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First drive: Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0. Image by Mazda.

First drive: Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0
Mazda, thankfully, hasnít altered the excellent core recipe in updating its MX-5.

 



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Mazda MX-5 RF 2.0

5 5 5 5 5

Taking the need to update its engines for the latest emissions standards as an excuse, Mazda has gently revised the MX-5, subtly improving the offering in places that only existing owners will notice, adding more equipment and technology and, most obviously of all, giving the 2.0-litre engine considerably more oomph and character.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mazda MX-5 RF GT Sport Nav+
Pricing: MX-5 starts at £18,995; RF from £22,595
Engine: 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Body style: two-seat coupe-convertible
CO2 emissions: 157g/km (VED Band 151-170: £515 in year one)
Combined economy: 40.9mpg
Top speed: 137mph
0-62mph: 6.8 seconds
Power: 184hp at 7,000rpm
Torque: 205Nm at 4,000rpm
Boot space: 130 litres
Kerb weight: 1,073kg

What's this?

The new Mazda MX-5, can't you tell? What do you mean you didn't notice that the wheels are now a different colour? Call yourself a car enthusiast? Yes, that's right, the wheel colour is pretty much the only external differentiator for the updated MX-5, but worry not, as Mazda has left well alone for the most part and improved only where thought necessary.

So, the detail updates include better cupholders (I'm not making this up), better adjusters for the seats and better door holding openers (you know what I mean...). There's finally the option to add Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to the MZD Connect touchscreen system, too, and, praise-be, the steering wheel can be moved in and out now (before, it could only be moved up and down). Depending on specification, there's more active safety equipment, including a reversing camera on the top GT Sport Nav+ grade.

Mazda seemingly spent most of the MX-5 upgrade budget on its engines, first of all to get them through the new 'Euro 6d-TEMP' regulations, but then mysteriously discovering a way to make them more powerful, too. The 1.5-litre unit comes in for relatively modest upgrades, as reflected in mere 1hp and 2Nm increases in maximum output (to 132hp and 152Nm), but the 2.0-litre engine has been heavily redeveloped.

Starting at the intake, it's all about increased air flow, with a larger throttle body and inlet valves, a new inlet manifold and reprofiled intake ports. Within the combustion chamber itself, the direct injection system operates at a higher pressure than before and uses a new multi-injection strategy to enhance combustion when the revs are low, but the load is high. The piston crowns have been reprofiled to aid combustion, too, while the pistons themselves are lighter and hold new low-friction piston rings. The pistons are in turn attached to lighter connecting rods, bolted to a redesigned crankshaft that is claimed to cause less friction and be much lighter. On the exhaust side of the engine, there's a quoted 30 per cent reduction in pumping losses, thanks to a high lift profile on the new camshaft, lifting lighter, but bigger exhaust valves. These close larger exhaust ports and the manifold has also been redesigned to accommodate higher flow. Further along the exhaust system, the main silencer has been retuned to give the MX-5 a meatier sound. The final item of note is the addition of a dual-mass flywheel, said to reduce unwanted noise.

Bear all that in mind when you glance at the power and torque figures and realise that they've only been increased by 24hp and 5Nm respectively, as those numbers don't tell half the story. More of which in a moment.

Pricing for the updated MX-5 starts at £18,995 for the convertible model with the manually folding soft-top. It's offered in SE+, SE-L Nav+, Sport Nav+ and GT Sport Nav+ grades. The RF range drops the entry-level SE+ trim (neither is the 2.0-litre engine available in that guise), which explains the higher starting price of £22,595 (representing a £1,800 premium over the convertible). A six-speed automatic transmission is offered on certain 2.0-litre models only.

How does it drive?

We'll cut straight to the 2.0-litre engine, as it's the only significant mechanical upgrade. It performs noticeably better across the whole rev range than before; though, as befits the character of the MX-5, it gives its best the more you rev it. And actually, it encourages you to rev it more than its predecessor did. Cleverly, the high-rev verve naturally tails off just before the rev limiter, so you instinctively change up before hitting it and it's a joyous experience to attack a tight and twisty road using just second and third gears.

As before, the six-speed manual gearbox is a tactile delight, letting you physically feel the cogs engaging, though in an unobtrusive manner. The pedal spacing is nigh-on perfect for heel-and-toe throttle blips with your right foot and the experience is enhanced no end by the firm, reassuring brake pedal and the instant response from the accelerator. This level of engagement, along with communicative and slop-free power-assisted steering, is what you buy the MX-5 for. There are loads of faster turbocharged alternatives on the market for the same price (though not many roadsters, it must be said), but we're happy that Mazda persists with its naturally aspirated engines.

The suspension is the same as before, which means a little more body lean than you might expect from something so sporty looking, but also great control and communication, allowing you lean on its four tyres with confidence, knowing that the car will make it clear if the limits of grip are being approached. This isn't a natural power-sliding kind of car; instead it rewards smooth inputs and well-timed accelerator application with a deliciously subtle rear-led stance on the exit of corners. There really is very little like it at the same price point to attack a wicked B-road with.

Verdict

While we would have always veered towards the 2.0-litre MX-5 anyway, because of its increased performance, the 1.5-litre engine had more personality, but the new 2.0-litre unit is a gem, making it the clear default option in our minds. The other detail changes to the Mazda enhance the appeal of a car that enthusiasts like us love anyway, so job done for the update.

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3 3 3 3 3 Passenger Space

2 2 2 2 2 Luggage Space

4 4 4 4 4 Safety

4 4 4 4 4 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

5 5 5 5 5 Powertrain


Shane O' Donoghue - 31 Aug 2018









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