OU can thank the Yanks for this one. While the land of the free and the home of the brave might deem 1.5 litres an acceptable size for a large soft drink, apparently it’s not sufficient capacity to power a sports car. Unimpressed with Mazda’s claim that the 1.5 is the perfect expression of jinba ittai – ‘the horse and rider are one’ – the US said: “Don’t care; call us when the horse and power are many.”
Or 158, to be precise, as that’s how much horsepower the new ‘big-block’ 2.0-litre MX-5 produces – in our money, that’s 118kW/200Nm compared to the 1.5’s 96kW/150Nm. It has to lug around an extra 24kg, but this is still sufficient to shave a full second off the claimed 0-100km/h time (7.3sec vs 8.3sec). We’ve timed the 1.5 at 7.5sec for the 0-100km/h sprint, though, so we’d expect the 2.0-litre to manage around the 7.0sec mark.
The extra grunt doesn’t transform the MX-5 – this is still not a fast car – but it is noticeably more flexible, Y pulling from low revs where the smaller engine would require a downshift. But though there’s less need to stir the six-speed manual gearbox, you’ll do it anyway as the shift is superb, better on this example than the 1.5s we’ve driven.
And the auto? Unless you really have to, don’t. The shifts are snappy and responsive, but it’s heavier, slower, $2000 more expensive and misses out on the limited-slip differential that’s standard on manual variants.
Arguably, it’s the revised suspension more than the extra power that’s most altered the 2.0-litre’s behaviour. The heftier engine weight and the larger wheels and tyres – now 17s wearing 205/45 rubber – have led Mazda to install “larger springs and dampers”.
Judging by the way the MX-5 2.0 moves down the road, it seems larger is synonymous with firmer. It’s still quite soft, but there’s greater body control, which gives the driver more confidence at higher speed and the car a little more precision in corners.
Gruntier, more tractable engine; superb manual shift; more standard kit than 1.5-litre
Agitated ride; no LSD for auto
It’s not as wildly adjustable as the 1.5, but its modest grip levels and beautiful chassis balance make it a joy to drive.
Better than the 1.5? Tough call, and we’ll need to back-to-back them to be sure, but there’s the sense that the 2.0-litre’s firmer set-up will make it easier to drive at the outer edge of the envelope. Unfortunately, this firmness has taken its toll on the ride, with the car constantly fidgeting and sending the road’s irregularities through to the occupants. It’s not a deal-breaker – this is a sports car, after all – but it could be better.
Aside from the mechanical differences, the 2.0-litre scores LED daytime running lights and sat-nav as standard, which makes the $2500 premium over the 1.5 ($1500 in up-spec GT guise) seem reasonable.
Based on this first drive, we can’t make a definitive judgement on whether the 1.5 or the 2.0 is the wiser choice, but thanks to our friends Stateside, at least we have the choice to make. M