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Car reviews - Mazda - MX-5 - convertible range

Launch Story

Mazda logo9 Sep 2005

By MARTON PETTENDY

IT has become a modern-day icon in its own right and forged a legion of followers worldwide.

So when time came to build the third-generation Mazda MX-5, company engineers had to be mindful of not messing with a formula that had proven a success worldwide.

That said, only the side repeater lamps have been carried over from the old car and Mazda’s Hiroshima-based designers have tried to remain true to the essence of a true rear-drive sportscar that has seen more than 720,000 MX-5s sold world-wide and more than 11,000 sold in Australia since launch in 1998.

Feedback from customers had indicated they wanted more space and an improvement in quality and performance but little else.

Importantly, the newest sportscar, at 1105kg, is just 4kg heavier than the old car but bigger in every respect, including passenger room, as well as being stronger and safer.

The wheelbase is up 65mm to 2330mm, while the car is 20mm longer (3990mm), 40mm wider (1720mm) and 20mm higher (1245mm).

It is also significantly stronger with a 22 per cent improvement in stiffness and 47 per cent increase in tortional rigidity.

Engine size is up from 1.8-litre to 2.0-litre and delivers more power and torque – 118kW at 6700rpm and 188Nm at 5000rpm.

The car’s 50/50 weight balance has also been maintained.

The double wishbone front suspension carries over and for the first time the rear setup is mult-link while Australian-cars gain 17-inch alloys in place of the 16-inch wheel package offered in other markets.

The handling package is rounded off with larger front and rear disc brakes and a more linear power steering system with 2.7 turns lock-to-lock.

The bigger engine trims a zero to 100km/h sprint to 7.8 seconds, down from 8.4 seconds for the old car.

Mazda claims modest fuel consumption improvements from 8.9L/100km to 8.5L/100km for the manual and from 9.5L/100km to 8.8L/100km for the auto.

Equipment upgrades now include side airbags complementing the dual front airbags, a limited slip differential on the manual, 17-inch alloys, cruise control, six-stack CD stereo, steering wheel mounted audio controls and tilt adjustable steering.

2005.09.09_MX-5_Montage.jpgSupplementing these features are anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, seatbelt pretensioners, anti-whiplash seats and brake pedals that minimise intrusion into the cabin.

The folding soft-top has also been simplified, featuring a Z-fold design with one centrally located latch release.

Mazda Australia claims mechanical upgrades and equipment improvements are worth at least $3800, yet the new 2.0-litre is just $977 more than the superseded 1.8-litre model with optional air conditioning fitted.

With a price of $41,860 for the six-speed manual with air conditioning – the six-speed auto adds $2175 - Mazda confidently says the new car represents better value for money than the outgoing model.

An optional hardtop is $2940.

The car’s appeal will be broadened by the addition of the auto, called Activematic, which has wheel-mounted gear change paddles as well as a tiptronic function on the gearshift.

Initially Mazda will offer 250 Limited models for $45,620 as part of the launch strategy.

The Limiteds, of which only 3500 will be built worldwide, will be individually numbered with red leather interior and the choice of three colours.

Managing director of Mazda Australia, Doug Dickson, said the current car was averaging 40 sales a month but he expected the new arrival to boost sales to 140 a month for the next 12 months and then level out to average 40 a month.

Mr Dickson said many buyers were expected to opt for the leather pack option, with about 5 per cent adding a hardtop.

Like previous generations, the MX-5 is expected to be principally bought by males with an average age of between 35 and 49.

Mazda spokesman, Alastair Doak, said although the addition of the automatic was an unknown, he expected it to gain a popular following.

Mazda initially expects 20 per cent of buyers to go for the auto but Mr Doak said this "could be significantly more once people realise how good it is".

Program manager for the MX-5 Takao Kijima has ruled out a turbo version, saying the Japanese concept of "jinba ittai" - horse at one with the rider - meant any turbo lag, once an issue in many turbocharged vehicles, did not fit with the car’s overall concept.

Nor did he see a hardtop coupe version of the MX-5, at least in the short term.

Mazda chief, Doug Dickson, said the MX-5 defined the brand and "lifts it above the clutter".

Sales this year are running 17 per cent ahead of last year and the company has recorded increases for 10 consecutive months, partly due to the Mazda3 and Mazda6.

Mr Dickson has forecast 2005 sales at 65,000 vehicles, which will deliver a 6.6 per cent market share for the company.

"We are not convinced we can maintain our lead over Mitsubishi, given the arrival of the 380, but we are ahead of Honda and Nissan," he said.

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