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Driven: Mazda MX-5 2.0. Image by Mazda.

Driven: Mazda MX-5 2.0
With stiff suspension and an LSD, how does the Mazda MX-5 fare on UK roads?

   



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Mazda MX-5 2.0

4 4 4 4 4

Good points: largely successful styling, impressive interior, excellent handling.

Not so good: feels like the 1.5-litre model is the one Mazda prioritised.

Key Facts

Model tested: Mazda MX-5 2.0 Sport Nav
Price: starts from 18,495; 2.0 Sport Nav from 23,295, car as tested 23,835
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: rear-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Body style: two-door, two-seat roadster
CO2 emissions: 161/km (Band G, 180 VED annually)
Combined economy: 40.9mpg
Top speed: 133mph
0-62mph: 7.3 seconds
Power: 160hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 200Nm at 4,600rpm

Our view:

The fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 has burst onto the scene to (largely) rapturous applause. Aside from a few committed-to-the-core driving zealots who find its responses a bit woolly near the absolute dynamic limits, most have praised the company for going back to the basics that have made the MX-5 the best-selling roadster the world has ever seen - nearly a million of the things sold in a quarter of a century is a record other manufacturers would give their right arm for.

So, unless you're a full-on track-day enthusiast or clubman racer, the MX-5 Mk4 seems destined to be another showroom winner. In fact, the only thing you need to decide is whether you want the 131hp 1.5 model or the more intense 160hp 2.0, as tested here. After our first drives overseas, we couldn't pick between them. However, time in the 2.0-litre Sport Nav has finally settled our minds.

Until the recently announced Recaro Sport model, which is simply a styling exercise dressed up as a limited edition, this was the MX-5 flagship - and as a result, it comes with practically everything loaded into it. There are just four options: any of the mica, metallic or pearl paint finishes cost 540; Mazda's Soul Red signature hue is a little more expensive, at 660; sand leather for the cabin would be 200; and a Safety Pack of driver-assist aids costs 350. Therefore, at the absolute most, an MX-5 2.0 Sport Nav would weigh in at 24,505, which is less than most C-segment hot hatchbacks these days.

Amid the heated leather seats, auto lights and wipers, keyless entry and go, premium Bose nine-speaker sound system and rear parking sensors, however, are the most pertinent bits of specification for the driving types. The Sport Nav gets a limited-slip differential on the rear axle and sport suspension with Bilstein dampers. Linked up to the more powerful Skyactiv-G engine, this should be the car for diehard enthusiasts.

And, for a few people, it probably will be. There's no doubting it feels considerably quicker than the 1.5, not just in a straight line, but because the rigid body control afforded by the Bilstein shocks, coupled to the grip the LSD can provide. Both equate to much higher cornering speeds. In turn, that means the 2.0 is closer (in terms of revs) to its lofty peak power and torque when exiting onto a straight, so it feels rapid when you get it into a flowing groove on a nice, twisting A-road.

The gearbox is just as sweet as the 1.5's, the wonderfully linear steering is one of the best modern set-ups you'll encounter and as a supplement to the high levels of road-holding, you can feel so much of the car's weight transfer that you spend most of the time working the rear axle to adjust the attitude of the car, rather than the steering. By any stretch of the imagination, as a road car in which you can use a lot of the performance for much of the time, the 2.0 Sport Nav is going to please a lot of buyers.

And yet, we would definitely advocate the 1.5 as the best MX-5 of the pair. As the Mazda is refreshingly honest, there's no 'mode select' driving button to alter the suspension settings, so the ride is noticeably busier on the motorways in this Sport model than it is on the 1.5-litre car. The 2.0-litre engine is also a gruffer unit, not as keen to rev (it delivers peak power a whole thousand rpm lower than the 1.5) and nowhere near as alluring in terms of voice as the smaller petrol lump. Mazda has tried to compensate by fitting a louder exhaust to the 2.0, which has an appeal all of its own, but there's a crispness to the 131hp unit that we adore.

Finally, of course, the 1.5-litre model is cheaper. You can get an 1.5 SE-L Nav, which has much of the kit you'd want in a lightweight roadster like this, for 19,845, and it'll probably be a bit easier on fuel too; on that note, we saw around 35mpg from the 1,000kg 2.0-litre, although we'd at least concede that most of its driving was conducted off the motorways.

The long and short of it all is that we love the new Mazda MX-5, in all its forms, but we think if you're after the purest, Jinba Ittai experience that the car can provide, go for the smaller engine. And it's not often we say that.

Alternatives:

Audi TT Roadster: the cheapest way into TT ownership is 28,915 for a 1.8 TFSI Sport front-wheel drive manual, which is a stylish choice... but not as good to drive.

Nissan 370Z Roadster: another rear-wheel drive Japanese open-top with nothing like the delicacy of handling of the Mazda. Because of its additional power, it's more expensive to boot.

Toyota GT86: similarly lightweight, similarly rear-wheel drive, but not a roadster and it's more costly than the Mazda, although it's slightly more powerful too.


Matt Robinson - 27 Nov 2015



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