Now in its fourth generation, the iconic roadster remains true to the 1989 original, combining a compact two-seat body with an earnest four-cylinder engine and engaging dynamics. Subjected to constant tweaks by engineers, the latest model might be the best yet.
There‚Äôs little mystery surrounding the Mazda MX-5. By now, people know exactly what they are getting into – it‚Äôs not going to work for families, business types or even those who want to break lap records.
Traditionally, speed, safety and liveability have sat below driving pleasure in the MX-5‚Äôs list of priorities. But a mid-life update on sale now manages to improve all of those factors for a minor price increase.
Sitting $750 higher than before, the 2019 model year MX-5 range starts at $34,190 plus on-road costs for the base-model 1.5-litre soft-top roadster. Hard-top versions with a more powerful and much-improved 2.0-litre engine start from $39,400 plus on-roads, and better-equipped GT models with leather trim, a Bose stereo and other niceties start from $41,960 in 2.0-litre soft-top trim or $45,960 for a 2.0-litre hard-top.¬†
Fitted as standard with a delightful six-speed manual gearbox driving the rear wheels, the MX-5 is available with a six-speed automatic transmission as a $2000 option. Mazda says the RF GT is the most popular model in the range, with manuals rightfully proving more popular than auto variants.
Every MX-5 now comes as standard with a reversing camera, rear cross traffic alert and autonomous emergency braking technology, making it a safer proposition than before. High-spec GT models add reverse emergency braking, lane departure warning and rear parking sensors.
All MX-5s feature a 7-inch infotainment system with sat nav, Bluetooth and USB connectivity as standard. Unfortunately, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone links are not available yet, but they are on the way as a dealer-fit option set to be available in October 2018.
Smart keys, LED headlamps and a traffic sign recognition systems are also standard across the range, while GT models benefit from goodies including adaptive headlights, an auto-dimming mirror and silver alloy wheels (they‚Äôre black on lower grades).
Mazda backs the MX-5 with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty. Capped price servicing due every 12 months or 10,000 kilometres costs an average of $321 per visit for the first five trips to the dealer.
The MX-5 is an affordable sports car, so buyers shouldn‚Äôt expect to live in the lap of luxury. Recognising that some elements of the ND-Generation roadster were a little too flimsy, Mazda reworked removable cupholders in the new machine so that they don‚Äôt jiggle around excessively.
More importantly, 2.0-litre versions of the latest MX-5 features a heavily revised engine.
Power leaps from 118kW to 135kW, while torque increases from 200Nm to 205Nm thanks to wholesale changes which include a larger throttle body, a new intake manifold and exhaust system, lighter internals, bigger valves and more. The fuel injection system and intake ports were reworked for improved spray patterns, there‚Äôs a new dual-mass flywheel and automatic versions get a lower final drive ratio for improved acceleration.
The choice between manual a canvas soft-top and mechanical folding roof makes the MX-5 unique.¬†
The changes don‚Äôt fundamentally alter the car. This is still a compact roadster with a boot best suited to small, soft bags. Cabin storage is minimal, and there isn‚Äôt a lot of leg room on the passenger side.
But the cabin has been improved by the addition of telescopic steering wheel adjustment. While that might not sound like a big deal, some MX-5 enthusiasts have been waiting for nearly three decades to get comfortable behind the wheel.
This is a welcome change.
Funny you should ask, the MX-5‚Äôs doors have been redesigned to make it easier to squeeze in and out of small parking spaces. While this didn‚Äôt leap off the page as a major development, Mazda says ‚Äúdoor opening and closing has been improved by changing the door checker from a three-stage to a two-stage type‚Ä¶ to hold the doors more securely when they are opened‚ÄĚ.
At risk of stating the obvious, the MX-5 is a tiny, low-set car which isn‚Äôt easy on dodgy hips, knees or backs.¬†
The MX-5‚Äôs tiny boot has 130 litres of storage space, which is around one-third of what you‚Äôll find in a Mazda3 hatchback.
Moving on to more pressing matters‚Ä¶
The new 2.0-litre unit is a cracker. It feels much stronger on the road, with improved mid-range pull, a higher 7500rpm redline and a readiness to chase the top of its tachometer which wasn‚Äôt found in last year‚Äôs model. It sounds better too, with a zinging intensity up high and a more purposeful rumble down low, though engine noise is by no means excessive.¬†
Fuel consumption stands at 6.2L/100km and 6/4L/100km for manual and auto 1.5-litre models, climbing to 6.8L/100km and 7.0L/100km for the 2.0-litre roadster and 6.9L-7.2L/100km for the heavier RF (pictured throughout).
Oh yes – a manual MX-5 is the very definition of driving joy. This little roadster is a deliciously involving, life-affirming and bewitching gem of distilled motoring purity. Perfect control weightings bring instantaneous responses from the steering, brakes and throttle. Changes to the 2.0-litre engine give it the same zest for life as the fizzy 1.5-litre along with the sort of punch required to blast past a Toyota 86 on the track.
The new motor represents a significant improvement over its predecessor, allowing you to extract more from the compact convertible‚Äôs engaging chassis.
It‚Äôs still softer than you expect, with noticeable body roll and a tendency to pitch and squat which helps transfer weight to different corners of the car, allowing the Mazda to clearly communicate its intentions.
Coupled to the best gear change in any machine under $100,000, the MX-5‚Äôs refreshed driveline is a deliciously sweet companion for one of the most involving cars you can buy.
The MX-5 has always been a delight to drive. This new model is one of the best, bringing changes which make it more liveable every day and more engaging when the mood strikes.
Underbonnet tweaks exceeded my expectations – Mazda didn‚Äôt have to go to such extreme lengths re-engineering the roadster‚Äôs engine in the name of driving joy.
But I‚Äôm so glad they did.
2018 Mazda RF GT pricing and specifications:
Price: From $45,960 plus on-road costs
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power: 135kW at 7000rpm
Torque: 205Nm at 4000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual or auto, rear-wheel-drive
Fuel use: From 6.9L/100km