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Car reviews - Mazda - MX-5 - Roadster 1.5L

Our Opinion

We like
Sublime handling package that doesn’t intimidate, astonishing value
Room for improvement
Umm… maybe a whisker too soft in suspension tune

Gallery

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Mazda logo9 Dec 2015

Price and equipment

The new car isn’t just a little bit cheaper than the outgoing car – it’s a whole lot cheaper, and brings the MX-5 into a range of a new generation of buyers. Our base-model 1.5-litre costs a mere $31,990 plus on-road costs compare that to the cost of the final NC model at $47,290 plus on roads. That’s a reduction of more than 32 per cent.

Even the top-spec car, the 2.0-litre powered GT, is less than $40,000 in base form. An auto adds $2000 to the base price.

For the money, the base 1.5 Roadster is sparsely equipped. Aside from all the basics like power windows, air-conditioning, cruise control, a six-speed manual gearbox and a soft-top roof, there is nothing in the way of technology to speak of, not even a set of reversing sensors (which we’d stump up the required $415 for the tiny rear overhang makes parking difficult to judge).

MZD infotainment-equipped cars – the GTs, basically – can be fitted with a $485 rearview camera.

Mechanically, the MX-5 does come equipped with a limited slip diff, while its heavily revised SkyActiv 1.5-litre petrol motor sports a die-cast engine cover just because it’s nice to look at. We love that.

We also understand the basic spec level. The ND has been on a crash diet to improve its dynamics (even the handle to adjust the seats has been made thinner to save weight), and blunting that fight for weight savings with a nine-speaker stereo system seems almost rude… The important parts – the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shapely gear shifter, not to mention the well-shaped cloth-covered seats and perfectly placed pedals – are spot on, though.

Interior

There's not a lot of room in the diminutive MX-5, but Mazda has done an excellent job of maximising space for both the driver and the passenger. At 187cm and 110kg, this tester had his doubts that he'd actually fit in the car... but those fears were unfounded.

With the roof in place, the driver's seat needs to be cranked back to prevent contact with the roof, but there is more than adequate leg room, and there is sufficient space for arms and elbows to operate the surprisingly normally sized steering wheel, which is only adjustable for height, not reach.

The six-speed gear shifter, too, isn't quite as short and stubby as the original, but it has a wonderfully precise, stiff and fluid action that encourages its frequent use. Pedal placement is spot-on for the almost ancient art of heel-and-toe shifting, too, though the clutch could be a mite heavier and more precise.

In terms of day-to-day practicality, it's unreasonable to expect a two-seater soft-top to excel, and the MX-5 is guilty as charged. Two occupants aboard is more than fine, adding a bag to the cabin stretches the friendship, while any suitcase larger than carry-on size will need an alternative form of transport.

There are a small number of compartments aboard, including a deep lockable bin between the seat backs. A pair of cleverly designed if slightly flimsy modular bottle holders work well enough, and it's possible to stash a phone behind the gear lever, but that's about it.

Engine and transmission

At 96kW and 150Nm, the injected 1.5-litre engine is… well, small. Consider, though, that it’s only pushing 1009kg around (91kg less than the NC), and the number makes more sense. Mazda claims a fuel economy number of 6.1 litres per 100 kilometres, but we saw around 7.9L/100km, which was still good enough for about a 500km range from a 45-litre fuel tank. The reason for our poor economy number? A very heavy right foot…The engine is a familiar one in the Mazda fold, but it has been thoroughly redone for its longitudinal life under the bonnet of the MX-5. A freer-flowing exhaust, a 4-2-1 extractor system and an easier-breathing air filter releases some horses and adds to the MX-5’s invigorating medium-timbre growl which, amazingly, sounds almost identical to that of the original NA.

The in-house six-speed manual is backed by a mechanical limited slip diff, while the steering has gone electric, for both fuel economy and weight savings.

Ride and handling

Where do we begin? Even in its final bloated NC hardtop form, there were still remnants of the beauty and simplicity of the original MX-5 concept in the way the car keyed into the road and flowed around corners.

In the ND, the clock has been wound back 30 years to the unfettered joy of that first MX-5, itself a throwback to cars like the Lotus Elan. Light under the fingers but so communicative and playful, the MX-5 is a willing companion for experienced and novice drivers alike. The sense of connectivity with the road is astounding, and the ‘lack’ of power is no hindrance in most circumstances.

A relatively soft spring and damper tune, combined with 16-inch rims and 195/50 Yokohama Advans, gives the MX-5 a playful, forgiving nature, and it also allows the car to be driven in civilisation in complete comfort. This is not a tied-down track special in any sense.

The steering feel is off-the-chart good, and not just for a $30,000 car. It’s so communicative and feelsome. but without massive amounts of artificial weight being loaded in for simulated ‘feel’. If this is the future of electric steering, we’re sold.

The relationship between all three pedals allows for easy heel-and-toe work, and brake feel is excellent, too.

Safety and servicing

The little MX-5 has not yet been tested by ANCAP, but it received a four-star score from Euro NCAP, let down by a lack of electronic safety aids like lane departure and the like, though the safety body praised it for excellent pedestrian impact safety.

Mazda offers a lifetime capped-price service arrangement and costs $295 per service.

Verdict

What a blast. What. A. Blast. This little car is such a ray of talented sunshine.

Out of the box, its manners and its attitude are so close to spot on, it’s not funny. Delicate steering, engaging balance, a plum driving position, a willingness to be pushed right to the very edge in complete safety and comfort, all underpinned by a civility that allows it to be easily used day to day… the MX-5 can hold its head high, and deserves to be a smash sales success.

Our tip? Buy the base 1.5 manual Roadster car with a couple of key spec updates (like the reversing sensors) to personalise it. It keeps the price and weight low, and you get a beautifully rendered, delightfully simple roadster that will make your heart sing every time you shoot through a back country bend.

Rivals

Toyota 86 GT from $29,990 plus on-road costs
It's the closest in price and in sentiment a sweet rear-drive manual with a small-capacity naturally aspirated engine. While you get the practicality of a hatchback, you miss out on the wind-in-the-hair experience.

Mini Cooper from $27,750 plus on-road costs
Again, close in price and not a million miles away in sentiment. Lacks the intimate feel and innate on-road ability of the MX-5, but is still a hoot to drive in its own right.

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