Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Mazda MX-5 1.5 & 2.0

Words & photos - Daniel Bevis

I used to have an original NA MX-5, the one with the pop-up lights, and it was utterly brilliant. Clive, it was called, and it took my wife and I all over the place – always with a scampering sense of playful eagerness, always ready for a fresh adventure. The gearbox was a marvel, the chassis was sublime, the exhaust note sounded reassuringly vintage, it was all just perfect.
Over the years, the MX-5 has grown and mutated through its various generations – the ignominy of fixed headlights on the NB (necessary, I know, but still a shame), the conceptual dilution of folding metal roofs and paddle-shift transmission in the muscularly-arched NC… and now this. The all-new MX-5, the ND. But, hmm… it hasn’t grown at all this time. In fact, it’s shrunk quite a lot.

Somebody at Mazda has evidently experienced some manner of epiphany, and they’ve told everyone else at the firm about it. And everyone else has agreed. ‘The original MX-5 was one of the most popular cars of all time,’ the thought process went, ‘so why don’t we make the new one more like that one?’ And so they did. The fresh new Five is every bit as astounding as that classic original; it weighs about the same, the 1.5-litre engine produces a similar peak power figure, and it’s basically just a lovely drivetrain with a couple of seats bolted to it. History repeats itself in fine style.
And how is it to drive? Well, sparkling, really. Just gorgeous. It rewards your inputs exactly like a classic MX-5 would, the peachy gearchange making every shift a delight, the throttle perfectly weighted, the damping ideally suited to energetic B-road blasts. It can’t not put a smile on your face, it’s wonderful.
The fun part is that Mazda are also offering a 2.0-litre variant. Now, the 1.5 is about as close as it’s possible to get to buying a new old MX-5, if you see what I mean. The spirit is the same, it feels classic, yet refined; taut and precise but also rather whimsical. The 2.0, however, is an absolute animal. It’s quite a fun test to drive the lesser-engined car first, then follow the same route in its bigger brother and play spot-the-difference: you find that you’re going around 15-20mph faster at any given time and, while the 1.5 encourages you to keep the throttle pinned at all times, you'll note that you’re actually having to rein the 2.0 in a bit. (And don’t even think of turning off the traction control. You’ll make a mess of those beautiful heated leather seats.)

This may be the first time I’ve ever preferred a less powerful car to its brawnier sibling. And yet… wait, did I? I really couldn’t be sure – poise and tactility versus brute force and animal thrills, it’s a tough balance. Having tried both, I had to butter up Mazda to yoink the keys to another 1.5, just to reassess for a couple of hours. And then try another 2.0, just to be sure. And then… well, you can imagine how long this went on for. Suffice to say, I still haven’t reached a satisfactory conclusion. My tip-top consumer advice would be to, er, buy both.

Whichever one you go for, you’ll get a perky little roadster that’s studded with cheery detail – the hidden boot-release button that makes you feel like James Bond, the one-handed manual roof, the body-coloured swathes on the inside of the doors, the refreshingly simple dash. But above all, much like the classic MX-5, you get to enjoy those three all-important touchpoints: the fabulous gearbox, the addictive exhaust note, and the hilarious sense of eagerness. It’s basically a motorised puppy. Just like an MX-5 should be.

More photos here.

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