Thursday 29 September 2016

Back to basics as little MX-5 shines through

Mazda roadster is smaller and lighter

Published 22/11/2015 | 02:30

Brisk: Mazda Roadster.
Brisk: Mazda Roadster.

Don't bother listening to the weather forecast. Check with me. If I'm booked in to test a small, two-seater roadster, it is going to be wet and windy. It seldom fails.

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It was so bad this time I wasn't able to let down the hood of the little Mazda MX-5 once during the entire period of the test. Not once.

I know the car is made for summer driving and clear, open roads and it would have been nice to get a few hood-down hours.

But it didn't matter that much, I suppose. Well, it did, but what's the good in whingeing about it?

In a way (I'm getting all philosophical now), it served another purpose. It forced me to concentrate on the car not the surroundings or prevailing conditions. And that brought its own perspective.

This is so unmistakably MX-5. It certainly brought back memories of two decades ago when things and times were different.

This does the same thing. It gets back to basics in many ways - it is smaller, shorter and lighter - but taps big-time into current technology, too.

The cabin is tiny, yet it was OK for me. The real discovery was how low it sat. My tall daughter and I laughed several times at how much wriggle and effort we had to expend to just get out of it, especially if we had a bag or briefcase.

But we were not cramped in it and I was more than happy with the positioning of the pedals and the ease of change with the 6spd manual transmission.

It was a strange sensation to hear so much immediate noise from the outside; the roof is reasonably well insulated but you still hear a lot more than in a hard-top. It made everything that bit more immediate.

The major players, of course, are the chassis and driving. It has such a low centre of gravity, you feel the tarmac is only a few centimetres from your bottom. Yes, you notice bumps and, yes, there is a distinct sensing of every crevice and road noise can be quite intrusive at times.

But that is what makes it fun in the first place. This is what roadster driving is supposed to be about. It's supposed to let you enjoy the primacy of contact and motion.

I worked the gears quickly to get up and maintain a high level of revs because that's where it felt best on the test routes I chose.

As well as that, the engine sounded wonderful as I pushed up the tempo. The tone and response just seemed to get better the harder I drove it.

The electric steering had excellent weight and even though the rear felt like it might ease out a little under a bit of pressure on a couple of really tight corners, it never did, giving me that little bit of edge I look for in a drive like this.

I said to myself several times in the course of the drives that there would be something wrong if one couldn't enjoy the briskness and agility of this two-seater - regardless of the prevailing weather conditions. I suspect anyone who gets behind the wheel would have to admit that.

However, I wouldn't buy it in the off-white/light grey colour of my test car. I think it decidedly detracted from its looks.

I'd advise you to opt for the red. It seems to me to be a more natural colour for the MX-5.

By the way, the manual lightweight fabric roof only takes seconds to open or close.

But with so much wind and rain it just wasn't worth the effort or the risk of a dousing.

It is hardly worth mentioning and I'm sure you presumed as much: but the boot is tiny.

And so, I look forward to re-visiting the MX-5, please God next year when I hope they bring in a hard-top version.

You never know: maybe the fact it's a hard-top will change my roadster-weather luck.

Facts & figures

Mazda MX-5 soft-top roadster. 1.5-litre 131PS, 6litres/100km, 139g/km, road tax €280. Top speed 204kmh; 0-100kmh 8.3 seconds.

My side of the road

I was fascinated to note the options joggers took with the parked SUV (not mine) on the footpath. On average, every second one opted to go roadside rather than trot through on the kerb. It was wet, windy and dark; a few were not wearing hi-viz vests. Dangerous decision on a badly-lit, busy road. Why would anyone choose the road when the path was available? Beats me.

ecunningham@independent.ie

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