Roadtest: Mazda Reboots MX-5

30 Aug 2019 | 12.35 pm

Roadtest: Mazda Reboots MX-5

Undiluted roadster heaven

30 Aug 2019 | 12.35 pm

Mazda has added more power and poke to the anniversary model MX-5. Mark Gallivan has been trying it out on a German autobahn

After 30 years in production, Mazda is paying homage to the MX-5 by launching a 30th anniversary model. Limited to 3,000 units worldwide, only ten are destined for the Irish market. 

Mazda chief of development Kenichi Yamamoto and American motoring journalist Bob Hall probably never dreamt that the car they launched as an affordable roadster at a 1989 Chicago auto show would last this long. Speaking in 2014, Hall said that the MX-5 had to have a timeless design. “We weren’t certain how long it would be in production – our view was 10 years,” he recalled.

Hall was only allowed to work on the development of the MX-5 project between certain hours. “I was allowed to work on the project before 8.30am, between noon and 1pm, and as much as I wanted after 5.30pm. I came in at 6am every morning for about seven years.”

After three decades of fun, tail-slides and whoops of joy, the Mazda MX-5 has sold nearly 1.1 million units globally and 360,000 in Europe. Launched in its fourth generation in 2015, the anniversary MX-5 is priced at €40,996 and is available in only one colour, a vivid Racing Orange. More importantly, the anniversary Roadster has a 2.0-litre engine with 184PS, instead of the regular 1.5-litre unit that delivers 131bhp. 

To justify the higher price for the anniversary edition, the latest MX-5 is fitted with 17-inch RAYS alloy wheels as standard in gunmetal grey. It also has orange Brembo brake callipers and heated Recaro seats with built-in Bose speakers in the headrests, which are trimmed in a mixture of Alcantara and leather with orange stitching.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, along with a small exterior badge on the drivers’ side indicating the production number. The latest MX-5 also has exterior trim changes to its mirrors. The remaining standard equipment is the same as you’ll find on the existing Roadster GT.

Mazda Museum

Mazda chose Augsburg in Germany to launch the car due to its proximity to Frey’s Mazda Classic Car Museum (pictured below). Housed in a former tram depot located in the city centre, the 16,000 square feet museum contains a rotating display of 50 Mazda vehicles from the late 19th century up to today. The display was opened two years ago by car dealer Walter Frey and his sons, supported by Mazda, and there are vehicles on show that even Mazda didn’t know still existed.

Taking pride of place is the Mazda R 360 Coupe, launched in May 1960. At just 9.8 feet long and weighing only 380 kilograms, it is the lightest car ever produced in Japan. In its day, the R 360 Coupe achieved a 65% market share in its segment.

Frey had a long-time fascination with Mazda rotary engines, the brand’s signature feature. His car collecting started when he bought his first Mazda Cosmo Sport in New Jersey in 1980 – the centrepiece of the museum show. The collection of 120 vehicles represents every model and series launched by the Japanese car manufacturer since the 1930s. 

To properly reacquaint myself with the MX-5, I drove the 30th Anniversary MX-5 over two short days from Munich to Augsburg. It’s easy to see why the MX-5 is judged the finest sports car for sale for around the €40,000 mark. After leaving Munich airport and navigating onto the German motorway network, the familiar tingles of lightness and firefly responses that every MX-5 offers came flowing back. 

Thanks to Mazda upping the power to 184PS (approx. 182bhp), the last niggling doubt that MX-5s were underpowered has been answered. 

In addition, Mazda has added a further 700rpm to the 7,500rpm rev range, and it’s this extra breadth in the 2.0-litre Skyactiv engine that has changed the MX-5’s personality from a zippy sportster to a more serious tool for driving fun. The standard fitting of a limited slip differential is welcome and provides better assurance for keen drivers, especially when the 1.5-litre Roadster has a tendency to break away in corners if heavily provoked.

To achieve the extra power for the engine, Mazda’s engineers shaved weight from the engine’s pistons. The same outcome could have been achieved by fitting a turbo, just as Fiat did with the sister 124 Spider car, but Mazda’s dedication to pure engineering solutions is evident here. 

The MX-5’s engine note is also fruiter than before. Where the 1.5-litre car sounded fine, the 2.0-litre’s extra rasp goads you into driving the car well into the rev limiter, particularly in second and third gear, and holding it there while remaining within the speed limit. 

Autobahn Cruise

Granted, it’s not particularly quiet at speed with the roof down. I cruised at 150km/h on unrestricted stretches of the German autobahn, and while the car felt rock solid the buffeting and wind noise is reminiscent of standing in front of a giant leaf blower. The additional engine power now gives the MX-5 reassuring power when overtaking, important in such a relatively small car.

Everything else that makes the MX-5 the perfect sports car – such as low seating, communicative steering, pedal positioning and the low weight of 1,260kg – adds to Mazda’s credo of unblemished engineering, even in a world of stricter emissions and safety requirements. The steering column now adjusts for reach, so drivers can find their ideal seating position. 

My test car was fitted with Lane Departure Warning, front and rear Smart City Brake Support, Traffic Sign Recognition (with optional navigation upgrade) and Driver Attention Alert as standard. Added to that tally are LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, rain-sensing wipers, climate control and a nine-speaker Bose sound system.

It may only be 3.9 metres in length, but the MX-5 is surprisingly practical and swallowed two soft airline-size suitcases in the 130-litre boot. The 30th Anniversary MX-5 is a welcome homage to a brilliant idea, taking the best of classic British sports cars and adding Japanese reliability and engineering simplicity. 

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Model Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary Edition
Price €40,995. Range starts from starts from €28,195
Performance 0-100 km/h 6.5 seconds, top speed 219 km/h
Engine 1998cc, four-cylinder petrol, 184PS SKYACTIV-G, 205Nm torque, six-speed manual gearbox, rear wheel drive
Fuel 6.9 L/100km combined
CO2 155g/km
Verdict Undiluted roadster heaven

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