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Car reviews - Mazda - MX-5 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Unique, fun to drive, cheap to buy and run, reliable, comfortable, good looking, relatively practical, improved functionality, outstanding ride quality, great manual gearbox, auto not bad at all
Room for improvement
Road-noise intrusion (still, especially in Hard Top model), slightly fussier styling, cheapest auto now almost $3000 more expensive

18 Mar 2009

OCCASIONALLY, something comes along that is beyond criticism.

It might be that last truly great pizza you devoured, The Beatles’ In My Life or Guernica by Pablo Picasso.

In the context of it being the sole affordable two-seater convertible sports car, the Mazda MX-5, too, rises high above the mundane, as well as a glib one-liner.

And this is true even when they’ve gone and messed around with the world’s favourite sports car.

Like the latest Porsche 911, Mazda has fitted a stronger and yet more economical and cleaner engine, but is charging only slightly more for the privilege. Great move, we say.

So the MX-5 is now even livelier in acceleration, more responsive in the mid-range, higher revving at the engine’s top end, and just generally sweeter all round.

Some of you may prefer the somewhat weightier feel of the old steering a little more resistance when cutting into a turn would probably be welcome.

But there is no denying that when you are carving up curves at any sensible speed, the latest Mazda roadster has a somewhat slicker and easier feel, with instantaneous turn-in and that same natural fluid motion that the model is loved for.

Lift-off mid corner and the MX-5 will lighten up behind you, and then let go if the DSC stability control is extinguished, but catching the car again is simply a matter of alert driver reaction. Having the DSC switced on will keep all four wheels planted constantly.

The ride quality, too, is outstanding for a tool as sharp as this, while new gearbox coating techniques mean the six-speed manual gearbox – perhaps a tad notchy in the outgoing model – is smooth and progressive.

Indeed, as all models have before the latest update, driver and vehicle meld into one after a while, and when this happens the words ‘magic’ and ‘Mazda’ also come together.

On the Victorian country roads that played host to the revised MX-5, we could not really ascertain if the sound-deadening measures have had much effect, although driving with the Retractable Hard Top up did induce a tiresomely loud drone on the coarse single lane blacktop.

We lived with the previous model soft-top for two years, and its roof-up refinement was never a strong point.

The cabin changes are generally for the better. At last, a driver’s seat height adjuster has been fitted. The console has a new padded jalousie for a more upmarket feel. Door nets and a far-more integrated cupholder design means that knees are no longer fouled, and an AUX-out slot has been fitted beside the power socket.

Compared with the old car, we found the grey metallic-look dash trim clashed with the shinier metallic finishes elsewhere, and we preferred the classier (if more scratch-prone) piano-black finish.

While we’re at it, the more corporate nose treatment is less appealing to our eyes, as is the fussier tail-light treatment.

But these are all superficial, even inconsequential, details. Not for a single moment would any of these sway the buying decision away from the MX-5, especially when the engine upgrade has resulted in such sparkling and usable performance.

The MG TF is gone. So has the Toyota MR2 Spyder. The Alfa Romeo Spider is based on a front-wheel-drive sedan, the rear-driven BMW Z4 and Mercedes-Benz SLK too expensive (and also sedan-based), and that is that.

To match the fun and talents of the MX-5, your next stop has to be the Porsche Boxster, and that costs a cool $70,000 more. So, for this Mazda at least, keen drivers the world over should be eternally grateful ...

Like we said, there are some things that – when considered as a whole – are definitely beyond criticism, and the charming little roadster from Japan is one.

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