Strengths and weaknesses:
- Confidence inspiring
- Some may find interior confining
Big thrills in little package
After two sweltering hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic, windows cranked to compensate for my beater’s long-departed air conditioning, I’m limp and reeking of exhaust fumes with a mood so foul it’s bordering on psychotic.
And yet, less than half an hour later, cruising home in this week’s tester with Van Halen blasting from the Bose speakers, I’ve got endorphins coursing through my veins and a sappy grin pasted on my face.
Viewed through the windshield of a Mazda MX-5 GT, my world couldn’t be brighter. If I had a vision of automotive utopia, it would look very much like this.
Introduced in 1990, the car formerly known as “Miata” has been credited with almost singlehandedly resurrecting the almost extinct two-seater roadster segment. Two decades later, the MX-5 remains the best-selling sports car of all time.
Through three successive model generations, the MX-5 has retained the characteristics that have made it one of the world’s most popular road-racing cars. Today’s MX-5 presents a more aggressive appearance than its jelly-bean ancestor, which was largely influenced by British sports cars like the Triumph Spitfire, MG Midget and Austin Healey Sprite.
My top-spec tester is blessed with a power retractable hardtop, or PHRT, which lifts, unfurls and stows itself away in a display of mechanical origami that takes about ten seconds. Although cruising topless with the cool breeze in your hair is undeniably pleasant; aesthetically, I prefer a coupe’s smooth finished top-line over the untidy, afterthought appearance of a soft top. The PRHT offers the perfect solution - especially considering that the roof, once stowed, doesn’t encroach on trunk space.
The tidy cockpit is simple yet beautifully finished. Although purists decried what they considered “softening-up” of their beloved original, the addition of creature comforts like heated adjustable seats, power windows and mirrors and a first-rate sound system in no way detract from the MX-5’s pure, predictable and confidence-inspiring feel.
Revered by enthusiasts for its incredible balance and power-to-weight ratio the MX-5 is the closest thing to a near-telepathic driving experience. Mazda calls this connection between car and driver “Jinba Ittai” – Japanese for horse and rider. It’s an apt description, since it doesn’t take long for the little roadster to become an extension of the driver’s body. Subtle steering inputs are answered with laser-sharp accuracy; the perfect pedal placement encourages an instinctive interplay between hand and footwork. The short shifter snicks through all six gear with intuitive ease.
The lines of communication are wide open: grip and road feel are transmitted with crystal-clear feedback. The MX-5 is an eager, frolicking Border collie, light-hearted and playful yet dazzling in its athletic ability. Under-hood the high-revving 2.0 litre four-cylinder produces 170 hp and 140 lb.-ft. of torque.
That may sound less than impressive but the MX-5, at a mere 1,145 kg., has put many an unsuspecting Porsche Cayenne in its place at lapping and autocross events.
Still, the MX-5 has attributes that some would consider to be flaws. Large or very tall people (such as my good friend Richard who rode with his head kinked at an odd angle) aren’t likely to find much comfort in its snug cockpit. It’s undeniably loud - there’s a constant droning road noise, and the engine’s lusty song is projected towards the cabin via an “Induction Sound Enhancer”.
One man’s cacophony is another man’s symphony - one can always crank up the excellent seven-speaker Bose sound system.
Personally, I wouldn’t change a thing.