Motors: New Mazda MX-5 not a car for heavyweights

The new Mazda MX-5 eschews evolutionary design for a punchier shape.
The new Mazda MX-5 eschews evolutionary design for a punchier shape.
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THIS is true. Driver has a second-­hand Mazda MX-5 for several months and wonders why she sees others which are convertibles.

Her son takes it in for a service and mentions this. The Mazda technician presses a button and the hard-top folds out of sight.

Prices for the new Mazda MX-5 start at �18,495 for the 129bhp 1.5SE, which achieves 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds.

Prices for the new Mazda MX-5 start at �18,495 for the 129bhp 1.5SE, which achieves 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds.

The MX-5 programme ­started in 1989. Its idea, nicely achieved, was to emulate the front-engined, rear-wheel drive British two-seater which was going out of favour because of crash safety legislation in the US. Mazda’s hunch, and execution, was correct. It soon became the world’s best-selling two-seater sports car and, fittingly, the latest is in the shortlist of six for the Euro­pean Car of the Year title, announced next March at the Geneva show.

Over the decades it evolved gradually, provoking interest and debate on the styling changes. Now there’s a new MX-5 which eschews evolutionary design for a much different shape which marries elements of a Porsche Boxster, various Ginettas and TVRs to give a blunter, punchier look.

A Mazda video shows a chap in a miles-from-anywhere house checking the fridge. He grabs the keys to his blood-red Mazda and has a pleasant drive, roof down, past forest, dam and desert to a gas station and bait shop. Must be the States, then? He buys a single carton of milk and departs for his cabin. The Mazda promo tag is “Reasons to Drive”. Or: a damned expensive quart of milk? He should get a memo pad on his fridge.

Well, I was OK for milk but had to go and see a man. It was darkly daylight and raining as I snaked up the valley road, roof down, spray blowing clear of the cabin. A chap in an open Caterham overtook and roared away. Half an hour of splashing later I arrived at the hamlet in the dale and got a lift in a convoy of 4x4s and pick-ups (all Nissan Navaras) up a rocky track to a shooting hut on the high moor. The plan was to hunt grouse with falcons, quickly thwarted by gale force winds carrying rain and sleet.

Back to the Mazda, this time keeping the hood up – and it felt rather better – tighter, less affected by the shabby surfaces and ridges, easier to drive plus vite, to borrow a phrase from the Smallbore Bar at Les Bras d’arbre à Cames.

This fourth iteration is the shortest, lowest and widest. It is also 220lb lighter, which ­affects the composure. It now weighs about a ton. There are double wishbones at the front but multi-link locations at the back – perhaps a compromise. Gears are six-speed manual.

This time the hood is just that. There’s no hard-top folder at the moment. Nor is there electric power for the hood but you don’t need it. The opening and closing can be done from the seat. Unclip the roof tensioner on the screen rail, pull the roof back and push it down behind the seats until a click tells you it is flat and secure. To raise it, pull a latch on the bulkhead and raise the hood until it engages with the front tensioning catch.

However, you need reasonably long arms and strong shoulders to do all this without getting up from your seat.

There’s an adage that by the time we can afford a sports car we are too old for them. I started young but they are no longer an everyday thing and the rigours of getting in and out of the tight Mazda cabin were early reminders of, well, changes. Happily, the lowering, twisting and rising became easier after a few days but the experience requires some suppleness. It’s not a car for heavyweights.

Another thing is dazzle from oncoming vehicles – made more likely because of your lower seat position. Whatever, mostly it’s a charming car.

The modern instruments are white on black, with the rev counter in central spot. The navigation screen (where fitted) is freestanding. There is a proper handbrake and the steering wheel adjusts for height but not reach. At low speed I could hear the whine of the wiper motor, which I’d want fixing. I’d also ask about the rear parking brakes, which briefly stick after being parked overnight.

Prices start at £18,495 for the 129bhp 1.5SE. It is rated at 47mpg, 139g CO2 and 0-62mph in 8.3 seconds. Torque is a modest 110.5 lb ft at 4,800rpm, so it needs revving hard. The other engine is the 158bhp 2-litre­ with a more useful 147.4 lb ft, again peaking at 4,800 revs. It is rates at 40.9mpg and 161g. Prices start at £20,095 for the SE-L. All gearboxes are six-speed manual: no automatic, nor any diesel engines.

Tested was the 1.5 litre Sport Nav, at £22,445 plus £540 for the pearly white paint. It has navigation, 16-inch dark alloy wheels with 195/50 Yokohama Advan Sport tyres, seat heaters, Bose audio lost in the roar, adaptive front lights, auto wipers, rear parking bleepers, lane departure warning, keyless entry, black leather seats.

Once my body had adapted to the cabin space it was an agreeable car. There is a decent amount of luggage space (no spare wheel) for shopping or a touring holiday and the folded hood doesn’t impinge on the space.

The engine benefits from Mazda’s economy system called Skyactiv which uses larger capacity, high compression engines instead of smaller turbo units. In my hands, it averages 43mpg to 45mpg and a merry 48mpg on my “commuter” test of city, motorway, suburban and country roads.

Verdict: I liked it.