Words: Isaac Atienza and James Tagle
Photos: Isaac Atienza
Fun Doesn’t Need To Be Fast
Well, the Mazda MX-5 is not exactly slow, but with a 0-100 km/h time of around 7.6 seconds, it’s not exactly the quickest either, and basically, this has been the point of the Mazda MX-5 all along. The Mazda MX-5 is the world’s best selling sportscar, and for a good reason. Apart from being the cheapest sportscar to own, it’s easily one of the most fun to drive cars, period, regardless of price, power, and class, and it’s been like this ever since the MX-5 was conceived in 1989. This review points everything that is wrong with the current trend with sportscars, and perhaps there may be some points where you may or may not agree with me here, even with my buddy James Tagle, so instead of the usual sequence where we explain the exterior, interior, and so on, we’ll just go with the flow with our praises and complaints with this wonderful roadster.
First of all, it’s a great looking thing, though the black paint doesn’t do it justice to be honest. The radio antenna out the back is ghastly, though. It sort of ruins the look of the car. Nevertheless, the MX-5 nails the basic rear wheel drive sportscar proportions. Long hood, short rear deck, and slightly short front overhangs, which makes this car easy to dart in and out of corners due to a lighter front structure that front axle has to deal with. As a matter of fact, this new (ND) MX-5 is lighter and smaller than the third generation model (NC) it replaces, and this is contrary to the current trend that cars are going through these days, and that’s a good thing for us, because the MX-5 goes back to its roots on why it became a car enthusiast’s favorite in the first place. The roof is not electric, however, in order to save weight, but the roof is so easy and light to operate by one hand, why would you beg for a slower, heavier electrical roof anyway? Well, perhaps it’d look even better if we’re talking about the upcoming Mazda MX-5 RF with the metal targa top.
Stepping inside, and we’re greeted to a great looking interior, albeit in a dull color scheme that, again, doesn’t do the interior design justice. It would be better if some of the piano black trim were swapped for brushed aluminum trim, or a two-tone contrast scheme was done in the interior. A large analog gauge for the rev counter greets us proudly, with the speedometer flanked on the right side of the gauge cluster, and an LCD on the left side for all other information we probably wouldn’t care much because we’re all about enjoying this car today. One nifty feature though is it tells you when to shift up in order to save fuel, which is handy in day-to-day driving. It’s a sportscar with eco-friendly credentials. It’s a Mazda with Skyactiv Technology for freak’s sake, what did you expect?
Upon pressing the engine start button, about to make our move for us to start our drive, we were greeted by an annoyance. See the parking brake? There’s something wrong with it. It’s at the right side of the center console. Why would the engineers put it at the right side, which is a far reach even for the both of us with pretty long arms? It must be noted that the MX-5 is designed and developed primarily for Japan, yet in the transition from from making the MX-5 right to left hand drive, they forgot to move the parking brake to the left side, making hand brake turns feel awkward to accomplish. Then there’s the glove box, or the lack thereof. Actually, storage space is pitiful. You dont get a glove box, just some cubby hole at the back of the seats and you have to do a bit of a stretch when you open it. We actually don’t mind the trunk space, you can fit a small goat in, or some kids’ bodies if you’re a murderer.
Within the city, the Mazda MX-5 is a pretty comfortable sportscar. Usually, a sportscar would have a a stiff suspension to counteract body roll, but in this case the MX-5 is so light, and the center of gravity is very low, there’s no need to stiffen the suspension. As a matter of fact, going through some of our nation’s notoriously terrible roads is no problem for this MX-5. As a daily driver, the MX-5 is very liveable, and it starts with the 6-speed manual we’re using today. The transmission is beautifully light to use in the city, plus the steering is light and easy enough for tight manoeuvres when making lock-on-lock turns. Alas, its usability when looking out of the rear of the MX-5 is spoiled by the small rear window provided by the cloth top. Thankfully, you have rear parking sensors to help you out when parking in reverse. Fuel economy in the city is good too, being able to achieve 8.7 km/l at its worst, aided by the engine Stop/Start, which shuts off the engine when, let’s say, you’re at a set of stoplights.
Take it out on the open road, and its practical annoyances suddenly disappear. This car has got a really pointy, natural chassis balance. Due to the car’s light and svelte nature, the MX-5 does not feel lethargic at all, and its 2.0 liter Skyactiv-G engine produces 155 hp @ 6,000 rpm, and 200 Nm of torque @ 4,000 rpm. It likes to slide around, but you can’t do it on power alone. You do need to throw it into a corner to make the back loose. This actually has in our opinion a better front structure compared to the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ, which means you dont have to work quite so hard to beat this car’s understeer. This actually weighs 200 kgs less than the Toyota, as it tips the weighing scales at 1,052 kg for this manual model.
They made this car just like how they made the old MX-5. The MX-5’s steering is fast, responsive, and gives enough feedback to tell you what the front wheels are doing. It reminds us of the electric steering of a Porsche Boxster or Cayman, and that’s a very high praise we can give to electric steering nowadays. The 6-speed manual is another thing we have to talk about, because it’s such a wonderful gearbox to use. The short throw nature of the gearbox means it’s easy to row through the gears, and the feel of rowing through the gears is such a pleasure, which reminds us manual gearboxes should be here to stay. As a matter of fact, it’s blasphemous for someone to buy the MX-5 with an automatic transmission, because they’re really missing out. The pedals are nicely positioned, making it easy to do heel-and-toe to rev match the engine when downshifting as well.
You could do trackday after track day in this car without having to replace the consumables. You can even do it for a fraction of a budget of a 911 GT3 or an M3 and you’d probably have as much fun. Yes they will overtake you and feel all smug about it, but then you do a big slide in their rear view mirror and they’d know who’s having more fun! Due to having a typical inline-4 engine over the 86/BRZ’s horizontally opposed boxer engine, it revs more crisply in the redline than the Toyobaru twins.
As good as it is in the corners, we find the MX-5 a bit disconcerting at high speeds. Past 120 km/h, the MX-5 doesn’t feel as rigid as the Toyota 86, and that’s of course due to the lack of a roof. The chassis has a tendency to flex when hitting small bumps at very high speeds, and it is not very pleasant. Clearly, the MX-5 is not built for straight-line performance and all out speed. Just like the Toyota 86 or Subaru BRZ, it’s mainly built for having fun around the corners, and it’s in the corners where the fun is at isn’t it?
The Mazda MX-5 serves as a reminder of what’s wrong with many of today’s sportscars. Every manufacturer nowadays are after the numbers, figures, who can set the fastest 0-100 km/h times among the competition, and which car can sustain the highest Gs in the skidpad. Sure, that supercar or sportscar your are driving may be fast, and it may be larger than its predecessor, making it more spacious, but the more important question is in a sportscar is, are you having fun? Because the essence of having a sportscar is for us to have fun. Am I wrong? Thank you Mazda for reminding us what a great sportscar truly is, and we’re certainly going to miss this MX-5. It may suffer from less chassis rigidity compared to the Toyota 86 or Subaru BRZ, but the MX-5 has an added bonus of open top driving pleasure, because it’s less likely that you’d be driving the 86/BRZ or the MX-5 at or past 200 km/h anyway.
Exterior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Quality: ★★★★☆
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★☆
Value For Money:★★★★☆
Overall: 4.1 out of 5