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Car reviews - Mazda - MX-5 - Roadster Coupe Sports

Our Opinion

We like
Such sweet balance, torsional stiffness, communicative hydraulic steering, mechanical gearshift feel, comfy Recaro seats
Room for improvement
Getting pricey, tight cabin space, not particularly well-equipped, engine is sweet but lacks low-end torque, no more soft-top option!

Gallery

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Mazda logo30 Apr 2013

Price and equipment

HERE we test the flagship Coupe Sports variant, which retails for a smidgen under $50,000 before on-road costs ($49,885).

The list of standard equipment is a little sparse, here the MX-5 shows its age – the lack of Bluetooth connectivity and a USB input rankles especially.

Standard features on all variants include 17-inch alloy wheels, body-coloured power mirrors, a chrome exhaust tip, cruise control, drilled aluminium pedals and footrest, silver seat-back bars and leather seats, steering wheel, gearshift knob and handbrake handle.

Also included is a 200-Watt premium seven-speaker Bose sound system (no touchscreen) with a six-disc CD stacker, auxiliary input (3.5mm MP3 player-compatible) and steering wheel with audio and cruise control switches.

The flagship Coupe Sports variant we’ve driven adds Recaro seats and aftermarket BBS alloy wheels.

Interior

IN SHORT, rather snug and sparse, but with wonderful Recaro seats and spot-on ergonomics.

It almost seems remiss to commence this review writing about the cabin and equipment, because the MX-5 is unequivocally about the drive.

Yet here we are. The instrument panel is largely unchanged since 2005, and while everything is within easy reach and a cinch to operate, it’s starting to look a little dated. Large friendly dials and buttons are a boon on bumpy or twisting terrain.

Being taller than most, your correspondent had to contort and squeeze into the tight two-seater cabin. Once ensconced, we found a distinct lack of kneeroom and headroom. There’s no steering wheel adjustment, but we still found a comfortable driving position.

Still, those compact interior dimensions make for a slightly claustrophobic cabin, and the tiny side mirrors don’t help external visibility

Storage is in short supply, with a small cubby between the seats and a tiny boot, but handy touches like the decent centre console and door-mounted cup-holders add some relief.

The steel folding roof is only semi-automated, with the driver required to release a latch above the rear-view mirror.

Engine and transmission

UNDER the bonnet is a rev-happy 2.0-litre normally aspirated petrol engine, producing 118kW at 7000rpm and 188Nm of torque from a high 5000rpm.

A recent facelift saw Mazda adjust the throttle management in manual models, supposedly rendering the car more responsive when accelerating out of corners – though engine outputs are unchanged.

With small turbo engines fast becoming ubiquitous, it’s almost refreshing to experience the linearity of an engine such as this. Good thing the six-speed manual gearbox is a delight, because you’ll be working it.

We also found the pedal box a bit crowded, with the clutch pedal too close to the brake pedal, something we imagine could cause accidental left-foot braking when preparing to reach for another ratio.

To get the best from this little port injected engine, you need to grab it by the metaphorical scruff of the neck, but doing so rewards you with a sweet little howl. it’s simple and rather basic, but a lot of fun.

The MX-5 has never been a firebrand, but as purists will tell you, this has never been the point. At 1167kg, the Mazda is still relatively lithe (even though there is no longer a lighter fabric roof available – which we reckon is a crying shame).

Because of its rev-happy ways, the claimed combined fuel consumption figure of 8.1 litres per 100km proved hard to attain.

Ride and handling

HERE we go.

THE ageing MX-5 may have fallen behind in cabin presentation, but there’s almost nothing at this price point – or any, for that matter – that can match the purity and joy the little Mazda gives on a twisty road.

With top down, wind in hair, and sporty steering wheel in hand, its almost fun enough to forget the sparse equipment list, tight knee-room and lack of outright pace.

As ever, the little MX-5 combines a rigid body with a perfectly balanced rear-drive/front-engine configuration.

Hydraulic steering systems are rare as hen’s teeth these days, as manufacturers ditch them for frugal electric versions. But the upside of the old-school version still used in the MX-5 is the communication between the wheels at the front and the one in your hand.

Always a highlight of the Mazda, the steering remains razor sharp off-centre and full of feel, while remaining averse to kickback over mid-corner bumps and ruts. It almost feels alive.

The rigid body remains free of scuttle shake over corrugations, helping body control, and it’s a breeze the tail kick out mid-corner with some lift-off oversteer – not that you’ll want to lift off the throttle in a car so dependent on maintaining momentum.

We also found the ride from the all-round independent suspensions to be on the right side of harsh, and the road noise more subdued than usual for this sort of vehicle.

We don’t discount the possibility that the road noise is merely drowned out by the large amount of wind noise entering through the metal roof, however.

Safety and servicing

ONLY four airbags are fitted (two front and side) because there isn’t room for curtain bags overhead. There is no ANCAP or Euro NCAP score for the current generation.

ABS brakes, stability control and Limited Slip Diff are standard (LSD on manuals only), while good roadholding makes it easier to avoid a collision in the first place.

Mazda Australia has ditched the slow-selling fabric roof, and while we reckon this takes away some of the purity and character of the car, it’s safer from the prying fingers of crims.

Service intervals are every six months or 10,000km, which is fairly regular for the modern age. Unlike most volume brands in Australia, Mazda does not offer capped-price servicing, meaning service costs may vary from dealer to dealer or state to state.

Mazda provides a three-year/100,000km warranty, and a 24-hour roadside assistance scheme is available.

Verdict

NO LONGER an absolute bargain, but the MX-5 remains an utter joy the hurl around a twisty road.

Until the topless Toyota 86 emerges, the Mazda is still the car of choice for regular, wind-in-the-hair diehards.

Rivals

Toyota 86 coupe.
, From $29,990 plus on-road costs.
, Yes, it’s not a roadster, but like the MX-5 offers superb dynamics courtesy of its light weight, rear-drive layout and balance – all for $20k less than the Mazda. If you don’t mind a fixed roof, it’s hard to look past (same goes for its Subaru BRZ identical twin).

Mini Cooper Roadster.
, From $37,500 plus on-roads.
, Front-drive, but still a hoot. Not to mention uber-chic Mini styling. The ride is hard as nails, though, and ultimately not as rewarding as the more pure MX-5.

Data

MAKE/MODEL: Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe Sports
, ENGINE: 2.0-litre normally aspirated petrol
, LAYOUT: Front-engined, rear-wheel drive
, POWER: 118kW @ 7000rpm
, TORQUE: 188Nm @ 5000rpm
, TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual
, 0-100km/h: Approximately 7.6 seconds
, FUEL: 8.1L/100km
, WEIGHT: 1167kg
, SUSPENSION: Double wishbone (f), Multi-link (r)
, STEERING: Hydraulic rack and pinion
, BRAKES: 290mm ventilated disc (f)/ 280mm solid disc (r)
, PRICE: From $49,885 before on-roads

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