14 Dec: Mazda MX5

I used to think the Mazda MX5 was an excellent car, and that was despite a few shortcomings. In fact, the first time I ever sat in one I didn’t fit. It was like squeezing a Co-op pork sausage into a chipolata sandwich.

Early models did not have an adjustable steering wheel which meant that anyone bigger than average was faced with a physical challenge before they boarded. It was a bit like tackling a dry version of  ‘Total Wipeout’ – unless it was raining.

Having oozed oneself into the seat, there were a couple of other problems. Knees were brushing the underside of the steering wheel and the driver’s seat wouldn’t slide far enough back to avoid the crouch position, and there was nowhere for elbows.

No doubt these physical constrictions contributed to its early and unfair depiction as a girl’s car, or worse, a hairdresser’s car, but this was unfair, a view promoted by those who were jealous because they couldn’t enjoy the MX5’s charms.

Despite that I still think those early dinkies were fabulous little motor cars and so it was with this in mind that I slipped behind the wheel of Mazda’s latest version. Note the word ‘slipped’ rather than ‘squeezed’.

This latest car is longer and wider, but not by much, although that little easing in its size has been crucial in broadening its appeal to bigger folks, or maybe its just the results of the manufacturer’s inevitable recognition of human evolution in these deep fried, instant gut gratification times in which we live.

The steering wheel did not adjust for reach, only for height, although ‘height’ may be misleading. At its highest setting it was still a thigh and knuckle rustling experience on twisty roads. Perhaps an ideal case for re-discovering those long-ago driving school instructions to ‘feed the wheel’ through your hands and refrain from crossing your arms.

The central console was left arm height, the right elbow didn’t batter the door, and the legs were slightly straighter – although another rearwards notch on the seat frame would have been welcome. As for headroom, the frame rail on the soft top caressed my coiffure – until I encountered some sleeping policemen, but I soon learned to duck in anticipation.

But I was in, and I was reasonably comfortable. With just 124 bhp from the 1798 cc engine it doesn’t sound as though it will be too engrossing, but in a car that weighs just a few bags of tatties more than a tonne, it does have a touch of eastern promise. Firing it up reinforced the anticipation. The double overhead camshaft four pot has a nice thrum to it, and the twin exhaust at the rear is easily audible from the interior, and it sounds rather nice.

As for the 5 speed gearbox, the fist sized lever sticks up out of the console and it’s a about as tactile as a box of Lego. Click first, click, click second, click, click third, and so on. Which is just as well, because to get the best out of the engine, you need to work the box, but it is just so delightful that you want to. In fact you’ll find yourself double de-clutching just for the sheer hell of it.

Pace is pretty docile till you get to 3000 rpm, although it doesn’t really come alive until 4, then the fun begins. It revs willingly to 6500, and then change as quick as you like and the acceleration is seamless and invigorating.

I took the wee car over the ‘Bathgate Alps’ (ask any old time navigational road rallyist!) and had a ball. The roads were quiet although there were patches of ice about so care had to be exercised on the blind corners, but it was a hoot to scoot.

It’s not fast, but it’s fun. With such modest power it takes an idiot to lose the back end (my excuse was it was icy in places) although on dry roads the rear wheel drive axle can be provoked  into independent action. The beauty of it is the fingertip control. The steering is light, the ‘box a delight  and the back end is informative at all times. Ride quality on the Yokohama Advan A11A tyres is on the firm side of comfortable and perfectly acceptable for a sports car.

And therein lies its true appeal. This is not a racing car for the road, this is a sports car to rekindle the sheer joy of driving. Get the hood down, the heater going full blast, and mock the world. For sure there are faster cars with more grip, but they require constant attention and concentration.  Ignore their idiosyncracies at your peril, or you’ll end up eating hospital food through a straw. But the MX5 is a car to soothe the beast and put a smile on its face, not infuriate it and put a hole in its wallet.

The hood is a doddle to use as well, there’s one clip over the windscreen and then it just flips back. The window drops down, and the middle section folds in on it, with the final section folding itself down  on top and clicking into place. Neat and not at all fiddly, unlike the blood spurting finger traps of old.

I said at the start I used to think the MX5 was an excellent car, well, it isn’t any more. It’s better than that. Much better, although I still have  trouble getting in and getting comfortable, but even so I would have one like a shot. Whether I could live with it as an only car is another point, but for sure, it would be ideal for filling the second bay in a two-car garage.

Or put it another way. This is a Caterham for grown ups.

But a word of advice to would-be buyers, go for a ‘fitting’ before parting with your cash. One size does not fit all in this case, so try getting out and getting back in a few times, especially with the hood up. Don’t just be suckered by its automotive charms.

  • Review Date: December 14, 2012
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