It's one last spin for the third-generation Mixxer as Mazda celebrates 25 years since the compact roadster's inception
There’s something virginal about driving the Mazda MX-5 25th Anniversary edition.
That’s not only because it celebrates a quarter of a century since the almost immaculate conception of a lightweight, classically British roadster built by people (Japanese) who know how to make them last. There’s also a purity to the now decade-old third-generation Mazda MX-5 that few cars today share.
Oh, and with only an in-dash six-CD changer and auxiliary input, a slimline dotmatrix audio screen, no Bluetooth phone or audio streaming and no USB input, this last of the line MX-5 exists firmly in the world of BC (or before connectivity).
The fourth-generation ‘Mixxer’ is still about a year away from reaching local shores, but Mazda has already confirmed it as a smaller, lighter and connectivity-fresh replacement for this elder statesman that will cost less than $40,000.
So why, then, does this Mazda MX-5 25th Anniversary edition, of which 40 out of the 1000 built will arrive locally, cost $48,380 as a six-speed manual (24 coming) or $49,990 as a six-cog automatic (16 available)?
Well, you don’t get any extra power or torque, or suspension tweaks, let alone that much needed connectivity upgrade.
The MX-5 25th Anniversary comes painted in Mazda’s new signature Soul Red paint for the first time, with black 18-inch alloy wheels, door mirror caps and retractable hardtop. A numbered commemorative sticker badge sits just under the indicator light on the driver’s side, while inside off-white leather upholstery is matched by stainless steel 25th Anniversary scuff plates and a deep black-red gloss instrument panel.
It’s one for the MX-5 devotees, then, of which there are plenty. Mazda says that while the brand has gone quiet on marketing the little roadster towards the end of this generation’s lifecycle, there are buyers out there who simply keep on upgrading their MX-5 to the next one. Being a limited edition variant, this MX-5 25th Anniversary may not hit them too hard on resale even with the cheaper all-new model ready for the next upgrade around the corner.
At the very least, it’s great to get back in touch with what remains one of the world’s best roadsters.
Although the new Mazda MX-5 will shed around 100 kilograms (when it swtiches back from a hardtop to soft-top) the 1167kg kerb weight of the 25th Anniversary is still well down on any hot-hatch.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine doesn’t require a turbocharger to feel peppy, though equally it never feels fast, with 118kW of power produced at 7000rpm and 188Nm of torque online at 5000rpm.
It’s no longer what you’d call a cutting edge engine for fuel efficiency, either, claiming to drink 8.1 litres per 100 kilometres (a 200kg-heavier Mazda 3 with the same-sized engine now claims 5.7L/100km).
But a 3 won’t let you chase a 7500rpm redline that permits another 300rpm before hitting the wall. And you can count the number of sports cars that have a slicker shifting manual on one hand.
Open the little door of the MX-5, and you sink into a tight bucket trimmed in genuinely premium real and soft leather.
The three-spoke wheel is terrific, with a skinny rim reminiscent of pre-airbag sports cars (though the MX-5 gets four-airbag protection). The tiller only adjusts for height, but most people find the low-set and legs-forward driving position easy to get accustomed to, and unlike most new cars you can see where the long bonnet ends which makes parking easy (though forget about sensors or a reverse-view camera).
It’s a credit to the original dashboard design that it still looks and feels fresh inside. Despite hard plastics, they’re nicely textured and fit together well, and the nets on the doors for holding stuff (Compact Discs – remember them?) and a sliding leather-trimmed console bin are neat touches.
Press a ‘release’ button where the roof meets the windscreen rail and a mechanical latch unlocks. You can then press the button on the dash between the centre vents that drops the petite two piece hardtop in a timed 13 seconds, which is quicker than any mainstream hard-top cabriolet or convertible.
There are drawbacks to this simple system, though: you can’t raise or drop on the move, the manual has to be in neutral, and when the top goes back up it drops the side windows but doesn’t raise them when finished, leaving you to make a trio of movements from dash-press to latch-lock to power windows-up (and there are no auto-up windows).
These are all minor gripes that, along with the lack of auto on/off headlights, wouldn’t actually be a problem at all if the MX-5 were cheaper. However in this day and age its simplicity isn’t reflected in the price.
The Mazda MX-5 remains such a darling to drive, though, to the point that this tester can only salivate at the prospect of how great the next one will be.
That stubby little gearlever connects you to one of the shortest and meatily direct throws around, the throttle hums over your right foot and the steering wheel fizzes in your hands.
The 2.0-litre engine sounds quite mundane unless you’re right up it, where it develops quite a throaty induction rasp that, if you rev it right to 7800rpm, keeps on coming as the next gear rarely lets it below 5000rpm.
The latter revs is the least the MX-5 needs to feel moderately quick. There’s no turbo flattery here – you need to keep your revs high. It’s easy enough to do, though, even in tight corners.
That’s because this Mazda feels incredibly pointy and stable, with light and razor-sharp steering and stunning grip from the superb Bridgestone Potenza RE050 tyres. Don’t expect to do big powerslides in the little MX-5, though, because there’s way more grip than power, which allows genuine hot-hatch pace between corners. You then simply mash the throttle and the rear-wheel drive chassis helps tighten your line. It is, in a word, lovely.
Yet the seeming kilometres between tyre and wheelarch that MX-5 diehards think makes it look like an MX-5 Outback is there for good reason. The suspension is actually quite soft, so you feel the MX-5 moving around on smooth roads where a Toyota 86 might sit flatter and achieve higher pace, but its ride quality on rough roads is brilliant – still among the best in class.
Only the stability control calibration seems a generation behind current Mazdas, being a bit abrupt to interfere. There’s a little button on the lower left of the wheel, though, that in this age of buttons needing to be held for seconds just to turn half of the electronic intrusion off, in the MX-5 it only needs a single press for ESC to be completely disabled.
Happy birthday to the Mazda MX-5. Although we would have loved to see reduced pricing or enhanced engineering for this final-edition 25th Anniversary special, this third-generation still drives brilliantly and is a fine toast to a model that the motoring world is genuinely all the better for having. Bring on generation four…