Mazda MX-5 2.0 (2009) review

Published:31 October 2008

Mazda MX-5 2009
  • At a glance
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5

By Ben Whitworth

Contributing editor, sartorial over-achiever, HANS device shirt collars

By Ben Whitworth

Contributing editor, sartorial over-achiever, HANS device shirt collars

This is Mazda’s new 2009 MX-5 – and in a world exclusive, CAR has driven the facelifted MX-5 seven months ahead of its UK debut to bring you the first road test of what is still the world’s most popular sports car. The news is all good…

The facelifted Mazda MX-5 looks pretty much the same. What's new?

Visually, the roadster’s petite styling has been given a small but useful dose of aggression by that new five-point lower air intake, which aligns the MX-5 with Mazda’s recent 2, 6 and current RX-8. Those rakish front foglamp housings and new bumper also beef up the new MX-5's visage, as do the more prominent side-skirts.

At the rear there’s a new bumper and more prominent taillights. The individual changes may be minor but collectively they effectively update Moray Callum’s original design with an added dash of brio.

And inside the MX-5?

Again, it’s a raft of minor tweaks to the cosy two-seater cabin. The dials are new, as are the grippier seats – thank you, Recaro – the climate control dials are now silvered, the shiny black strip running through the dash is now a matt silver, the Bose stereo is now even more powerful and the hugely annoying door-mounted cup holders that dug into your knee no matter what driving position you adopted have been ditched.

Oh, and more effective insulation means the Coupe version – the one with the folding metal roof – is now a little quieter than before.

>> Click 'Next' below to read more of CAR's Mazda MX-5 first drive review

 

  

What about the new MX-5's oily bits – any changes?

Having created one of the world’s best-handling cars Mazda’s engineers didn't muck about too much with the MX-5’s perfect 50:50 weight balance, chatty steering and talented chassis. Modifying the ball joints in the front knuckles has lowered the suspension’s roll centre by 26mm for enhanced steering feel and agility.

The six-speed manual transmission has also been revised for shorter and more precise throws, and a six-speed automatic joins the line-up – although no decision has been taken on this for the UK market.

Biggest news is a thorough overhaul of the top 2.0-litre engine. Power and torque remain the same (160bhp and 130lb ft) but fitting a forged crankshaft, floating pistons and new valvegear means peak power climbs from 6700rpm to 7000rpm and the redline jumps by 500rpm to 7500rpm. The intake and exhaust acoustics have also been enhanced for a more engaging roof-down soundtrack. 

Hmm – hardly groundbreaking changes...

True, but what hasn't changed is the way the Mazda MX-5 rides and handles – and that’s a very good thing because it’s a still a superb dynamic package. Every driver input results in an immediate response – there’s no slack or delay.

The little Mazda is never anything but razor-sharp and alert. We drove the 2.0-litre MX-5 with five-speed manual transmission – and it’s a cracker. It changes direction in that inertia-free way that only lightweight cars with perfect balance can. Pour it along a winding road and you can sew the corners together with grin-inducing precision.

The front suspension tweaks mean the nose is now even keener to peel into corners and the chatty steering and sparkling chassis work hand in glove to keep you constantly informed about under-tyre conditions. Factor in compliant suspension, excellent body control, a wonderfully mechanical short-throw gearshift action and powerful brakes and you have a car that feels more alive at 30mph than most sports cars do at 100mph.

>> Click 'Next' below to read more of CAR's Mazda MX-5 first drive review

 

I’ve always been put off by the Mazda MX-5’s slightly effete image…

True, the MX-5 is no fire-breathing tyre smoker, and if you’re more concerned about hairy-chested posturing than agility and purity, this Mazda is not for you. But what it lacks in outright grunt it more than makes up for with impeccable poise and balance that lets you exploit more of its modest power more of the time.

Driving an MX-5 cross-country really is an exercise in momentum; despite its average power figures, you can reel in other far more exotic, powerful and expensive machinery. It’s a giant-slayer in the true sense of the word – not to mention one of the easiest cars to live with.

The MX-5's roof is a doddle to raise or lower from the driver’s seat, the boot is decently sized and there’s decent onboard storage space. So forget about its lack of visual aggression and revel in its outright willingness and enthusiasm. It’s hasn’t been the world’s best-selling roadster for 20 years for nothing, you know… 

Verdict

Mazda’s mid-life update has subtly enhanced the MX-5’s outright appeal – and should help boost sales in 2009. Despite finding itself in a market of one – we’re discounting the new-but-old MG TF and the plain old MR2 – MX-5 sales in 2008 have been steady rather than strong as anticipated.

This year’s combination of credit crunch, lousy summer weather and the growth of hatch-based coupe-convertibles has seen sales drop from 9238 in 2007 to an anticipated 6000 at the end of 2008. This mid-life facelift should be a useful sales pick-me-up.

We like the MX-5 a great deal. Its dynamism and integrity (not to mention reliability and value for money) means it swings with a punch that’s well above its weight. It’s still the best car that Mazda makes.

Specs

Price when new: £18,000
On sale in the UK: May 2009
Engine: 1999cc 16v 4cyl, 160bhp @ 700rpm, 138lb ft @ 5000rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Performance: 7.9sec 0-62mph, 131mph, 36.7mpg, 183g/km
Weight / material: 1155kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4020/1720/1245

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By Ben Whitworth

Contributing editor, sartorial over-achiever, HANS device shirt collars

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