The fourth generation MX-5 has undergone extensive mechanical changes to make it the finest handling version yet
In a car like the MX-5, the chassis is always meant to be the star of the show, with outright performance being a lower priority. Mazda offers two engines. Entry-level cars are fitted with a four cylinder, 1.5-litre unit, while a 160hp 2.0-litre engine powers the top-of-the-range models. The smaller 1.5 is the one preferred by Mazda’s engineers, as they claim its lower mass makes it even more enjoyable to drive.
Based on the engine found in the Mazda 3, the 1.5 has been lightly tuned to 130hp. That power output may sound very modest for a modern sports car, but in a model which weighs barely 1000kg, it still offers sprightly performance. The 0-60mph dash takes approximately 8.5 seconds, and the engine is more than willing to rev right up to its 7,500rpm limit. Some testers suggest that the extra throttle adjustability that comes with the more powerful 2.0-litre might be preferable, but it seems unlikely that buyers of either will feel too let down.
There's no point beating around the bush – the MX-5 is the best car to drive for the money
The 2.0-litre unit is brand new and features Mazda’s Skyactiv technology – it is lighter than it’s predecessor, but has the same power output and better fuel economy. It has 160hp and 148lb ft – 30hp and 37lb ft over the 1.5-litre. Some reviewers say that there isn’t a huge difference in performance between the two engines, but the larger one is a little bit better at everything. It is one second quicker to 62mph and has that little bit more power to make overtaking easier.
The gearshift is as brilliant as it always has been in the MX-5, the six-speed manual offering short, light and positive shifts. The pedals are well-placed and easy to operate, except there is no resting place for your left leg which can get tiresome on long motorway journeys.
In order to improve weight distribution and lower the centre of gravity, the engines sit 13mm lower and 15mm further back than in the old model – for excellent balance.
The extensive use of aluminium – particularly in the suspension and front wings – has not only reduced overall weight, but as with repositioning the engines, focussed the majority of mass towards the centre of the car.
Although the steering is now an electrically assisted setup the MX-5’s system is really good. It’s quick, sharp, and communicates the necessary information to give the driver confidence in the twisty stuff. One or two testers suggest that it might be a little too light, but others argue that this suits the featherweight MX-5.
Barely a flick of the steering sends the MX-5 diving into a corner while the weight savings over the old version are tangible in the way that a series of bends can be strung together so smoothly. Even the ride is well judged for a sports car like this: firm enough to let you know you’re driving something sporty, but with enough compliance to offer surprising levels of comfort on longer journeys.
The weighting for all of the controls is “perfectly judged”, and refinement is commendable – one tester noted of a little “rustle of wind noise” at motorway speeds, but otherwise all is calm and relaxing.