Mazda enhances the MX-5’s perennial fun formula
MAZDA'S fastidious engineers regard keeping the MX-5 up to date as a labour of love.
The latest tweaks add power to the most popular versions of the charismatic two-seater, the object of affection of a loyal following for virtually three decades.
Without sheetmetal changes in the second upgrade in nine months, the only external alterations are to alloy wheel colours.
Key improvements are an extra 17kW/5Nm for the 2.0-litre engine. The base 1.5-litre adds a meagre 1kW/2Nm but the bigger engine is expected to account for about 95 per cent of sales.
Prices have increased across the range by at least $750, although Mazda says this is offset by added equipment valued at more than $1100 in base variants and $1400 in the retractable hard-tops.
Throttle response has also been improved and the 2.0 can now work to a red line of 7500rpm - up from 6800rpm.
Incremental but wide-ranging mechanical changes deliver more fuel and air into the combustion chamber to increase the outputs.
Rather than delivering sledgehammer performance, as in the Ford Mustang which dominates the segment, the updates maintain the essence of what has made the MX-5 a global sports car star.
"You don't have to do warp speeds to have that fun factor," says Mazda marketing chief Alastair Doak. "That is what MX-5 has always been about."
"That's why we don't do huge, sticky tyres. That would lose the fun factor and that chuckability that has always been part of the DNA.
"The engineering committee are so passionate about it. They are always trying to improve it and their vision for the car is laser-sharp. You have that clarity of purpose ... they are never satisfied."
Falling into line with Mazda's raft of latest upgrades to the CX-5, CX-9 and Mazda6, the roadster's safety kit adds autonomous emerging braking to help avoid or lessen a collision in forward and reverse.
There are also fatigue detection and cameras that scan the roadside to update the speed limit readout in the instruments. Another vital addition is a rear view camera, projecting the image on the dash-mounted colour screen.
Internally there are design changes to the detachable cup holders (which still feel flimsy). Seat recline levers are more rigid, while the steering wheel adjusts for reach.
Six conservative colours from the "global" colour palette remain - silver, grey, black, white, blue and red. Doak says there's no sign of any funky yellows, orange or greens.
ON THE ROAD
The update makes a good thing better. The Mazda is sharper and more responsive from the get-go.
Transmission options are six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. Manuals account for more than half of MX-5s sales - testament to its engaging driving characteristics and defying Australia's fascination with self-shifters.
Turning with precision and answering the throttle with linear responses, the diminutive drop-top relishes changes in direction as it bites the bitumen with rear-wheel drive confidence.
Among its many attributes, the MX-5 can handle the mundane and the ragged edge. Carving through the Gold Coast hinterland with the top down, it morphs between grand tourer and race car.
The changes aren't monumental but come as useful foils to suspension tweaks to improve ride earlier this year.
Engineers have remedied the chinks in the MX-5 armour. It's quicker under acceleration, yet remains a weapon on twisty terrain. It balances comfort and performance without breaking the budget.
PRICES Up by $750 across the range. The cheapest 2.0 is now the hardtop folding roof derivative, which costs $39,400. The more popular higher-spec GT variants start from $41,960 for the soft-top while the RF is an extra $4000.
TECH Smart City Brake Support works from 4-80km/h and, in reverse, 2-8km/h. Cameras scan and provide a constant speed limit reminder in the instruments, plus a rear-view camera. Upgrades to enable smartphone mirroring will be available at the end of the year.
PERFORMANCE The 2.0-litre gets an extra 17kW/5Nm thanks to changes to exhaust, throttle valves and internals. The 1.5-litre gains 1kW/2Nm.
DRIVING Improved throttle response throughout the rev range, a handy foil to the previous suspension updates.
DESIGN There are changes to wheel colours: Roadster 1.5L - 16 inch black metallic, Roadster 2.0L - 17 inch bright silver, RF 2.0 - 17 inch black metallic, RF GT - 17 inch bright silver.
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 years/unlimited km; $1869 for 5 years
ENGINES 2.0-litre 4-cyl 135/205Nm, 1.5-litre 97kW/152Nm
SAFETY 5 stars, 4 airbags, AEB, traffic sign recognition, reversing camera
SPARE Inflation kit