|Mazda MX 5
New Version Of The Classic Roadster Hits The Spot
Cute As A Box Of Puppies, Drives Like A Dream
New Engines, Better Suspension, More Space, Improved Safety
***** out of 5
The success of the MX-5 since it was introduced in 1989 nearly 725,000 cars sold is still an uncomfortable reminder to us British of the wasted, shredded heritage of our once formidable car industry. The British invented the affordable, rear-wheel drive two-seater sports car. The first MGs appeared in the 1920s, developing into the beautiful TF which finally died in the 1950s. The frog-eyed Austin Healey Sprite took over the baton in the late 1950s, which was badge engineered into the MG Midget. But the concept crashed and burned in the 1970s, thanks to well-documented incompetence and bloody-mindedness.
Mazda has redesigned the car from the ground up, but it is still obviously an MX-5. It is a little bit bigger in almost every way longer, wider, higher, with a bigger wheelbase. The extra width allows side-airbags for the first time. Many components are now made of aluminium, including the bonnet, the boot lid, upper and lower suspension control arms and suspension parts.
Among many other detailed improvements, the engine has been moved back slightly and the fuel tank moved forwards to improve the car’s balance. The boot capacity has been marginally increased. More noticeable changes include engines now 1.8 litre/126 bhp and 2.0 litre/160 bhp 4-cylinders compared with the old one’s 1.6/110 bhp and 1.8/146 bhp. Acceleration times are a bit better, while claimed average fuel consumption is improved too.
Watch Out For The Moment Of Inertia
Inside the car, the instruments are clear and well sited, and you are seriously close to the ground. The snug cockpit seems to wrap itself around you and the gear-lever and controls feel almost as though they were designed for you personally. The seats grip you in all the right places. Mazda has come up with some clever little details for storage there are three cubbies situated in the wall behind the seat. There are bottle holders in each door and cup-holders in the centre console.
The body has been subtly changed and you can see hints of the bigger RX-8 at the front and rear. Switch on the engine and let the fun begin. Driving the cars on the windy roads inland from Padstow in Cornwall was terrific. The steering is lightning quick and direct. The new suspension, developed with a little help from the RX-8, does a fine job. The five speed gearbox on the 1.8 model and the 2.0’s six-speeder is slick and fast. The power on the 1.8 is OK, and you need to rev it and use the ‘box to make it go, but this is not supposed to be a tyre-squealer of a car so the performance is fine. The 2.0 was fast enough, if a bit noisy when pressing on. A nice noise though.
Balanced Driving Machine
Mazda has improved the car’s ability for passengers to enjoy hood-down motoring by designing the air vents better, to make sure warm air reaches the parts of the body most affected by the weather. I can attest to the success of this, as the test drive took place with fearsome looking frost on the ground in the Cornish countryside, with the roof off.
Not Much Competition
I hate to fall back on manufacturers’ blurbs when summing up the qualities of a car, but just this once I’ll fall back on Mazda’s claims.
“The new Mazda MX-5 is an affordable, fun to drive roadster with harmonious proportions and no unnecessary frills,” says the company.
This car will glide effortlessly out of the showroom, without even the hint of an incentive or price cut, for a while at least. Oh to be an MX-5 dealer.
Neil Winton December 1, 2005
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