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The old saying “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” could have been created to describe the modern Mazda MX5. The car which brought the honest, fun to drive, affordable sports car back from the pages of history in 1989, has reached its 30th milestone. Usually for a single model of sports car to stick around this long, it needs to either offer something never seen before, or have masses of devotees lining up just to have a drive.
Fortunately, the MX5 had both these nailed, taking the concept of simple, peppy open top sports car motoring from the Lotus Elan and Triumph TR4, and making it easy to maintain and reliable. Heck, Mazda’s engineers, led by Tom Matano, where so determined to relaunch the sports car for the modern era, they even recorded the gearbox whine from a TR4 and recreated it in their new car. Thanks to Mazda New Zealand, I spent a week with the new updated MX5 RF, and was joined Canterbury MX5 fan Harry Close and his lightly modified NA Spec MX5. Let the fun begin
Harry’s passion for his MX5 can be seen from the get go. He gets out, we shake hands, and that ear to ear grin, I’m sure can be seen from a mile off. “A friend of mine had one for a while and I got to experience it quite a bit, so my interest in the MX5 just grew from there. I knew that I wanted to get one,” says Harry. His 1990 NA is a Japanese Direct Market Eunos Roadster. These are more commonly seen on New Zealand roads than NZ new MX5s due to the sheer number of roadsters which entered the country second hand during the nineties and early noughties.
This is not a bad thing however. The only thing that separates NZ New and JDM cars is the Eunos came standard with electric windows, power steering, and air con, though to Harry, the best air-con comes from putting the roof down.
Under the bonnet sits a 1.6-litre twin-cam four-cylinder engine producing 105 hp and mated to a simple five speed manual box, though Harry’s car has been fettled to create what he sees as his ultimate MX5. “I’ve added brakes from a later 1.8-litre car, the airflow meter is from an RX7, it sits on lower springs and tyres, and sports seats and roll bar.”
Despite used a weekend blast and a devourer of track days, Harry has been using the MX5 as a daily driver. Plus, he has no plans of selling his pride and joy. “I wanted a fun car and I do plan to hang on to it long term. I may or may not look into going turbo in the near future, but I just love it as it is right now,” says Harry grinning.
Now, onto the new one. The ND is the fourth generation MX5 which was launched a few years back. Now, there have been subtle changes under the bonnet and in terms of kit. I know it is a terrible clichÃ© but here goes, the best has just been made better. You can still opt for the 1.5-litre SKYACTIV four cylinder in the base GSX model roadster at $41,895, but the 2.0-litre SKYACTIV four pot in this RF, which is only available in Limited Spec, can be yours in either six speed manual or automatic, for $53,745 and $55,245 respectively.
Power for the 2.0-litre has gone up from 118kW to 135kW and 205 Nm of torque. Now, 17 kW may not sound like much, but that minimal extra grunt makes quite a bit of difference. You are also able to reach the national limit in 6.5 seconds all while returning 6.9L/100km. The automatic is slightly thirstier at a claimed 7.2L/100km.
Now in terms of kit, the MX5 RF is positively bursting at the seams while still offering a minimalist look and feel to it. You get Keyless Entry, Rear Parking sensors, Rain Sensing Wipers, Tyre Pressure Monitoring, Hill Launch Assist, Cruise Control, a pair of heated leather chairs, and a thumping premium BOSE stereo. Mazda’s slick 7-inch touchscreen display also makes a welcome return as does the centre command dial allowing you to scroll through menu screens with ease. The infotainment system houses the Sat Nav, Reversing Camera, Bluetooth and even plays CD’s. Very nineties I must say!
The MX5 is also well stocked in terms of safety with Mazda’s i-ACTIVESENSE Safety System. This includes Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure Warning, which vibrates the steering wheel when you stray from your lane. Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Adaptative LED Headlamps, Advanced Smart City Brake Support front and rear, Driver Attention Alert, and Traffic Sign Recognition.
Sitting inside, and in true MX5 fashion, you sit low and you feel cocooned by your surroundings. Everything is within easy reach and with a premium feel to it. Ahead of you sit simple white on black dials, though rear three quarter vision isn’t the greatest. That said, on the right day at the right time, you will seldom spend time looking behind you.
As far as practicalities go, yeah, it’s a classic two-seater sports car. With 127-litres of boot space, you and your better half will fit a few overnight bags, but that’s pretty much it. Press the starter button and lo and behold, that 2.0-litre four pot burbles into life before settling down at a purring 1000rpm idle. Blip the throttle and believe it or not, its throaty bark sounds almost identical to the original. Gosh, it really is no secret Mazda have done their utmost to make the new car still feel and sound like the original. Oh, and its not just the noise, but more on that in a bit.
As you select first gear and move off, you still get the same bolt action rifle-esque sensation when you shift, a stark reminder you are shifting cogs about and getting involved with the drive. Each shift is a pleasure in itself, as a result you are actually looking forward to shifting up and down. Heading around suburban Christchurch and the MX5 is still such a giggle factory. The old mantra of a sports car giving you thrills while abiding to the national limit is what the MX5 is all about.
Lowering the roof is a doddle too, though it can only be done below speeds of 10km/h. The RF is not a full convertible like the regular roadster, but as an everyday proposition, that folding metal targa top is just fine with me. Once the roof is lowered, you get all the benefits of topless motoring while keeping your hair in check. In fact, regardless of what the weather is doing, thanks to the addition of those heated seats, you can sit quite snuggly with a faint breeze of cold air rushing through your hair. It is actually quite a cool sensation.
However, while urban commuting is definitely doable in the MX5’s world, its forte is on those bits of bendy bitumen. Time to point that svelte nose south towards Governors Bay and devour some turns. As previously mentioned about the noise, how the new MX5 RF drives almost mirrors that of the original. When most car manufacturers release a follow up model, they usually boast that it contains more power, more tech, and more of everything. They want to convince the consumer that things are better than ever.
However, things are very different with Mazda and their philosophy for the MX5. Mazda’s engineers have done all they can to stay true to their original vision of a small, fun to drive and well sorted sports car, they have gone to extreme lengths to ensure nothing spoils this vision, and its boy does it show with the new one. There is the same level of playful chuck-ability as before, sure thanks to the SKYACTIV four pot there is a titch more power, and then some, but it never ever feels beyond your control.
The steering is almost psychic in its ability to change direction. It’s almost as though it knows where you intend to go before you do. Minimal tweaks at the wheel and you have rounded the bend quick smart. With an even 50-50 weight distribution, drive going to the rear, weighing in at 1,087, and tight wheelbase, after a good hour, you not just grinning, but laughing out loud. This is what the MX5 was born to do. Mazda’s philosophy of “Jinba Ittai” or “horse and rider as one” is clearly evident here.
Also, despite have 150mm of ground clearance, ride comfort is actually not too bad. You can clear speedbumps with relative ease and on the great wide-open motorway, you can slot it into sixth gear and cruise along at 2,000 rpm quiet nicely. The MX5 was never supposed to be a comfortable tourer, but I would be more than happy to head to Greymouth and back in one of these.
So, Happy Birthday MX5. With over a million sold since 1989, Tom Matano’s masterpiece shows no signs of slowing down, and with devoted fans like Harry around to keep the fire burning, there are very little signs that petrolheads are ready to let this icon go just yet. Oh, and in case you didn’t notice, the new RF is pretty darn good too.