Tuesday 12 December 2017

There may be faster cars but few are as much fun as the new Mazda MX-5

Capturing the spirit of the iconic original, the new lighter MX-5 is simply a delight to drive

CLASSIC: A pure roadster drive experience and open-top driving at its very best
CLASSIC: A pure roadster drive experience and open-top driving at its very best
Geraldine Herbert

Geraldine Herbert

Summer is officially over, the kids are back to school and it looks like rain for the next eight months. So when an invite popped into my inbox to drive the new Mazda MX-5 convertible in Barcelona I had donned the Grace Kelly scarf and the oversized shades before I had time to hit the return button.

In our unquenchable thirst for sunshine and the open road, convertibles are the epitome of cool and since the first generation's arrival in 1989 the MX-5 has attracted a loyal following for its smart styling, beguiling character and affordable cost and it has become the world's best selling sports car.

The new fourth generation MX-5 is the lightest version since the iconic original weighing nearly 100kg lighter and is shorter, lower and wider. According to Mazda the designers focused on the five key criteria that define the MX-5 - rear drive with a front-mid engine layout, 50/50 weight distribution, an eagerness to change direction, a low kerb weight and affordability.

With its sharper and aggressive silhouette, large gaping grille and slim headlamp clusters it's a really striking car and a serious head-turner. Even with the roof closed its elegant modern lines garners attention from all directions and lets be honest, isn't everyone who opts for a convertible an attention seeker at heart?

Underneath it gets a brand new rear-wheel drive chassis and a very impressive 1.5 petrol engine that manages to outperform the previous 1.8 in everything from performance to economy. A 2.0 litre SKYACTIV-G petrol alternative, with 118kW (158bhp) of power and 200Nm of torque that comes with a limited-slip differential will be available in the UK but not here.

Inside you'll find MZD Connect, Mazda's advanced infotainment system, with a seven-inch touch screen operated by a centrally located commander control. Quality throughout is much improved and it is far more comfortable to sit in for long journeys than before, although, taller passengers may find space a little restrictive.

The boot can handle a couple of small carry-on luggage bags so you'll need to travel light and it is 20 litres smaller than the previous one. It is however well shaped so it's a little more usable than you might expect.

On the road it handles beautifully and is perfectly balanced with sharply honed steering. A really nice feature is the new short-throw sporty manual gearbox that is fantastically slick.

The 96kW (129bhp) model is sufficiently potent and the mountainous roads around Barcelona were negotiated with reassuring ease while the gorgeous husky engine note contributes to your satisfied smile.

The MX-5 also has a lighter all-aluminium body and gives better economy than the outgoing model with official figures of six litres per 100km (47mpg) and emissions of 139g/km.

Also crucially for those sudden downpours the newly designed soft top roof is a fast and easy to operate and can be opened or closed in less than five seconds.

Two variants are available when it goes on sale next month - Roadster and Roadster GT and will cost from €27,995 and €29,995 respectively. Standard features include Bluetooth, MZD Connect, LED lights, cruise control, seven-inch touch-screen display and USB connectivity. The GT version adds a BOSE sound system, parking sensors, heated seats, lane departure warning and "Smart Keyless Entry".

There is also a host of new active safety technology available for the first time on the MX-5 including a blind spot monitoring system and a rear cross traffic alert.

At a time when modern sports cars are mobile displays of electronic aids, computer wizardry and sheer force, the pared down approach of the MX-5 is a testament to back-to-basics motoring. The real beauty of this car lies not with its power or speed, but with its balance, it is just so pure in its response.

Despite having only two seats and a minuscule boot, all is forgiven when I look at the MX-5 and the only sound is an incessant whisper taunting me to drop the top, crank up the stereo and tap the pedal.

Sunday Independent

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