Two months in with our 2.0-litre top-spec manual 2016 Mazda MX-5 and we’ve really come to appreciate it for what it is. Having fundamentally given up trying to drive it fast, or to constantly moan about why it needs more power or torque, it has freed us up to enjoy it as the best sporty convertible for the money.
We’ve even stopped caring that it doesn’t have a reversing camera, it’s all become part of the charm. It has all come down to the enjoyment of having the roof open almost permanently and using it as a daily commuter, one which is proving to be more practical than it may at first seem. The only issue we've experienced so far is the Mazda infotainment system occasionally resetting itself when Bluetooth audio streaming is being used. It does a full system restart and defaults back to AM radio. Kind of annoying, but solved using a USB cable connection.
One thing though, people still ask if it’s a ‘girl’s car’. It’s not, well, it is... why can’t it be? It’s certainly not feminine in the sense that no man would find it appealing, but it would certainly fit a young (or young at heart) female owner. With that in mind, it was handed over to Eleanor Terry, a car-lover friend of CarAdvice who spends her spare time building and restoring old classic cars.
The fourth-generation Mazda MX-5 may be an all-new car designed in the current era, but its retro approach to lightweight and simple engineering in many ways harks back to cars of yesteryear that I personally find rather appealing.
Rarely do car companies produce agile and nimble cars on a strict diet these days, instead being bogged down by the over-complexities of modern engineering requirements. But enough of the past, first things first: roof down, windows up, heaters on. Immediate impressions of the little Mazda were positive.
It may take some time to get used to the six-speed manual gearbox for those more accustomed to automatics, but it didn’t take long to find its pedals well-spaced and enough clutch pedal resistance to make it feel sporty.
The MX-5’s new aggressive styling is a refreshing change from its tamer predecessor, transforming it from a dainty hairdresser’s car to a far sleeker barber’s cut. Stepping into the car it might have been the Brit in me, but I loved the beige interior and how it contrasted with the black dash and steering wheel accents. The only problem you'll find with the black sections of the interior is the various smudges and hand prints you'll leave behind, especially if you’re one who likes to wear makeup.
To be fair, the manual dials for the climate control are a little '90s – though these are the sacrifices one must make for saving weight – however there is solace in the simplicity of it all and on the whole it was more than made up for by the interactive instrument cluster. Connectivity between car and iPhone was a breeze and the inbuilt navigation system made life easy on a road trip to the Sunshine Coast and surrounds.
Of course, it would be wrong of any sports car fan not to put the MX-5 through its paces with a spirited drive. After all, the sacrifices the car makes in terms of practicality and space are to the benefit of its driving ability, if Mazda is to be believed.
On the handling front, the MX-5 will certainly not disappoint. It feels brilliantly balanced and communicative. It’s light but not disconnected and there’s predictability in its character that instils a growing sense of confidence.
Being 164cm tall everything felt flawlessly positioned on the inside. The seats are a perfect width, the steering wheel in the right spot and with the windows up and the heated seats on, it presents an ideal winter drive. Switch places to my 183cm tall passenger, however, and he had quite a few comments about the wind buffeting the top of his head with the roof off. There’s also an issue with having no telescopic steering wheel movement for those with longer legs, so if you’re tall, best to ‘try before you buy’ unless you want cool windswept hair and a forehead full of bugs.
But just how practical is the MX-5? What better opportunity to test it than a weekend away. Of course, being a sporty two seater you can imagine storage is rather limited, but you can still manage to fit a couple of small flexible luggage bags into the 130L boot. Inside the car is quite short of luggage space as well. Unfortunately there’s no glovebox in front of the passenger – which would most certainly end up bashing their knees anyway – instead there is a small cubby in the centre between the back of the seats, which is a rather awkward position to get to.
While the modest 118kW of power from the four-cylinder powertrain doesn’t sound like very much on its own, it's well paired with Mazda’s super lightweight chassis and once you give it some right foot incentive the MX-5 really comes alive. The only downside is the engine note, which contrary to popular opinion, produces more of an increasing groan as opposed to the high-revving glory one might expect.
Looking over the sporty convertible as a complete package, Mazda has undoubtedly produced the best MX-5 to date. Despite the negative thoughts on the engine sound, it’s hard not to love this as a driver’s car and as a car enthusiast I highly encourage potential naysayers to put some time behind the wheel before they cast their judgment. They will be pleasantly surprised.