Mazda MX-5 2.0-litre

Giving thanks for an iconic roadster with more power

GLENN BUTLER

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

THANK you, America.

And thank you, Global Financial Crisis. Without you both, the fourthgeneration Mazda MX-5 would not be this great. Thank you, Toyota 86/ Subaru BRZ, because without you two the MX-5 would not be this cheap. Thanks also to Mazda for continuing to pursue the lightweight British roadster ethos when all others refuse.

And, finally, thanks to Nobuhiro Yamamoto and his talented team for taking the world’s best-selling roadster to new heights.

Having driven the 1.5-litre version in Spain earlier this year, we know how good the fourth-gen MX-5 is. We know Mazda focused heavily on weight reduction - down as much as 150kg - in an attempt to bring the MX-5 back to original principles.

We know they succeeded.

But this is our first drive of the 2.0-litre version, a variant that would probably not have existed if it weren’t for the GFC (which delayed development) and for America (which on reflection insisted on a bigger engine).

Which is lucky because it’s very bloody good.

Wheels drove the two engine variants back-to-back in Scotland, both in six-speed manual form. A six-speed automatic will also be offered in Australia when the cars go on sale (the 1.5 in August, the 2.0-litre around December).

The entry-level MX-5 will be priced at $31,990, an astonishing $15K reduction from the thirdgen’s $47,280. Strictly speaking, it’s not a direct comparison because the 1.5-litre has a smaller engine and a soft-top roof compared to the outgoing 2.0-litre hardtop. And we’re not sure of spec levels yet, so it’s hard to know the true value comparison, though it’s a fair bet the new car will carry more gear. An i-Eloop energy recuperation system fitted to European models will not be available due to cost.

The 2.0-litre manual we’re focusing on here is expected to start around $37,000. It has 22kW/50Nm more than the 1.5 and wears bigger 17-inch wheels and tyres, with larger 280mm disc brakes front and back.

In the corners, there’s little to choose between the 1.5 and the 2.0. When it comes to handling competence and corner-carving abilities, both enjoy the same fast, fluid temperament. And where the old MX-5 felt fidgety at times and reactive to road conditions, the new model is more planted.

Its electric steering is sublime; fast, direct, full of feel and suitably light. And, despite the engine differences, both have the same sweet chassis balance that favours neither the front nor the rear. Anyone who reckons they can feel the impact of the 2.0-litre engine’s extra 25kg over the front axle is either a driving deity or delusional.

The 2.0-litre is more enjoyable than the 1.5-litre, but only incrementally so. A Sunday drive in either is sure to be an occasion for joy. In the 2.0-litre you’ll enjoy more punch out of a corner, and you’ll get to the next corner more quickly, but you’ll have a busier ride on the lower-profile tyres, the engine isn’t as sweet high in the rev range, and it only revs to 6600rpm, whereas the 1.5-litre has a 7500rpm cut-out.

So, is that extra performance worth another $5K? Many people have spent that much and more extracting extra performance from their cars, often corrupting the dynamic package. In this case, more power does not corrupt; it enhances what was already a brilliant, engaging machine, and it makes for a more exhilarating drive. And that’s what the MX-5 is all about.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Mazda MX-5 1998cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v 118kW @ 6000rpm 200Nm @ 4600rpm 6-speed manual 1033kg 7.3sec (claimed) 6.9L/100km (EU) $37,000 (estimated) December

PLUS & MINUS

No steering reach adjustment; busier ride; engine note; extra $5K Steering; handling; grip; punchier engine

01 MODEST DIGS

Sliding into the MX-5 is a familiar experience, partly from the old MX-5, but there’s plenty of Mazda 2 and Mazda 3 in here, too. Crucially, that all fades into the background when you start the engine.

02 PLAY STATION

No reach adjustment for the steering wheel is unusual, though the driving position is excellent. The short-throw gear lever is a joy to play with, and the pedals are perfectly located for heel-n-toe action.

03 STOW AWAY

New soft-top roof is mercifully easy to reach. One central latch unlocks the roof, which then folds quickly away behind the seats. Pushing it down activates a spring that throws it up within easy reach for reattachment.

More to come?

WE ASKED program manager Nobuhiro Yamamoto about the chances of a rotary engine appearing in the new MX-5 – it’s a standard question these days – and his answer was a flat “No”.

Same when we asked about a coupe version, although he did say a folding hardtop was being investigated.

More interesting is the MX-5’s flexible architecture, which Yamamoto says can handle a wheelbase stretch and different engines. It would be strange for a company as efficient as Mazda to build this bandwidth into an architecture if they’re not going to exploit it...

OR TRY THESE...

Subaru BRZ/ Toyota 86 From $29,990

THE Toyota 86 and Subaru BRZ twins are the most obvious rivals because of their similar fun-overfury ethos, even if they both have fixed roofs. The entry-level 86 still represents superb value at $30K.

Fiat roadster $40,000 (estimated)

THE upcoming Fiat roadster that we’ve spied testing – which is based on this new Mazda MX-5 and will be built in the same factory – will also get some attention.

Japanese build quality with an Italian engine and styling sounds appealing, but sadly it’s not due here for a year.