2015 Mazda MX-5 review
It doesn't happen often in a motoring journalist's career, but there are some cars you know deserve that status within minutes of sliding behind the wheel.
The new Mazda MX-5 is one - love at first drive.
Since the first generation's arrival in 1989, the MX-5 has deservedly become history's most successful roadster, nudging nearly a million sales over the past 25 years.
The MX-5 of recent years never really lost its mojo, but this all-new fourth-generation offering has tapped into the original car's never-bettered magic and created a hero sportscar nailed on right for today's market.
Revvy naturally aspirated four-cylinder, rear-drive, lightweight, sleek, fun, and with retro styling cues echoing the Lotus Elan that inspired Mazda's original concept - combined with quite gorgeous modern lines and curves - blend to bring utmost desire.
And it's priced right, too. Down more than $15,000 from the previous MX-5 to steal sales from Toyota's 86, such fun can be had for a little over $30k.
Roof up or down, my six-foot frame comfortably sunk low into the seats with my head below the roofline.
Two variants - Roadster and Roadster GT - offer cloth or leather seat trims respectively, both with a newly developed net structure for a firm hold when driving.
Seat design does help you feel at one with the car - ideal for such an involving machine - and for a roadster there is decent cabin space for two without being on top of each other (unless that's the plan, you carefree amorous roadster drivers you).
GT models get desirable body-coloured interior door panels, but all cars get the sporty thin leather steering wheel and perfect little manual gear stick with short throw - unless you buy an auto, which you shouldn't.
Taller passengers will find the footwell a bit restrictive if trying to slump back on longer journeys, and the entry-level's audio looks a bit cheap, but these are only minor complaints in a superb cockpit.
On the road
It's been 15 years since I last drove a Mk1 MX-5, and I can say the new car left me as thrilled as that first experience.
Let's get one thing out of the way now. You can get a six-speed auto version, and Mazda expects to sell around 40% with just two pedals, but I'd implore you to try the manual, fall in love with it, and buy it instead.
And don't be put off by "just" 96kW from the naturally aspirated 1.5-litre four-cylinder: there's a joy to driving underpowered cars (especially when they weigh a chip packet over 1000kg), and the MX-5 is a car you can use for thrills without losing your licence.
Suspension is quite soft for a sports car, making everyday driving duties comfortable, while setup has erred towards progressive breakaway, making it a lively but predictable thing in the turns, and incredible fun without the need for silly speeds.
Short gear shift and steering feedback are sublime, and the four-potter a singing delight if you keep revs up so high-end torque can pull you out of corners.
Some will grumble for more power - and a 118kW 2.0-litre is coming later this year - but I genuinely wouldn't change a thing about the 1.5-litre. Overseas reports (where the larger motor is already available) suggest it's the pick of the bunch.
Weight distribution is perfectly 50/50 and I cannot fault the balance when at play. If you can find a more satisfying driving experience for the money in a modern car - Toyota 86 included - you'll be searching a long time.
What do you get?
Not much in the way of groundbreaking tech, but such fripperies would add unnecessary weight.
Entry-level cars earn 16-inch alloys, LED headlamps, air-con, cruise control, Bluetooth, keyless entry, push-button start and leather for the steering wheel and gear shifter.
The GT versions have black or tan leather seat trim, a 7-inch touchscreen, navigation, internet radio integration, Bose sounds, seat warmers, climate control, LED daytime running lights and rain-sensing wipers.
If you don't expect much from a roadster, you won't be disappointed. The boot can handle a couple of carry-on luggage bags - not much more - but the cargo area is deep to add a decent dash of practicality.
The folding soft top saves weight by not being a hard top nor having an electric motor, and the manual one-hand release and stowing of the roof is quick and easy.
There's no glove box, but there's a bit of a cubby hole between the seat backs along with a pair of cup holders.
Sports cars and economy rarely go hand in hand, but the MX-5 has a quoted return of 6.1 litres/100km when stirring the manual.
Our test drive could hardly have been more enthusiastic (that's what these cars are made for, surely?) and we still managed under 8 litres/100km. Quite brilliant.
Other options Mazda has pitched the MX-5 to battle the hardtop-only Toyota 86 (from $29,990), and should win. For other relevant drive experiences away from hot hatches, you need to drop serious coin on the likes of a Lotus Elise ($74,990).
Every line and curve looks correct, purposeful and delicious. Front and rear overhangs are very short, and Mazda's designers say its lines are reminiscent of Japanese calligraphy.
Throw in that Lotus Elan inspiration, and even a touch of baby F-Type Jaguar at the rear and it looks fast standing still.
It won't be the quickest nor most aurally exciting sports car you'll ever drive, but as a bargain unbridled fun driving experience, the MX-5 is a class apart.
Style is spot-on: balance, steering, engine and gearbox all excel, and it makes a hero of any driver in the twisties while remaining comfy enough for daily duties.
There's a good case for buying a GT with its modern toys and entertainment, but I don't think you need to wait for the 2.0-litre version: fun enough is had with the 1.5.
Oh, and get the manual. Three pedals are integral to the roadster driving experience, plus you get the limited-slip diff the auto misses out on.
Instant classic? Most certainly.
What matters most
What we liked: As pure a roadster drive experience as you could imagine, singing four-cylinder, brilliant steering, driver feedback and manual gearbox, delicious design.
What we'd like to see: Reach adjustment for steering wheel, remove the auto gearbox option, a wider choice of body colours.
Servicing and warranty: Backed by a three-year unlimited-kilometre warranty. Schedule for servicing is every 10,000km or annually, with average price of $311.40 the first five services (50,000km).
Model: 2015 Mazda MX-5.
Details: Two-door, two-seat rear-wheel drive soft-top roadster.
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 96kW @ 7000rpm and 150Nm @ 4800rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic with paddle shifts (adds $2000).
Consumption: 6.1-litres/100km (manual) or 6.4-litres/100km (auto) combined average.
CO2: Not released.
Bottom line: $31,990 (Roadster), $37,990 (Roadster GT), both before on-roads.
Driving experience 19/20
Features and equipment 16/20
Functionality and comfort 17/20
Value for money 20/20
Style and design 19/20