WHEN Mazda’s lovely new MX-5 sports car arrived in showrooms last August it was forgiven a modest 1.5 litre engine because its all-round ability and charm largely masked any performance shortfall.
Less is more, we critics declared, and loaded the MX-5 with praise. And some predicted the promised 2.0 litre alternative to be launched later might be too much of a good thing.
Now the more powerful 2.0 is on sale too and it’s definitely not too much. It hasn’t overwhelmed the MX-5’s sweet nature, but enhanced it with extra oomph to exploit its reserve of cornering ability.
The local line-up of the fourth-generation, ND MX-5 is now complete. It comprises the choice of 1.5 litre (96 kiloWatts) or 2.0 litre (118 kW) engines with manual or auto transmissions and Roadster or GT Roadster equipment specifications. It’s DIY rag-top only.
The 1.5 is priced from $31,990 plus on-roads and the 2.0 from $34,990. GT specification adds $6000 to the 1.5 and $5060 to the 2.0, while auto transmission is $2000 in all cases.
A quick recap of MX-5 history is appropriate here:
Seeking to provide a modern, mass-market lightweight roadster in the spirit of the departed Austin-Healey Sprite, Triumph Spitfire and Lotus Elan, Mazda introduced the MX-5 to Australia in October 1989.
The three generations preceding the new ND were bought by almost 20,000 Australians and worldwide the MX-5 became the most popular sports car ever. But inevitably as the car aged it became bigger, heavier, pricier and lost some of its edge.
With the ND, Mazda achieved a near-miracle in automotive terms by designing a car that is shorter, lower, roomier, safer and more powerful, yet also lighter and priced around $18,000 less than its predecessor and close to the 1989 original.
Uncommonly, it’s clung tightly to first principles of sports car design: light weight and balance. With the use of aluminium in what Mazda calls a “gram strategy” of detailed weight reduction, the 1.5 MX-5 weights 1009 kilograms, the 2.0 1033 kg.
The engine is mounted close to the centerline between front and back wheels so weight balance is an ideal 50:50, ensuring neither end is more prone than the other to step out of line during fast cornering. This is evident from behind the steering wheel when the MX-5 darts through corners with perfect poise.
The 1.5 MX-5 having been reviewed here at its launch, this article is about the additional 2.0 litre version and the six-speed auto transmission, which is offered on all variants but wasn’t available to try initially.
That’s especially relevant, as Mazda says the 2.0 litre automatic GT Roadster, the most expensive version at $41,550, is expected to be the biggest seller.
A final verdict will wait until the cars have been driven on home ground rather than on a hurried launch event, but the 2.0 litre’s extra power and torque were certainly a better package on Victoria’s undulating Great Alpine Road.
The MX-5 is about fun rather than outright speed, but the 2.0 allows the car to better maintain its momentum through the hills. When you have to slow (a little) for an alpine bend, the bigger motor hauls to the exit with more vigour. It also holds on longer uphill.
The auto gearbox, with fingertip paddles behind the steering wheel, might not seem a natural choice for a car of this nature. However, it’s fast-changing and easy to use, many will appreciate its simplicity and younger drivers may find it more familiar.
Apart from an upgrade from 16 inch to 17 in. standard wheels, the 2.0 is virtually unchanged from its less powerful sibling. Only the most common electronic safety items are fitted, allowing the driver a delightful and unimpeded experience.
Unsurprisingly, the MX-5’s rediscovered cheerfulness, simplicity and affordability are attracting younger buyers. What started in 1989 as a youth machine had become by the end of Gen 3 a choice mostly for over-45s.
Now popularity is swinging back to under-30s. Interestingly, Mazda says many of these are inner-city dwellers who don’t need a daily driver and can afford to have just a weekend toy.
I can’t imagine one better than the MX-5.