► New Mazda MX-5 Mk4 driven for first time
► Lighter, simpler, purer than before
► Simplicity is back in vogue
This all-new Mazda MX-5 is the fourth iteration of the world’s most successful sports car. What started 25 years ago as a homage to great British ragtops like the Lotus Elan has sold far more units than the MGB, Elan and Spitfire combined.
What’s the big news for the latest version?
The big news is that it’s not so big. The latest car is 100kg lighter and 100mm shorter than the last one. In fact despite packing all manner of modern crash technology under its skin, it’s 30mm shorter than the very first MX-5 from way back in 1989, and barely any heavier. Mazda claims a kerb weight of only 1000kg.
Modern turbo engines under the bonnet, I presume, this being 2015
Not a turbo in sight, or a sport button. The biggest engine available is a naturally aspirated 2.0 four producing 155bhp – that’s slightly down on the old 2.0, but should feel much faster thanks to that diet. But the only car we drove is the one Mazda’s engineers claim is the purest embodiment of MX-5: the entry level 1.5. Based on the engine in the latest Mazda 3, it’s undergone some changes to the head, crank and exhaust to turn it into sports car material. It taps out 129bhp at 7000rpm, pulls a further 500rpm past that point, and generates 130b ft.
So how does it feel?
Light, stiff, agile, reasonably punchy, and of surprisingly high quality inside. The driving position is pleasingly lower, the control weights spot on, and the little 1.5 has a likeable hard edge to its soundtrack. It’s never quick in the modern sense (I’d guess 8.7sec to 62mph), but there’s just enough performance to keep you interested, and the flip side is the promise of near 50mpg economy.
As before, the steering is light (a touch more steering heft wouldn’t go amiss), but this time feels more precise and more responsive, the merest push away from centre sending the car diving into a corner. Mazda says the weight distribution is a perfect 50:50, but you’d believe them if they said it was more rear-biased than that. You’re acutely aware of how little mass you’re commanding, and flitting through a section of left-rights it’s at its best. Push too hard though, and you’ll push past the sweet spot, uncovering a little too much body roll and modest grip, though that’ll only bother the track day set, and the aftermarket industry will gladly assist with upgrades. Everybody else will take the supple ride as ample compensation.
There’s not really enough poke to slide the tail (limited-slip-equipped in our test car, but not on base-model production cars) in the dry, but throw in some lovely greasy winter roads and you’ve got a machine hard-wired to provide old-school low-speed opposite lock entertainment that’s one hundred times more fun than taking the same road at twice the speed in some dull-witted over-tyred four-wheel drive German.
What else do I need to know?
Mazda’s worked hard to make it easy for you to get the roof down. The seats are designed to help you swivel round to grab the manual folding cloth top, which almost lifts itself over your head, the mechanism is that light, and there’s just one latch in the centre of the header rail to deal with.
The MX-5 has an unenviably broad remit, having to keep self-confessed dicing enthusiasts happy without alienating housewives who think a track day is something to do with athletics. But with that in mind, Mazda’s engineers have done a fantastic job and at an estimated price of around £19,000 – only £5k more than the first MX-5 cost back in 1990, incredibly – it’s something of a bargain.