Mazda MX-5

Mazda’s engineers have eliminated the flaws that spoilt the old MX-5

Great idea, the Mazda MX-5. Launched in 1989, with the third generation appearing four years ago, it’s the world’s most popular two-seat sports car of traditional front-engine, rear-wheel drive, mechanical layout and accessible price. In fact, it’s the only one left in a world once full of open MGs and Triumphs, unless you include expensive Germans or the soon-to-be-axed Honda S2000.

Car-nuts and sun-worshippers alike have loved the MX-5 for years. Early ones, the cars that most resembled the original Lotus Elan from which the design inspiration came, are neo-classics. Mid-period ones lost the taut looks but were better to drive. And the third generation? That’s where it went off the rails.

It got back the crisp looks, and it weighed barely more than its immediate predecessor, despite being slightly roomier and much stiffer of structure. But the steering lost its precise, mechanical, intuitive feel, the engine lost its crisp-edged, smooth-revving energy, and the MX-5 lost its point. To those who love sports cars for the driving experience, anyway.

Now, Mazda has refreshed the MX-5. It has finally lost the Lotus-like front air intake to a bigger aperture with the Mazda-obligatory “five corners”. The posher Roadster Coupé version, with electrically retractable hard top, even gets a chrome rim around the intake.

It also gets new soundproofing in the form of foam filling for the front suspension crossmember and the hollow piece at the front of the roof. I hope it works, because the last RC I drove was a noisy, boomy thing. It does. Sound levels are now normal and consistent. But other good things have happened, too. Very good things. The engineers have clearly listened to the criticisms and they have acted on every one.

The first thing you notice is how the MX-5 now steers. It’s back to how an MX-5 should be, with the sort of steering that draws you into the whole process of aiming joyfully along curvy roads. In place of rubberiness, stickiness, initial uncertainty and then a springy lunge into the corner is a smooth, flowing response which tallies exactly with your intentions.

The engineers achieved this by altering the front suspension’s geometry, so the imaginary point about which the car pivots as it leans into a corner is now 26mm lower. This reduces the transient loading on the outside front wheel by allowing more of the Mazda’s mass to move gradually against the springs, so the way the steering effort increases with cornering force is more proportional. Trust me, it works. Previously you would fight with the MX-5, trying to second-guess the steering while making sure you didn’t slip over the dynamic knife-edge and send the tail a-sliding. Now you can feel what is happening, and the sensation is as good a thrill as any act of physical, sporting co-ordination.

The engines are sweeter, too, thanks to some re-engineering and strengthening of vital parts. If you have the top 2.0-litre version with 160bhp, now reached at 7,000rpm, and combine it with the Sport specification, you get a six-speed gearbox and an extra sound duct which transmits intake noise to the dashboard and windscreen frame. So you get a racy sound without inflicting it on the world outside.

This feels a strong, smooth, punchy engine now, and combined with the other Sport components – bigger wheels, uprated Bilstein suspension dampers, a bracing bar across the front suspension towers and very body-hugging seats – it makes for a properly swift and satisfying sports car. That is more than can be said for the new PowerShift version, which uses a six-speed automatic transmission whose manual mode, operated by buttons on the steering wheel, is slow to respond and jerky in the downshifts. The auto mode is quite sleepy, too, and this car’s suspension is set soft and squidgy. This is the MX-5 for posers, not drivers.

I’ve left my favourite MX-5 till last. This is the base-model 1.8 with 126bhp, five forward gears, no artificial aural sportiness and regular suspension dampers. The engine is crisp, natural-sounding and lively enough, the steering, handling and ride-comfort are the most fluent combination of all. This bargain MX-5, price from £16,345, matches perfectly the tone set by a soft-top of stunning simplicity: pull a handle, push it back over your head until it clicks into its storage well. Who needs electro-hydraulics? The trad sports car lives, and we should rejoice.

Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West, performing in New York last week, has been the subject of controversy as rock's traditional headline slot at Glastonbury is lost once again
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Life and Style
Drinking - often heavily - is a running theme throughout HBO's Game of Thrones adaptation
food + drink
News
people
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

    £28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

    £16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

    Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

    £16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

    Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

    £17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

    Day In a Page

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living