Mazda MX-5 review: Fun re-born
Today renowned as serial innovators, Mazda and other Japanese manufacturers built their formidable reputation for good design and exceptional manufacturing quality standards by copying others but doing it better and less expensively.
That’s the way it was when Mazda’s little MX-5 sportscar was introduced a quarter of a century ago. Our own first acquaintance with this long-time massive seller came just before the car’s launch onto the eagerly waiting US market.
It was 1989 and Mazda had flown a small group of UK journos to California to road test the then new 323 compact family saloon.
As a special treat, they whisked us discretely to the depths of a massive e quarry where a solitary bright yellow prototype MX-5 was waiting for us. As it was not yet officially on the market, we were not allowed to take it out on the open road but spent an exhilarating afternoon taking turns rocketing it up and down a precipitously zigzagging gravel track through the quarry,
The group gave the zesty little roadster unqualified 100 per cent approval.
From its cute retro styling to its handling and performance, here was a gem in the spirit of the MGs, Austin Healey’s, Triumph and other iconic small British convertible sportscars of the 50s and 60s – but built properly.
By 1989, the classic small roadster idiom was all but dead. And that’s when the Mazda people astutely recognised a big gap in the market and promptly filled it with the MX-5, about which Jeremy Clarkson once commented: “If you want a sportscar, the MX-5 is perfect. Nothing on the road will give you so much fun”.
Forward to the present. Those cutesy, rounded lines having suffered one too many jibes of: “Nice, but it looks like a hairdresser’s car”, the designers decided that for its latest incarnation the MX5’s lines would flow in a different more aggressive way.
What was once a pretty, softly feminine car, with all that implies, has become a handsome, sharp-edged more masculine offering – more akin to a cutthroat razor than a ladyshave, and owing more to Lotus influences than to any of the above mentioned marques that had been the inspiration for the original..
The fourth generation MX-5 has changed in other ways too, Where simplicity was once master – you simply climbed in, turned the key, out the gas pedal to the floor and whipped up and down the gearbox – now it has as many technological gimmicks and didgery-do's as the rest.
It’s a pure two-seater, with an uncomplicated and reliable four-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol engine mated to a slick six-speed manual gearbox and it really is “all new” – chassis, bodywork, engine, transmission, bodywork, the full Monty, with dealer forecourt prices ranging from £18,310 to £23,155 depending on trim choice.
It’s low-slung and the cabin is tight – but, surprisingly, thanks to its wide opening doors and cleverly placed cut-outs in the foot-well trim, we found it easier to get in an out than with a lot of higher standing small and medium sized vehicles.
Once ensconced behind the fat rimmed steering wheel, we felt truly at one with the car. The ride is quite hard, communicating every imperfection of the road surface directly through the seat of your pants – but that’s the price you pay for limpet-like roadholding.
Unusually, it’s smaller than its predecessor, and 100-kg lighter too. And it goes like a rocket, with a delightfully rorty exhaust note announcing its presence when pushed.
here’s also an advantage to its being small and low-slung: you get a far greater impression of speed – which means your driving can be fun without having to put your licence in danger.