Belfast Telegraph

Friday 18 April 2014

High five to the Mazda MX5

The new Mazda MX5

My first acquaintance with Mazda’s pert little MX5 roadster came in the depths of a Californian quarry, back in 1990.

I was in a group of motoring scribes who had been flown out to America fir the launch of the Mazda 323 hatchback – remember that one?

As a rare treat, a handful of us were whisked to a secret location for a sneak preview of the sportscar that had not yet been unveiled to the public but that was destined to become the biggest selling car of its type in motoring history.

That prototype MX5, finished in a bright canary yellow, could not have been more conspicuous. Consequently, we were not allowed to take it out onto the open road. Our test drive was constrained to hurtling up and down the quarry’s zigzagging dirt service road, but we all realised from first turn of the steering wheel that here, hailing from Japan of all places, was the successor to all those iconic little rear-wheel drive British open-top sportscars of the previous decades. Mazda had joined the MG, Triumph, Austin-Healey pantheon.

As they evolve, long-lasting models have a habit of getting bigger and changing their appearance. For example, put the original Vauxhall Astra or Renault Clio or Ford Ka next to the current cars bearing those names and there is little visual connect. The MX5, on the other hand, has grown old very gracefully and the visual changes down the years – to bodywork and cockpit alike – have essentially just been cosmetic.

Of course, it’s a different matter when it comes to the mechanicals. You can now have a snug, secure folding metal roof that raises and lowered in just a few seconds and, what’s more, stows away in its own neat compartment behind the seats to leave a totally separate and capacious luggage hold – a much better arrangement than is offered by most of its burgeoning list of competitors. It means sacrificing rear seats but such vehicles were never intended as a family transport solution.

Build quality is high, as you’d expect from Mazda and, though it’s no hot-shot, my two-litre test car had plenty of oomph.

Here was classic pin-sharp steering and firm suspension to make for a point and squirt adrenalin rush – though the speedo confirmed I wasn’t going near as fast as the compact size, low seating and all my slick gear-changes seemed to make me think I was. Here are thrills without undue risk of spills – it’s more fun at 50 than a Porsche at 70.

Things I didn’t like? Well, high sills and a low roofline made getting in and out a chore while clutch travel was rather long, making it difficult for me to find a truly comfortable driving position.

Running costs and insurance are reasonable while purchase prices ranging from £18,495 to £21,795 are affordable.

Some dismiss the MX5 as being a hairdresser’s car – that’s selling it short for even serious sporting drivers can find plenty of enjoyment once settled in the reassuringly hip-hugging seats. The MX5 is also available as a soft-top and with a smaller – 1.8-lite engine. Avoid the automatic version – having the car do the work for you rather negates the point of the thing.

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