Published on August 31st, 2015 | by Subhash Nair0
Mazda MX-5 Test Drive & Review
Earlier this week, Mazda invited us to Japan to learn more about the company, their 6th generation of products and most importantly, to test out their and quite possibly greatest MX-5. The latest MX-5 has been garnerning a lot of praise from the motoring media not just for its stunning looks but from its sheer enjoyability on the open road and track.
Here’s a short history of the MX-5 for those who aren’t familiar. It’s sold in Japan as the ‘Eunos’, ‘Eunos Roadster’, or just ‘Roadster’. In the US, it’s sold as the ‘Miata’. Everywhere else it goes by its proper designation, the MX-5. This all-new MX-5 – refered to as the ND – is the fourth in its line, with the previous generations being the NA (the one with pop-up headlights), NB (the one without pop-up headlights) and the NC (the one with bulging fenders). And just about every MX-5 ever has been praised for being fun, balanced, lightweight vehicles that handle exceptionally well.
So is the new MX-5 anything like the older ones? In terms of looks, the latest MX-5 doesn’t share the same friendly, rounded shape that its predecessors had, but that’s perfectly understandable. Kodo design language is inherently more aggressive and the fierceness shines through. But there’s nothing wrong with departing from a 25 year old design to make the new car look more like the other Mazdas in the current lineup.
And it’s not like the MX-5 has completely lost its sense of self either. It still has the same signature lower grille – which is you look closely, curves into a smile the same way all MX-5 grilles do. Mazda’s signature Soul Red Metallic really does the sculpted bodywork justice. It’s especially delicious to look at from the front.
The interior is similarly pretty with the body colour creeping in above the door panels. The effect of this is amazing with the roof down. This interior is really more about keeping the MX-5 in line with what the 2015 customer expects from a car rather than keeping to what MX-5 interiors are about. And that’s a good thing because previous MX-5s suffered from rather unremarkable interiors.
Ever since the nameplate was launched, the Mazda MX-5 has been all about keeping weight low and being focused on being an agile two seater. It has never been about raw power, and that’s why even in this latest version the most common engine in most markets barely makes 130 horsepower.
In fact, the cars Mazda had for us to test at the Mine Proving Grounds were all equipped with the 129bhp 1.5-litre SKYACTIV engine with both 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic transmission options being brought out to play. In Malaysia, the car has been launched with the more powerful 2.0-litre variant with 158bhp. It is also only available with the 6-speed automatic for the time being.
We tested both transmissions on Mine’s tight turns and were thoroughly impressed. Here’s what you need to know if you are thinking of waiting for the manual version to be released in Malaysia.
First of all, the manual transmission is better than any other six-speed shifter we’ve ever tested. The shifts aren’t just notchy, they’re magnetic – they’re satisfying. Having said that, we never got passed 4th gear on the track, as the engine noise at 6000 RPM was just too good to stop listening to (and there were speed limits put in place as well). For a car with such a small engine, it’s powerful enough and it sure can sing.
But if you can’t wait for that amazing manual gearbox, there’s a very strong case for the automatic as well. Not only will it make for a better daily driver in Malaysia, I found it also made the car even more enjoyable to thrash around the corners. And here’s why:
See, a lot of cars have paddle shifters, but you don’t really see how useful they are until you’re downshifting into a corner with both hands on the steering. It’s easier than driving the manual, and at the end of the day, the MX-5 is about having an enjoyable driving experience. To some, ease and enjoyment go hand in hand.
In terms of handling, the Mazda MX-5 is without a doubt the most balanced vehicle I have ever had the privilege to drive. The 1.5-litre we took for a spin around the Mazda Proving Grounds seemed to be able to produce the same amount of power that the chassis could handle around a corner. It just refused to lose control. No matter what the speed, all you would get is grip, grip and then more grip. It’s only when you do something really stupid that the traction control kicks in and puts you back on track. Even then, the sense of control pervades.
Having driven both the ND and the original NA, I have to say, they’re remarkably similar in terms of agility. But there are a few things the ND does a lot better in other departments. First off, the build quality and craftsmanship in the new car give it a fairly premium feel, unlike the NA which has plastics and a dashboard layout that could only make sense in the early 90s. Think of the latest Mazda 2’s excellent interior and you’ll understand what the latest MX-5 feels like on the inside.
The new car also feels a lot safer as well. Despite weighing about the same, stricter safety regulations have forced Mazda to think about smarter ways to design the car’s structure to create more solid frontal and side impact protection. Its also got four airbags, which is plenty for two passengers.
And if you’ve got the car but lack the skills, the MX-5 has a host of electronic aids that will keep you from thinking the laws of physics don’t apply. Seriously though, jinba-ittai, the “oneness of horse and rider”, only works when the rider knows what he’s doing, so it’s great that there’s ABS, EBD, BA, DSC, TCS to make sure nothing gets out of hand.
Compared to the original MX-5, this car also has improved ergonomics. The smaller, steering still lacks telescopic adjustment, but can still be raised up to a comfortable position for taller people to use without any issue. You can’t expect much in terms of practicality from a 2 seater, 2 door sportscar with a soft roof, but you should expect at least enough to make it practical enough to serve as a daily driver.
The drop top mechanism for instance is light enough to be operated with just one hand – unlike earlier models. and the boot can house at least 2 medium sized suitcases. You don’t get a glovebox but there is a storage compartment large enough for an averaged sized DSLR camera to be stowed away. There are also two cupholders where both the occupant’s elbows meet and plenty of cubby holes.
Plus, when speaking of practicality, you have to also talk about other amenities like auto climate control, keyless entry & start, lane departure warning, and auto-wipers, which of course the MX-5 has, even in Malaysia. We even get the MZD Connect multimedia interface that allows for Bluetooth connectivity through its 7” display.
RM226,376 is a lot of money. But understand that this is the sort of car that’s actually worth RM226,376.
This is a car that goes exactly where you point it, it sounds exactly how you imagine it would sound and it looks just as good in real life as it does in the photos. There are cars that go faster and cars that do a better job of elevating your status and you could quite reasonably find yourself behind the wheel of something else for that kind of money.
But why would you?
This is a car for anybody who has ever wanted to have the best car ever made, because this is almost certainly the best car ever made. If you have children, print a picture of this car and paste it up on their bedroom wall. They will thank you for it when they grow up.