In this day and age of overzealous bureaucracy and political correctness gone mad, there are only a handful of ways one can have fun in something that has wheels without being arrested or worse.
You can, if funds permit, buy a super-expensive sports car and attend regular track days or buy a not-so-expensive sports car and do the same. But that’s not for everyone and even if you do enjoy it, the cost of tyres and all the other serviceable items do tend to stack up pretty quickly.
What is an ideal compromise is an affordable sports car that is fast enough and blessed with great dynamic ability to be fun on a twisty stretch of public road without having to constantly exceed the speed limit. One option is the Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ route, but with so many of them on the road these days, they’ve somewhat lost their appeal, which is where the Mazda MX-5 comes in - not to mention you get the benefit of having a convertible.
We’ve had our 2016 2.0-litre Mazda MX-5 GT manual long-term test car in Brisbane now for almost a month and it’s fair to say it has become a favourite with the whole family. Owning a convertible is a lifestyle choice that one has to experience to truly understand. There’s really quite nothing like just being able to take the roof off and enjoying some beautiful weather.
Priced from $39,550 (plus on roads) the 2.0-litre MX5 GT manual is the best in the range. Yes, the 1.5-litre is good, but for just $1,560 more (1.5L GT to 2.0L GT), you would have to be mad to not pay the difference, if not just for resale value down the line.
The difference in acceleration makes all the difference when it comes to having that little bit of fun. Mazda doesn’t supply official 0-100km/h figures but having had both the 1.5-litre and the 2.0-litre, the smaller capacity car we recorded at 7.6 seconds while the 2.0-litre was a good second faster than that.
The 1.5-litre car has a kerb weight of 1009kg (GT trim) while the 2.0-litre comes in at 1033kg (GT trim). The additional weight sees you going from a relatively lacklustre 96kW/150Nm version to the slightly heavier 2.0-litre car, with 118kW/200Nm.
It’s worth it. All that talk about lighter weight is all well and good but the power-to-weight ratio is still in your favour with the 2.0L, considering you gain 22-percent more power and 33-percent more torque for just an additional 2.3 percent in weight. .
Having a seven-seater SUV as our primary mode of transport for the family, the MX-5 has become an ideal second car for Friday date nights with the wife and early morning runs up Mount Glorious’ twisty and smooth roads for when the weather is perfect so the roof can come off.
The best thing about the MX-5, though, is just doing quick trips in it. Even a late night dash to Coles for emergency Toblerone before a new episode of House of Cards is an enjoyable experience.
Having a manual roof seems like a cheap cop out, but in reality the ability to quickly take the roof off or put it back on at any speed that feels comfortable is hugely beneficial. Ideally you’d want to be stopped while you do the operation, however it does work on the run depending on how strong your left arm is.
The actual roof operation is pretty straightforward with a button to unlock it, your arm to pull it open or push it closed and then to fasten in. It can take as little as five seconds, though if you don’t have long or strong arms you may need to take it a little bit slower. My wife can do it relatively easily and she’s tiny.
Once behind the wheel the MX-5 can take a little getting used to, especially if you’re tall. Not having telescopic steering adjustment is a big issue, as you’ll have to push the seat back to fit your legs in but the wheel doesn’t move with you, so you’re somewhat compromised in your seating position having to lean forward – at least for this driver that measures 179cm.
It takes a few days to get used to it but then you won’t even notice. In saying that, my wife, who measures just 162cm, is far more comfortable behind the wheel than I.
Get it moving and the MX-5 is a very characterful. The rear end is happy to slide at the slightest inclination (with the ESP on!), which may come as a shock at first, but then it makes for a never-ending grin when the time is right. If you switch the nanny aids off, it becomes a hoot.
Dynamically, the MX-5 is hard to fault. There is just enough power to make it enjoyable to drive at speed and the car’s limitations should quickly become the limiting factor, rather than the driver’s talent.
Around the twisty mountain roads where it should feel at home, it does tend to exhibit more body roll than we were expecting. Which is a good thing in some ways as it makes you feel the speed more, but it can unsettle the car at times.
The steering is direct and very precise, it responds to the slightest movement, which makes cornering at speed thoroughly enjoyable. We did at times beg for a little more communication getting through from the front wheels and in that regard it’s not as good as Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ.
Our car comes with soft white leather trim, which is a great contrast to the black exterior. It works well with the roof open and makes the tiny convertible look far more expensive than it is.
On the inside the lack of room for basic stuff is pretty evident straight away. But honestly, if you’re worried about practicality this probably isn’t the car for you. The boot is big enough to store the week’s shopping even for our family of five, but it’ll struggle with bulky items.
Overall, our first month with the MX-5 has made us love the little Mazda. Not having a reversing camera or sensors is our biggest complaint so far, but if we owned it, I would just have third party ones fitted immediately.
It’s a great choice for singles or childless couples, or an ideal second car for a family that wants something fun and enjoyable to have apart from the family hauler.
Date acquired – April 2016
Travel since previous update – 675km
Consumption average since previous update – 6.4L/100km