Ride, Handling & Performance
Interior Comfort & Practicality
Technology & Safety
Value & Ownership
Legend. When talking about the MX-5, is there need to go any further?
While the Mazda roadster needs no introduction to enthusiasts, we probably should expand slightly.
What we have here is the 2019 Mazda MX-5, the culmination of 30 years of expertise and pedigree. After three decades, this latest version adheres to the lightweight, front-engine, rear-wheel drive principles of the original. These elements make the MX-5 unique.
Although the MX-5 is one of the world’s most popular sports cars, the bean counters have spoken and platform sharing and co-development are now seen as the way forward. We’re now in an era when few brands can justify a standalone car of this type which adds to the Mazda’s uniqueness.
On test here is the flagship MX-5 RF GT, it gets the 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine and a six-speed manual for $45,960 plus on-road costs. For an additional $1000, you can have a black roof. Also, almond milk latte sippers will be relieved to know there is an automatic transmission option.
In RF GT guise standard equipment includes 17-inch alloys, adaptive LED headlights, leather trim, heated seats, keyless entry and a premium Bose audio system.
The MX-5 also carries Mazda’s i-Activesense suite of safety technologies which includes autonomous emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, a driver attention alert, traffic sign recognition and a rear-view camera.
Stylistically speaking, the RF GT’s party piece is the folding hardtop (or retractable fastback in Mazda terminology), while it brings newfound modernity to the car’s design, it takes away some of the character found in the models that still offer the classic soft top.
On the inside, there’s a beautifully presented cabin with premium materials and a solid feel to all the switchgear. For 2019, the detachable cup holders have been stiffened up to reduce the wobble while being easier to fasten and remove. The seat levers have also been updated with thicker internal frames for a sturdier feel during operation.
Getting in and out of the MX-5 is in no way a dignified process for those over 180cm. Tall drivers are going to find the incredibly compact interior somewhat constricting. Some minor (but appreciated) relief is found in the reach adjustment of the steering wheel, however, a cabin of these proportions is always going to present an ergonomic issue or two.
Two changes would make the accommodation far more comfortable, firstly, the steering wheel is too large, it’s disproportionate to the size of the car and belongs in an SUV. A tiller with a smaller circumference would make a monumental difference to the interior space. Secondly, the parking brake also needs also be resized or repositioned. Far too often it proved to be a major annoyance during gear changes.
While we’re having a whinge, the driver’s footwell is very tight, a problem that only afflicts right-hand drive versions of the MX-5.
The cabin is also void of any meaningful storage spaces which can be frustrating at times. There is a usable 127-litres of boot space which will easily hold a couple of overnight bags.
Once settled behind the wheel in the comfortable and supportive seats, the little Mazda quickly reminds drivers why it has enjoyed such longevity.
It’s definitely one for the purists, the driving experience is simply sublime. It takes only the first couple of corners for the MX-5 to exhibit a level of balance that defies its price. The chassis tune is nothing short of perfect.
By jettisoning all of the unnecessary bulk, the car reminds us of its lightweight heritage, especially when the revs rise. Crisp, yet agile is the best way to describe the way the MX-5 feels. The ride and handling calibration will bring out your inner-teenager, it’s responsive to the slightest touch which makes it a wonderfully entertaining car to drive. This might be what Mazda means by all that ‘soul of motion’ malarkey?
Fans of the car will be drawn to the 1.5-litre engine for the most authentic MX-5 experience, however, those wanting some additional performance to extract as much as possible out of the chassis should look closely at the 2.0-litre unit.
Mazda engineers have made significant alterations to the naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre engine, changes have been made to the airflow intake and exhaust systems, piston shape and weight, crankshaft and connecting rods along with improved combustion speed.
The results of the engine work mean the output of the 2.0-litre powerplant increases from 118kW to 135kW and from 200Nm to 205Nm.
While the MX-5 isn’t about straight line speed, the larger engine makes the car slightly quicker while producing plenty of mid-range torque. We should also mention, it’s still very happy to rev. Drivers need to be willing to abandon any feeling of restraint and get used to high tachometer readings. That’s where the rewards are.
Opting for the six-speed manual is essential to maximising the fun-factor the MX-5 provides. The short-throw shifter is as sweet as a nut. An automatic would surely sterilise the drive and negate the majority of the car’s engaging character.
Engaging is the keyword, the MX-5 is an engaging car to drive, so much so there’s no need for more power. This is one of those rare cars that can be genuinely enjoyed at legal speeds, it just needs the right road.
Those who plan on traversing long distances should know, the MX-5 is definitely not the last word in refinement at highway speed. There is some tyre roar, it’s unavoidable when you're sitting this close to the road.
During our seven days with the MX-5 we covered nearly 1100 kilometres (we didn’t want to get out of it) and returned a combined consumption figure of 6.0L/100km which is a brilliant result. Most of our enthusiastic driving was done away from traffic, keeping this baby confined to city commuting would be a travesty. Potential buyers should also note, the MX-5 drinks 95 RON.
Mazda is persisting with 12 month/10,000km maintenance intervals with costs averaging $358 for each of the first five services.
Thanks to a beefed-up ownership package, Mazda buyers now enjoy five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty coverage.
In many ways, the MX-5 has gone full circle, with this latest generation it has gone back to the core values that made it successful.
Now no sports car review seems to be complete without a comment on whether or not the car in question can be used as a daily driver. Obviously, the MX-5 could be used as a daily, but should it?
Our answer would be no. Cars like this are best deployed as a weekender to preserve the sense of occasion and level of enjoyment. Part of the joy in owning a car like this is it’s something to look forward to on the weekends, something to keep in the back of your mind as the week becomes monotonous. This is a car for blowing the cobwebs out and shaking off the week that was.
Minor ergonomic issues aside, the MX-5 is a brilliant car. It’s dynamically adept, entertaining to drive and most importantly, it’s affordable.
The MX-5 is unique and not just for the reasons outlined above, there’s more to it than that. It’s a car that can turn around a disappointing day. When you get behind the wheel, whatever problems the day has thrown up just seem to melt away. These are the traits that you won't find on the spec sheet, they’re the things that elevate the MX-5 from a good car to a great car.
2019 Mazda MX-5 RF GT Specifications
Price from $45,960 plus on-road costs Engine 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol Power 135kW @ 7000rpm Torque 205Nm @ 4000rpm Transmission six-speed manual Combined Fuel Consumption 6.9L/100km Tank Capacity 45L Performance 0-100 6.8 seconds Length 3915mm Width 1735mm Height 1235mm Wheelbase 2310mm Turning Circle 9.4m Kerb Weight 1087kg Service Intervals 12 months/10,000km Warranty five year/unlimited kilometre
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