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

First drive: Mazda MX-5
Lighter than before, and more brilliant than ever, Mazda's evergreen roadster is a delight.

   



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Mazda MX-5

5 5 5 5 5

Mazda has gone back to the roots of the MX-5 formula for the fourth-generation car, making it lighter and more compact than the previous generation. With perfect 50:50 weight distribution and a focus on driving fun, the new car is sure to be a huge success; our drive in a 1.5-litre model leaves us wanting more.

Test Car Specifications

Model tested: Mazda MX-5
Pricing: from 18,495 to 23,295
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Body style: two-door, two-seat roadster
CO2 emissions: 139g/km (VED Band E, 130)
Combined economy: 47.1mpg
Top speed: 127mph
0-62mph: 8.3 seconds
Power: 131hp at 7,000rpm
Torque: 150Nm at 4,800rpm

What's this?

Mazda's fourth incarnation of the MX-5 roadster, which was first launched back in 1989, and for this new car the Japanese company has gone back to the drawing board. In that this car is light and nimble, on the first score actually being the lightest MX-5 since the Mk1. In 1.5-litre guise, as tested here, it weighs as little as 975kg, which is remarkable considering the additional equipment and technology the car now features.

It looks appealing, chief designer Masashi Nakayama and his team doing a grand job of maintaining classic MX-5 cues yet not merely evolving the shape of the Mk3. Its dramatic, curving flanks, ultra-short front overhang with a low nose and 'cut-off' rear corners give it plenty of presence, although a back end that is vaguely reminiscent of the Jaguar F-Type is our least favourite angle. Overall, though, we'd have to say it looks great, and there are seven colours to choose from - Soul Red metallic (540) is well worth having.

Inside is very snug, as the occupants have been moved 15mm closer to the centre line of the car. Even by two-seat roadster standards, this is a cosy cabin and it's best to be in it with someone you know reasonably well. It's also not the most impressive of Mazda's recent cockpits on the aesthetic front, but in terms of ergonomics it's fabulous - especially the driving position, as you sit 20mm lower and everything ahead of the driver is arranged symmetrically around that wonderful, thin-rimmed steering wheel, in order to make you feel the centre of attention. Another few clever tricks are sculpted tops to the door cards that funnel air into the cabin without messing up the hair of those within and a boot that, while 20 litres smaller than the Mk3's cargo area, has been reshaped to accommodate two carry-on suitcases; something the older car could not achieve.

Trim levels in the UK will be SE, SE-L, SE-L Nav, Sport and Sport Nav, with 16-inch alloys, LED headlights, air conditioning, USB and iPod connectivity, a leather steering wheel and gear knob among the toys on SE cars. At the top, Sport versions have such luxuries as adaptive front lights, 17-inch wheels, leather seats, rear parking sensors, keyless entry, a Bose sound system and (on 2.0 models) Sports suspension and a limited-slip differential too. Finally, there are two engine choices, this 1.5-litre, 131hp SkyActiv engine or a larger 2.0-litre from the same family, which makes 160hp. Both are paired to six-speed manual transmissions and the cost of having the extra 500cc is 850; it brings with it a one second reduction in the 0-62mph time, plus moderately increased fuel consumption (40.9mpg) and CO2 emissions (161g/km, VED Band G). However, as we'll come to see, 131hp might be all you'll ever need...

How does it drive?

The short fabric roof is still a manual affair, but the extensive use of aluminium in a lot of the MX-5's construction extends to its structure, so raising it and lowering it is a one-handed experience. But you'll want the roof down. Because then you can listen to the glorious, unfettered engine blare of the 1.5. It's by no means a quick car, if you're used to huge forced induction thump, but actually, what with it only having to shift a tonne around the place, it's peppier than you might imagine. The engine loves to rev, with the redline moved out to 7,500rpm thanks to the use of a lighter crankshaft and pistons, and it remains a sweet, willing unit at all times.

It is also mated to one of the finest manual transmissions we've had the pleasure of shifting round the gate. Mechanical in feel, but never clunky, there's a delicious positivity to the throw and a really pleasurable feeling in slotting home each ratio. It's also pretty cleverly geared, sixth being a 1:1 direct drive to allow for reasonable cruising. And with supple suspension, it has a stunningly comfortable ride for something light with a short wheelbase.

But of course, an MX-5's forte has always been cornering and this one is no exception. The 1.5 features a little more roll than the 2.0-litre car, but that pliancy simply allows it to utilise more of its grip. The electric power steering on the Mazda also deserves the highest praise here, because as modern set-ups go it's among the very best - so direct and faithful, you know exactly what the front tyres are up to. There is some understeer to work around as a safety measure, and with just 150Nm of torque it needs some provoking to get the rear axle into the game, but there's a general neutrality to everything the MX-5 does that's just wonderful. Yes, the 2.0 adds a welcome extra surge of acceleration into the mix, but as it doesn't sound quite as crisp as the 1.5, and as the 1.5 feels so all-of-a-piece, unusually for us we'd have to recommend the smaller engine. It's sublime.

Verdict

Our first taste of the all-new Mazda MX-5 has left us salivating. Delicately balanced, full of character and with a lovely, rev-happy engine, this roadster has gone back to the basics that so delighted us when it first appeared more than 25 years ago. It's dynamically better than ever, which is a huge accolade to foist on a car that has always been brilliant, and we can't wait to try UK market examples back on our own tarmac. If it performs as well here as it did in the south of France, it should prove beyond doubt that it's the clear class-leader - and one of the best modern sports cars there is - once more.

4 4 4 4 4 Exterior Design

4 4 4 4 4 Interior Ambience

3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 3.5 Passenger Space

4 4 4 4 4 Luggage Space

5 5 5 5 5 Safety

5 5 5 5 5 Comfort

5 5 5 5 5 Driving Dynamics

4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 Powertrain


Matt Robinson - 20 Jun 2015



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2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.

2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.



2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.
 

2015 Mazda MX-5. Image by Mazda.
 






 

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