adds power, value to Mazda’s marvellous MX-5

Mazda logo14 Sep 2018

Overview

 

MAZDA has gone model-year-update crazy in 2018. It has introduced running changes on all of its model lines this year, and the MX-5 has just had its second refresh since March.

 

The first update ushered in safety and spec upgrades as well as suspension and chassis improvements.

 

This time around the big news is a power and torque boost for both engines, and some small improvements in the cabin and even more safety gear.

 

What impact have these running changes had on the already lovable MX-5? Keep reading to find out.

 

Drive impressions

 

The fourth-generation, ND MX-5 was a smash hit for Mazda when it launched in 2015.

 

Mazda built on the principles of the original by reducing weight compared with the heftier third-gen model, and offering it with a pair of high-revving engines and a balanced chassis that made the rear-wheel-drive sportscar thoroughly enjoyable to drive.

 

About three years later Mazda tweaked the chassis and suspension, and now it is rolling out another 2018 update.

 

Little has changed with the design, save for some new wheel covers across the board, and a reversing camera embedded into the centre rear of the car, just below the bootlid.

 

The camera isn’t that noticeable unless you are in a white car, then you can’t miss it. It’d look better sitting just above the license plate, but Mazda says it had to go in the middle due to US regulations.

 

The reversing camera is standard across the board and is displayed via the 7.0-inch MZD Connect infotainment screen.

 

Inside the changes are pretty minor. It has more robust sun visors, a thicker seat adjustment handle and for the first time, reach adjustment for the steering. Hoorah!

 

But the big news inside – well, it’s not that big, but it is an important change – is the improved cupholders, with Mazda making changes to the gaps and mounts to make them less flimsy.

 

The Roadster and RF GT now also gain rear parking sensors. The MX-5 is small and therefore pretty easy to park without these features, but they provide added peace of mind. Smart move.

 

Pricing is up by $750 for each variant but Mazda says the added features exceed that amount. The ND MX-5 has always been pretty good value and the additions have improved that value further.

 

Aside from some extra active safety gear, Mazda has squeezed more power and torque out of its two four-cylinder SkyActiv-G petrol engines.

 

The 1.5-litre unit – also found in the Mazda2 and CX-3 – only gains 1kW/2Nm to output 97kW/152Nm.

 

We did not get a chance to drive the 1.5L at the media launch, so we will focus on the 2.0L here.

 

This unit has been beefed up by 17kW/5Nm, to 135kW and 205Nm, and it has a new redline of 7500rpm, up from 6800rpm.

 

The first variant we sampled on our launch drive from Coolangatta Airport down to Cabarita Beach in northern NSW was the RF GT, which is what Mazda reckons will be the best seller in the MX-5 range.

 

After sliding into the driver’s seat, we tested the improved cupholders with some tall and heavy water bottles. Happily, they are better and more robust than before. It’s the little things that count.

 

On the road, it is difficult to notice the difference the extra grunt makes. A back-to-back comparison would likely determine whether the extra power and torque have had much of an impact.

 

Regardless, the 2.0-litre unit makes for some seriously fun driving.

 

Plant the foot and you’re rewarded with sprightly response, and while it’s not as instant as say a turbocharged engine, it’s an absolute hoot.

 

It’s a joy to shuffle through the beautifully calibrated six-speed manual box and rev the engine out to its redline of 7500rpm, which we got very close to.

 

Mazda says it has tweaked some bits under the bonnet for a better aural experience from the engine. Again, it’s difficult to tell without a direct comparison with the old model, but it doesn’t really matter because it sounds delicious. Especially with the roof stowed.

 

We jumped in the rag-top Roadster 2.0 GT for a spin and found the driving characteristics much the same as the RF. Which is no bad thing.

 

The MX-5 has a firm ride, which is expected of a small rear-wheel-drive sportscar, but it’s never jarring.

 

And it helps the car’s exceptional road-holding abilities.

 

Punting the MX-5 through the twisty roads around the Queensland and New South Wales border is smile-inducing stuff.

 

It has loads of grip, sticking to the road without skipping, although it was a little tail happy on loose gravel during take-off, but that was also intentional on our part.

 

The steering is as direct as can be, and it is perfectly weighted. Not too heavy but with the exact amount of feel and connection to the road.

 

In terms of the drive experience and the overall package, there is very little to complain about.

 

It’s noisy with the cloth roof up, but that’s to be expected, and the boot is small. That’s about it.

 

There is a reason the ND MX-5 garnered so much acclaim when it launched. It offers one of the most enjoyable drive experiences of any car – regardless of price or badge – on the market today.

 

It won’t be for everyone. Some people might need the pull of a big V8 or the zing of a turbo, but the sheer number of MX-5 owners around the world should be proof enough that it is a modern classic.

 

The changes Mazda has made might not seem like much, but added up, it just helps to improve an already exceptional offering.


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