Mazda MX-5 2.0-litre GT road trip test and review
OWN a new Mazda MX-5? You have my permission to feel very smug right now.
For starters, you've scored yourself a bargain. I'll listen to people who tell me there are better thrills-for-your-dollar new cars on sale right now, but they're wrong (well, at least until BMW's M2 arrives later this month).
And owners don't need to brag about how good their new MX-5 is; the learned experts who hand out car awards are doing the job for you.
Mazda's roadster has just added World Car of the Year and World Car Design of the Year trophies to its cabinet, joining more than 30 other gongs including Wheels Car of the Year, Car of the Year Japan and UK Car of the Year. We even got in on the act by declaring it our best drive of 2015 last December.
Reasons for the fourth-gen MX-5's awards triumphs are manyfold, but primarily it delivers on its promise of offering a purist roadster experience. A revvy, naturally aspirated engine delivering power to the rear wheels; numerous weight-saving initiatives; a chassis set up for fun rather than the race track and all wrapped in a delicious and desirable skin.
It's attainable by the masses too. The entry level 1.5-litre Roadster - arguably the purest offering - costs $31,990: down more than $15,000 from the previous MX-5. If you think you need more power there's a 2.0-litre version, while moving into a GT spec (for an extra $6000) brings the luxury many demand, namely heated leather seats, climate control and premium Bose sounds.
The most you can spend on one is $39,550 as long as you don't fork out $2000 for an auto gearbox which you really, really shouldn't do to properly appreciate these cars. Even so, that price still makes the MX-5 range topper half the cost of an entry-level BMW Z4. Japanese food for thought.
Our road trip car? The most expensive GT 2.0-litre variant as it happened, but I've already said in print my choice would be the 1.5-litre manual, simply because it's cheaper (by $2500) while delivering virtually the same thrills, plus you've got to work the engine a bit harder. And more work equals more fun.
I'm not about to grumble though as the 118kW/200Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder is a belter. It has the guts to pull you out of corners quicker than the 96kW/150Nm 1.5-litre MX-5, even if it could be a bit more vocal in the mid range before it truly finds its voice near the high redline.
Importantly, all MX-5 engines are pure (non-turbo) four-cylinders that exude fun rather than the brutal pace that has you fearing for your licence. Lightweight underpowered cars are often the most rewarding.
Our road trip began with brekkie by the ocean at Noosa. No kids in tow meant we could start early, and as it was only for one night away the little Mazda swallowed our two carry-on bags and jackets with ease. Setting off and it was roof down time, which is a doddle in the MX-5.
A single clip needs unhooking, the light soft top is manually retracted in all of a second and you can press it locked shut without your bum leaving the seat.
Why wait 10 seconds for a "rapid" electric hardtop to fold? The sun gods were smiling too, gently warming our grinning faces while the heated seats - in beautiful tan leather - did the same underneath.
Heading into the Sunshine Coast hinterland it was twisty time. These MX-5s have been purposefully built for enjoyment through prioritising "driving experience rather than focusing merely on sheer performance".
And Mazda has nailed it.
Suspension is comfortably soft and the body (deliberately) leans quite markedly when fast cornering, but the grip level is so good and everything seems to work in unison so you know exactly what's happening beneath your backside, the little roadster communicating through the chassis and excellent steering system superbly well.
It wills you to corner a bit harder such is the feedback, and allows a very predictable amount of rear breakaway should you get a bit frisky with the throttle. Even so, I think I only got told off by my passenger twice ... a decent return over 300km.
Why take the highway?
The inland views over Somerset Dam and Lake Wivenhoe serve to remind what we drivers miss when battling the monotony of highway travel. Seeking out a decent, uncongested stretch of road every now and then is good for the soul.
The MX-5 cruised peacefully - only when you creep over 100kmh does the buffeting of open air motoring become a bit too intrusive. Any sniff of a corner though and I'd grab the tiny short-throw gear knob, blip the throttle and drop down a gear, the singing four-pot always eager to build revs and scythe the roadster through turns, seemingly enjoying the route as much as we were.
Skirting around the edge of Ipswich and then down to the majestic views of the Scenic Rim, the horizon filled with endless mountain peaks. This was proper roadster country. A mix of long open stretches and rainforest-fringed climbs were our last challenges, before finally coming to our overnight rest as the sun dropped, enjoying a drop or two of red while admiring the design of the Moogerah Peaks and the little Japanese sports car. It is a strikingly beautiful thing, from all angles.
Such drives are what an MX-5 is made for. The little car charmed endlessly with its playful and talented dynamics, willing little naturally aspirated motor and simple, unfussy leather cabin that remained comfortable after many hours in the saddle. It even returned only 7 litres/100km despite my heavy right foot; a pleasant surprise.
Perfection? Not quite. I still think the seat position could be lower, the steering wheel isn't adjustable enough and drink bottles rattle in your ear due to their position at the back of the centre console. And our car's black paint is clearly the dullest choice from Mazda's colour palette.
But the new MX-5 was a car I always looked forward to getting into and it made me find excuses. Driving can still be fun with the right car and the right roads, even if only for a day.
SE Queensland road trip report
Where: Noosa - Cooroy - Kenilworth - Woodford - Kilcoy - Somerset Dam - Lake Wivenhoe - Fernvale - Willowbank - Scenic Rim Way/Boonah.
Fuel consumption: 7 litres per 100km (as tested).
Model: Mazda MX-5 Roadster GT 2.0-litre.
Details: Two-door two-seat rear-wheel drive soft top roadster.
Engine: 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 118kW @ 6000rpm and peak torque of 200Nm @ 4600rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual (six-speed auto also available).
Consumption: 6.9 litres/100km.
Performance 0-100kmh: 7.1 seconds.
Bottom line plus on-roads: From $34,490 for the Roadster. Roadster GT (as tested) from $39,550).