Do you remember your first time? That’s right, the first time you stepped into a car with a fully loaded licence and experienced the joys of the open road? Well, no matter how sated with driving you may now be, it is still possible to rediscover those fun-filled halcyon days by simply treating yourself to the new Mazda MX-5.
This diminutive soft-top has been around in various iterations since 1989 and Mazda have been true to the simple formula of a front-engine, rear-wheel drive sports car since then. It is fair to say that the previous model was beginning to look a tad lardy and so the Japanese company have returned to their ‘Kodo – Soul of Motion’ design philosophy and produced a car that is smaller, lighter and better looking than its predecessor.
Two four-cylinder engines are on offer with 1.5 litres (47mpg) and 2.0 litres (40mpg) and, surprisingly, it is the smaller motor that delivers the most pleasure. It isn’t fast, with the benchmark 62mph arriving in a modest 8.3 seconds but it feels fast and that’s the important thing. The driving position is laid back and relaxed and the sensation of speed is as a result of the driver sitting low to the ground. Around the B-roads of Wiltshire and Gloucestershire the ride was exhilarating.
With just 129bhp, the 1.5L MX-5 (prices start from £18,500; model as tested £23,105 including special paint), undercuts the 158bhp 2.0L by around £800 depending on options. However, it does without a strut brace, limited-slip differential and – in 2.0L Sport trim (The grey car in the images) – Bilstein dampers and sports suspension fitted to the more aggressive and faster bigger brother.
On our county’s lovely back roads it is, as our American cousins will insist on saying, one sweet ride. The naturally aspirated engine (Mazda eschew the turbocharger) delivers linear, long-revving power right to the red-line on the prominent tachometer. Low-powered or not, you only need one corner and one second gear thrust to know that the MX5 is the real thing.
With a modest engine you can’t expect scorching performance (and what’s the point anyway in the UK?) but, by keeping the revs high, you can experience the sensations on any of our ruined roads. But a peppy engine is not much use without the handling to go with it. This is where the Mazda really scores. You feel connected with the road; there’s grip that will keep going long after your nerves have failed, which means cornering ability is outstanding. It is possible to introduce a little oversteer, especially when the roads are damp, but there’s sufficient advance warning to ease off and correct.
The 1.5L MX5 convertible is a living thing and an absolute joy to drive; plus the beauty of it is that you can have all this fun without breaking the law. Your driving licence will remain chaste; the alternative is being chased – by the cops. If you crave more power then the 2.0L is the way to go. I took my pleasures with both of them but, in my opinion, even without the performance kit on the more powerful version, smaller is better. It’s the 1.5L for me. Old school driving as it should be. As it used to be. Geoff Maxted