You will notice a few things about the Mazda MX-5. It’s easily dwarfed by most cars in a parking lot. Sitting in its bowels, your eyes will come level with the tail lights of a modern-day Mercedes E-Class. And no worries when on the move… you can still yack normally with the person next to you without the wind drowning out the dialogue when the soft top is down.
Not bald? Then, the other thing to note is your hair won’t get mussed up if your head stays below the wind-breaker called the windscreen. And that should account for most people unless one is sized like (the late) Richard Kiel.
This toyish-looking roadster from Hiroshima is something of a legend, a driver’s car of a certain repute. Now in its fourth generation, it is stirring up emotions again.
Mazda MX-5 hits millionth mark
This little car’s existence was inspired by the first Lotus Elan of the 1960s and other small sports cars of that era. Mazda got the form and emo-driving formula right in most ways and since then, has seen the cheeky little roadster that could, conquer the world. Known as the Miata in the United States and Eunos in Japan, it’s just MX-5 everywhere else.
From the get-go, the MX-5 was built for driving pleasure and happy endings. And for more than twenty years, it has managed to stick to this calling - growing into a star in its own right. Over 950,000 MX-5s sold worldwide since 1989 is sheer validation, making it the best-selling roadster of all time. Along the way, it has also picked up the 2015 Car of the Year Japan award.
What has changed in the new MX-5? Plenty. The latest Mazda 2-seater is lighter, more rigid, more powerful, yet more fuel efficient, faster and safer than before. Thanks to smart packaging, it’s even shorter than the original, with more cabin space and a deep boot, adequate for two people.
One must admit that the current sports car delivers on beautiful proportions – starting with its low, short front overhang to a compact cabin that places the occupants in the centre. The body panels wrap around to extend right into the door trim, dissolving the visual boundaries between the vehicle’s interior and exterior and creating an open-feeling interior design.
The MX-5 features a more aggressive face that’s modernised with LED headlights and matched with revised rear sporting LEDs as well. Round tail lights are retained in a classic throwback.
The cabin design shows purpose with instrumentation that are kept to a minimum so as not to distract from the business of driving. Nothing is out of place and the interior doesn’t come across as cheap. There’s a refined and subdued elegance to it, complemented by leather aplenty. Typical of sports cars is a centrally located rev meter in the dial cluster. Like the rest of the Mazda stable, the big screen infotainment display is affixed to the dashboard and is simple to operate, with controls on the sporty steering wheel to adjust settings. There’s no glove box to speak of, but a shallow central console box and another bigger compartment in between seats serve as space to tuck away small items. The Bose stereo system, which includes speakers in the headrests, delivers audio with good clarity.
Safety gear is certainly superior to those in average cars. The MX-5 gets four airbags, anti-lock braking, stability and traction controls, lane departure warning, high beam control and adaptive headlights.
The key to making the MX-5 an inherently good drive is its lightness. Weight reduction came in various forms, small and big. Aluminium is extensively used except for the doors and windscreen frame. Engineers made thinner seats and lightened other components like the air-conditioner, headlamps, gearbox, suspension, brake discs...well, you get the drift. Even the canopy is lighweight and you could easily open or close the top with a single-arm motion.
Get in and it feels like the MX-5 wraps around you as you sit closer to the rear axle than the front. While getting in is easy, exiting requires more effort. That’s part and parcel of roadster ownership.
The 2.0-litre SkyActiv engine isn’t muscular by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s poky enough for a one-tonne car with 158hp and 200Nm on tap.
The powerplant is responsive, routing power to the rear axle via a six-speed automatic transmission, which adds a blipping function and Drive Selection for a sporty sensation.
Step on the power, and you will quickly find grip is prodigious in this hunkered-down car. It’s hard to unhinge it. Induce oversteer by piling enough power and speed into corners and the back wheels will give way progressively without nasty surprises.
The canvas top succeeds in muffling out much of the external noises, but engine and exhaust notes are never far from earshot. At the risk of sounding risqué, go topless on a breezy, cloudy day, and the MX-5 is in its element while allowing you to revel in a bit of exhibitionism.
Hear the engine sing as you pile on the speed. It’s when you are pushing the envelope that you come to appreciate how well the MX-5 behaves as a point-and-shoot projectile with a very engaging steering and feedback. Build up speed in the straights and the car feels like it was born to run and gallop as far as the fuel tank will take it. You could drive it like a city runabout and it will readily comply, but where’s the fun in that?
At RM227,000, this Mazda isn’t cheap, but if you are the type who digs open-top motoring in the tropics and have the wherewithal to indulge in it, the MX-5 is an education in driving pleasure. Enough said.