It's 10 years since the third-generation Mazda MX-5 first went on sale in Australia and more than 25 years since the nameplate debuted back in 1989 – I was six. And now, the iconic Japanese drop-top is back, powered by its smallest capacity engine ever. But is it still fun?
But while that car had a 118kW/188Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, the new 1.5-litre entry-level MX-5 has 96kW and 150Nm.
With a kerb weight of almost bang on 1000kg, though the all-new fourth-generation ND MX-5 is only around 0.5 of a second off the 7.8-second 0-100km/h time of the previous car.
The other kicker is, if you’re happy with 1.5-litre under the bonnet, you can get in one of these for $31,990. That’s almost $18,000 cheaper than the MX-5 we were here with last time.
Standard kit on the entry-level model isn’t bad either. You get LED headlights, LED tail-lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, a six-speed manual transmission and a limited-slip rear differential.
There’s also cruise control, a six-speaker stereo, a leather handbrake, gear shifter and steering wheel. And, a push-button start.
The MX-5 has always been about corners and while Sandown is famous for its two high-speed straights, there’s plenty of twisty bits in between to see how this thing stacks up.
Before we get to how the MX-5 handles a track day though, there’s a couple of negatives we need to call out.
Firstly, the pedal placement. It’s not great with the throttle pedal sitting a bit lower than the brake pedal, that means that heel-and-toeing takes a little bit of getting used to.
The other one is, while we have the roof off now and headroom isn’t a problem, with the roof up, clearance is a little bit tight – particularly with a helmet – and I’m not mega-tall at only six foot.
The big killer though, is the steering wheel. While Mazda did make it rake adjustable, it’s not reach adjustable – it’s not telescopic. And all you want to do is pull the steering wheel closer towards you, and you can’t. They claim it was based on weight saving, but it is something we can’t help but be frustrated by.
Now, underneath us we’ve got 195mm-wide Yokohama tyres on all four corners, we’ve got a multi-link rear and double wishbones up front. And the setup on the road, is exceptional. It’s a nice balance between comfort and sportiness.
On the racetrack though, it does feel a little too soft. Compared to something like the Toyota 86 for example, if that’s a scalpel, the MX-5’s more of a breadknife: it just doesn’t quite have the same level of precision.
The electric steering is accurate, and quite precise. It is light though, and doesn’t quite give you the feedback some people might like.
The brakes are holding up well, though, a few laps in – especially some harder laps – and you can start to feel a little bit of fade. The tyres – which you can just hear squealing a little bit – on the other hand, are gripping really well and they have been all day.
A big part of what made the old MX-5’s and previous generations so great, was the gearbox. The manual transmission has always been a standout of the car, and the new car is no different. It’s a nice short throw, very notchy, and it’s great fun to use.
So the big question is, is 96kW and 150Nm enough to keep you smiling? And you can probably tell, the answer is ‘Yes’.
The all-new MX-5 may not be the ultimate track weapon, but it’s fun and it’s playful. And honestly, we quite like it.
With only 11kW and 20Nm more than the original 1.6-litre MX-5, it’s easy to see why some buyers might opt for the more powerful 2.0-litre engine when it comes to the new car. But that comes at a $2500 premium. And, do you really need it?
Well, if you want an MX-5 to get you to and from work, the answer is probably not. And as we found out today, if you want an MX-5 for an occasional track day, the answer is again, not really.
For the price and the fun, it’s pretty hard to top the all-new entry-level Mazda MX-5.