Strengths and weaknesses:
- drivetrain, fun factor
- wind and road noise, smallish trunk
Miata makes the benchmark
Ever since it hit the market as the Mazda Miata, the MX-5 as it’s now known has been the benchmark for affordable two-seat sport cars.
A week in a 2012 MX-5 SV (Special Version) provided by Mazda Canada indicates that hasn’t changed. A couple of new entries in the sporty car market – Subaru’s BRZ and Toyota’s Scion FR-S -- may give it a run in the affordability aspect, although they come with what are laughingly called rear seats and fixed tops.
The SV designation takes the GX trim and adds 6-speed manual shifter, Velocity Red paint, gunmetal-colour alloy wheels, black exterior door mirrors and roll bar garnish, heated black leather seating leather wrapped steering wheel and parking brake lever (all with sand-coloured stitching), pseudo-leather door trim, alloy pedals, automatic A/C, external thermometer and trip computer.
With a 2.0L engine under the hood, MX-5 has never been classed as powerful. The rev-happy four-banger puts out 167 horsepower and 140 lb.-ft of torque, meaning mind-blowing acceleration isn’t the attraction.
As soon as I climb behind the wheel, I remember the lure of the Miata (yeah, I know, it’s MX-5 now, but it will always be Miata to me – and I’m not the only one).
The cockpit has room for two people to ride in relative comfort on seats that are well-bolstered, firm and supportive without being hard – the kind of seat that holds its occupant in place even under hard cornering. And I find myself doing a lot of hard cornering.
My daughter asks me if I’m not a little embarrassed to be driving a “chick” car.
“How can you call it that,” I ask her, surprised she should be so ill-informed and so ready to actually look down at what she calls a chick car..”Look at it. The smooth lines, aggressive stance, those gunmetal-coloured wheels.
“But it has no power,” she offers.
“So what?” says I. “At what point in the horsepower scale does a car cease to be a chick car and begin to motivate males?
This little gem is so finely balanced and so eager to play I just can’t resist. Off we go in search of tight corners or perhaps a deserted parking lot (I carry a few traffic cones to set up an impromptu slalom on occasion.)
A twitch of the steering wheel and the MX-5 goes exactly where I want it to go exactly when I want it to go. The suspension is taught enough to ensure beautifully flat cornering that’s completely predictable and with no surprises whatever.
Everything the driver needs falls readily to hand, including the six-speed manual transmission’s shift lever. Its action is notchy…I know exactly when the gearbox moves into the next gate. The clutch action is firm and linear.
It’s such a neat combination, I find myself rowing up and down through the gears just for the sheer joy of it.
But it’s not all fun and games.
That little four-banger doesn’t have much enthusiasm for acceleration in sixth gear at speeds over 90 km/h; not much in fifth either. I need to drop into fourth to make a reasonable pass on the highway.
While the MX-5 is reasonably comfortable under most conditions, I find it tiring over a four-hour trek, possibly due to the wind and road noise that can’t be drowned out by cranking up the audio system.
Of course that noise is most noticeable when the retractable hard top is up. Take the few seconds to put it down and the world changes to an open air, wind-n-the-hair-experience that all convertible drivers experience.
I find it easier to go a long distance when the top is down – providing the sun isn’t beating down too heavily.
My test car comes with air conditioning and cruise control, along with multi-function steering wheel, power windows and front and side airbags.
The Special Version takes the GX model and tarts it up with everything I like to see in a vehicle – any vehicle.
Add in a pretty body and terrific handling and the 33 grand price tag doesn’t seem like quite so much.
2012 Mazda MX-5
Trim level: SV (Special Version)
Price as tested (before taxes): $33,845
Options on test vehicle: none
Configuration: front engine/ rear drive
Engine/transmission: 24.0L 4-cyl./ 6-spd manual
Power/torque: 167 hp/ 140 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): regular (48L)
Fuel economy ratings: 9.7 L/100km city; 7.1 L/100km hwy
Observed fuel economy: 9.5 L/100km over 683 km
Warranties: 3 years/ 80,000 km (basic); 5 years/ 100,000 km (powertrain)
Competitors: Audi TT, BMW Z4, Porsche Boxster, Scion FR-S, Subaru BRZ,